Click here to Skip to main content
11,806,026 members (68,984 online)
Click here to Skip to main content

A simple in-process semaphore using C#

, 10 Jul 2003 170.4K 3.3K 19
Rate this:
Please Sign up or sign in to vote.
Creating a semaphore to limit a given number of threads accessing a resource in a process.


Many times we are limited to use a controlled number of threads to access the resources at our disposal. This article describes how to create a semaphore (to be used inside a single process) and control the number of threads. If you want to use a global semaphore to control threads across processes, then you have to use Windows semaphores.

Semaphore code

The Semaphore.cs file contains the code which controls the threads and can be used by itself in any project. The constructor takes the number of threads to be controlled as the parameter and creates an array of mutexes which are used to block the threads. WaitHandle.WaitAny() is used to wait on this array of mutexes.

// array of mutex to block the threads
private Mutex[] m_mutex;

// place holder to store thread to mutex mapping
private Thread[] m_threadIds;

// number of threads allowed to access the resources
private int m_threadLimit;

// contructor creates the mutexes
public Semaphore(int threadLimit)
    m_threadLimit = threadLimit;
    m_mutex = new Mutex[m_threadLimit];
    m_threadIds = new Thread[m_threadLimit];
    for (int i=0; i<m_threadLimit; i++)
        m_mutex[i] = new Mutex();
        m_threadIds[i] = null;

It is important to map the current thread with the mutex it is blocking, it will be used to release the mutex when Semaphore.Release() is called on the semaphore. A simple Thread array is used to map the calling thread to the mutex locked by the thread, by calling Thread.CurrentThread in the code below.

// if there is a timeout then WaitHandle.WaitTimeout is returned
// calling thread should check for this
public int Wait()
    int index = WaitHandle.WaitAny(m_mutex);
    if (index != WaitHandle.WaitTimeout)
        m_threadIds[index] = Thread.CurrentThread;
    return index;

When a release is called on the semaphore, the locking thread is searched in the array and ReleaseMutex() on the corresponding mutex is called to let the next thread.

// release the mutex locked by the thread
public void Release()
    for (int i=0; i<m_threadLimits; i++)
        if (m_threadIds[i] == Thread.CurrentThread)

Testing the code

To test the semaphore code, a simple form is created with a button, it's purpose - to create a thread when pressed. A static instance of the semaphore is created to be shared by all the threads in the form.

private static Semaphore m_semaphore = new Semaphore(5);

A static method is created which is used to kick off threads. The method waits on the semaphore. At any point, only the number of maximum threads mentioned will be allowed to pass beyond this point to display the message box.

public static void TestThread()
    MessageBox.Show("I am on a new thread");

The button click event is trapped and a new thread is created every time the button is pressed as shown below:

private void StartThread_Click(object sender, System.EventArgs e)
    Thread t = new Thread(new ThreadStart(TestThread));

As we press the button, we can see that only 5 message boxes are shown, demonstrating that only 5 threads are allowed by the semaphore.


This article has no explicit license attached to it but may contain usage terms in the article text or the download files themselves. If in doubt please contact the author via the discussion board below.

A list of licenses authors might use can be found here


About the Author

Sriram Chitturi
United States United States
No Biography provided

You may also be interested in...

Comments and Discussions

GeneralMy vote of 1 Pin
chait30116-Feb-14 12:45
memberchait30116-Feb-14 12:45 
GeneralSemaphore class did not exist in 2003. Pin
Sriram Chitturi17-Feb-14 4:04
memberSriram Chitturi17-Feb-14 4:04 
GeneralRe: Semaphore class did not exist in 2003. Pin
chait30119-Feb-14 10:56
memberchait30119-Feb-14 10:56 
Questionhmmm.... which ones better?? Pin
Jeff_____M___12-May-09 6:44
memberJeff_____M___12-May-09 6:44 
AnswerRe: hmmm.... which ones better?? Pin
Chris@TCP29-May-10 10:46
memberChris@TCP29-May-10 10:46 
GeneralExcellent implementation of Semaphore Pin
Driesens6-Jul-07 5:31
memberDriesens6-Jul-07 5:31 
GeneralPassing info to a thread Pin
pendarric26-Aug-03 16:11
memberpendarric26-Aug-03 16:11 
GeneralRe: Passing info to a thread Pin
zoltix9-Sep-03 22:21
memberzoltix9-Sep-03 22:21 
GeneralGood Job! Pin
fbougadou14-Jul-03 5:25
memberfbougadou14-Jul-03 5:25 
GeneralThere are some problems with this implementation Pin
Brian Gideon11-Jul-03 11:16
memberBrian Gideon11-Jul-03 11:16 
GeneralRe: There are some problems with this implementation Pin
Daniel Turini11-Jul-03 23:24
memberDaniel Turini11-Jul-03 23:24 
GeneralRe: There are some problems with this implementation Pin
Sriram Chitturi12-Jul-03 7:04
memberSriram Chitturi12-Jul-03 7:04 
I expect that the WaitHandle.WaitAny() itself is the thread-safe mechanism in the Semaphore.Wait() method.
Seamphore.Release() is only called by threads holding the lock on the mutexes and ReleaseMutex() is called only by these threads, hence this call need not be thread safe.
I tested this in a production environment kicking off 200 simultaneous threads each executing a small database call 200 times, it worked ! What else do I need Wink | ;)

Have a nice day

Sriram Chitturi
GeneralRe: There are some problems with this implementation Pin
RahulGade19-Nov-04 21:23
memberRahulGade19-Nov-04 21:23 
GeneralProblem in multithread Pin
Member 918701115-Feb-13 22:42
memberMember 918701115-Feb-13 22:42 

General General    News News    Suggestion Suggestion    Question Question    Bug Bug    Answer Answer    Joke Joke    Rant Rant    Admin Admin   

Use Ctrl+Left/Right to switch messages, Ctrl+Up/Down to switch threads, Ctrl+Shift+Left/Right to switch pages.

| Advertise | Privacy | Terms of Use | Mobile
Web03 | 2.8.151002.1 | Last Updated 11 Jul 2003
Article Copyright 2003 by Sriram Chitturi
Everything else Copyright © CodeProject, 1999-2015
Layout: fixed | fluid