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C++ 11 Threads: Make your (multitasking) life easier.

, 6 Feb 2013
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C++ 11 Threads

Introduction  

This article aims to help the experienced Win32 programmer to understand differences and similarities between C++ 11 threads and synchronization objects, and Win32 threads and synchronization objects. 

In Win32, all synchronization object handles are global handles. They can be shared, even duplicated among processes. In C++ 11 all synchronization objects are stack objects, which means they have to be "detached" (if detaching is supported) in order to be able to get destructed by the stack frame. If you do not detach many objects, they will undo their actions and possibly kill your plans (which, if you are a Win32 programmer are "global handle"- oriented). 

All C++ 11 synchronization objects have a native_handle() member which returns the implementation-specific handle (in Win32, a HANDLE).s 

In all my examples, I give the Win32 pseudocode. Have fun!

Background Color 

0x00000000. That is, nothing. I 'm also a C++ 11 thread newbie. You need to know your way about Win32 synchronization through. This is not a tutorial on proper synchronization techniques, but a quick introduction to the C++11 mechanisms for doing what you have already planned in your mind.

Simplicity makes it perfect

The simple example: Start a thread, then wait for it to finish.

void foo() 
  { 
  }
void func()
  {
  std::thread t(foo); // Starts. Equal to CreateThread.
  t.join();  // Equal to WaitForSingleObject to the thread handle.
  }
 

Not like a Win32 thread however, here you can have parameters. 

void foo(int x,int y) 
  { 
  // x = 4, y = 5.
  }
void func()
  {
  std::thread t(foo,4,5); // Acceptable.
  t.join();  
  } 

This makes it easy to have a member function as a thread, by passing the hidden 'this' pointer to std::thread.

If std::thread gets destructed  and you haven't called join(), it will call abort. To let the thread run without the C++ wrapper:   

void foo() 
  { 
  }
void func()
  {
  std::thread t(foo); 
  t.detach(); // C++ object detached from Win32 object. Now t.join() would throw std::system_error().
  }  

Along with join() and detach(), there are also joinable(), get_id(), sleep_for(), sleep_until(). Their use should be self-explanatory.  

Use that Mutex  

A std::mutex is similar to a Win32 critical section. lock() is like EnterCriticalSection, unlock() is like LeaveCriticalSection, try_lock() is like TryEnterCriticalSection.

std::mutex m;
int j = 0;
void foo() 
  { 
  m.lock();
  j++;
  m.unlock();
  }
void func()
  {
  std::thread t1(foo); 
  std::thread t2(foo); 
  t1.join();
  t2.join();
 // j = 2;
}  

As before, you must unlock a std::mutex after locking and you must not lock a std::mutex if you have already locked it. This is different than Win32, in which, EnterCriticalSection does not fail when you are already inside the critical section, but instead increases a counter.

Hey, don't leave. There's std::recursive_mutex (who invented these names ?) that behaves exactly like a critical section: 

std::recursive_mutex m;
void foo() 
  { 
  m.lock();
  m.lock(); // now valid
  j++;
  m.unlock();
  m.unlock(); // don't forget!
  }

In addition to these classes, there's also std::timed_mutex and std::recursive_timed_mutex which also provide a try_lock_for/ try_lock_until. These allow you to wait for a lock until a specific timeout or specific time. 

Thread Local Storage

Similar to TLS, this facility allows you to declare a global variable with the thread_local modifier. This means that each thread has it's own instance of that variable, with a common global name. Consider the previous example again:

int j = 0;
void foo() 
  { 
  m.lock();
  j++;
  m.unlock();
  }
void func()
  {
  j = 0;
  std::thread t1(foo); 
  std::thread t2(foo); 
  t1.join();
  t2.join();
 // j = 2;
} 

But see this now: 

thread_local int j = 0;
void foo() 
  { 
  m.lock();
  j++; // j is now 1, no matter the thread. j is local to this thread.
  m.unlock();
  }
void func()
  {
  j = 0;
  std::thread t1(foo); 
  std::thread t2(foo); 
  t1.join();
  t2.join();
 // j still 0. The other "j"s were local to the threads
} 

Thread Local Storage is not yet supported in Visual Studio. 

Mysterious Variables 

Conditional variables are objects that enable threads to wait for a specific condition. In Windows, these objects are user-mode and they cannot be shared with other processes. In Windows, conditional variables are associated with critical sections to acquire or release a lock. std::condition_variable is associated with a std::mutex for the same reason.

std::condition_variable c;
std::mutex mu; // We use a mutex rather than a recursive_mutex because the lock has to be acquired only and exactly once.
void foo5() 
   { 
   std::unique_lock lock(mu); // Lock the mutex
   c.notify_one(); // WakeConditionVariable. It also releases the unique lock  
   }
void func5()
   {
   std::unique_lock lock(mu); // Lock the mutex
   std::thread t1(foo5); 
   c.wait(lock); // Equal to SleepConditionVariableCS. This unlocks the mutex mu and allows foo5 to lock it 
   t1.join();
   }

This is not so innocent as it looks. c.wait() might return even when c.notify_one() is not called (a situtation known as a spurious wakeup - http://msdn.microsoft.com/en-us/library/windows/desktop/ms686301(v=vs.85).aspx). Typically you place the c.wait() in a while loop which also checks an external variable to verify the notification.

Conditional Variables are only supported in Vista or later. 

Promise the Future

Consider this scenario. You want a thread to do some work and return you a result. Meanwhile you want to do other work which may or may not take some time. You want the result of the other thread to be available at a certain point.

In Win32, you would:

  • Start the thread with CreateThread().
  • Inside the thread, do the work and set an event when ready, while storing the result to a global variable.
  • In main code, do the other work then WaitForSingleObject when you want the result. 

In C++ 11 this is done easily by using std::future, and return any type since it's a template.

int GetMyAnswer()
   {
   return 10;
   }
int main()
  {
  std::future<int> GetAnAnswer = std::async(GetMyAnswer);  // GetMyAnswer starts background execution
  int answer = GetAnAnswer.get(); // answer = 10; 
  // If GetMyAnswer has finished, this call returns immediately. 
  // If not, it waits for the thread to finish.
  }  

You also have the std::promise. This object can provide something that std::future will later request. If you call std::future::get() before anything has been put into the promise, get waits until the promised value is there. If std::promise::set_exception() is called, std::future::get() throws that exception. If the std::promise is destroyed and you call std::future::get(), you get a broken_promise exception.

std::promise<int> sex;
void foo()
  {
  // do stuff
  sex.set_value(1); // After this call, future::get() will return this value. 
  sex.set_exception(std::make_exception_ptr(std::runtime_error("broken_condom"))); // After this call, future::get() will throw this exception
  }
int main()
  {
  future<int> makesex = sex.get_future();
  std::thread t(foo);
  
  // do stuff
  try
    {
    makesex.get();
    hurray();
    }
  catch(...)
    {
    // She dumped us :(
    }
  }  

 

Code 

The attached CPP file contains all we 've said so far in a ready-to-compile Visual Studio 12 with November 2012 CTP compiler (except the TLS mechanism). 

What's next?

There are a lot of things that deserve to be included, like:

  • Semaphores
  • Named objects
  • Shareable objects across processes.
  • [...] 

What should you do? Generally, when writing new code, do prefer the standards if they are enough for you. For existing code, I would keep my Win32 calls and, when I need to port them to another platform, then I would implement CreateThread, SetEvent etc with C++ 11 functions.

GOOD LUCK.

 

History 

  • 5 - 2 - 2013 : First release. 

License

This article, along with any associated source code and files, is licensed under The Code Project Open License (CPOL)

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About the Author

Michael Chourdakis
Engineer
Greece Greece
I'm working in C++, PHP , Flash and DSP Programming, currently experimenting with Windows 7 technologies and professional audio applications.
 
I 've a PhD in Digital Signal Processing.
 
My home page: http://www.michaelchourdakis.com

Comments and Discussions

 
GeneralMy vote of 5 Pinmemberimagiro14-Mar-14 9:11 
GeneralMy vote of 5 PinmemberMihai MOGA11-Mar-13 21:48 
Bug*syntax error* Pinmembermegaadam8-Feb-13 6:33 
GeneralRe: *syntax error* PinmemberMichael Chourdakis9-Feb-13 23:54 
QuestionNice but unreadable... Pinmembermegaadam6-Feb-13 22:54 
AnswerRe: Nice but unreadable... PinmemberStone Free24-May-13 4:34 
SuggestionGood article but hard to read PinmemberH.Brydon6-Feb-13 7:00 
GeneralRe: Good article but hard to read PinmemberMichael Chourdakis7-Feb-13 0:09 
SuggestionBTW: Check your signature for typo PinmemberAndreas Gieriet6-Feb-13 3:11 
GeneralMy vote of 5 PinmemberAhmed Ibrahim Assaf5-Feb-13 21:25 
GeneralMy vote of 5 PinmemberAndreas Gieriet5-Feb-13 9:45 
Questiongood and funny PinmemberMarius Bancila5-Feb-13 9:26 
Questionnice article but broken formatting PinmemberAndreas Gieriet5-Feb-13 8:31 
AnswerRe: nice article but broken formatting PinmemberMichael Chourdakis5-Feb-13 9:09 
GeneralMy vote of 5 PinmemberPaulo Zemek5-Feb-13 8:10 
GeneralRe: My vote of 5 PinmemberMichael Chourdakis5-Feb-13 9:22 

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