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I've written a simple lock-free multi-consumer/-producer FIFO queue. It's supposed to work like this:

  • At any time many consumers may read from it
  • At any time multiple producers can write to it, added elements will be made available later
  • After write modification is finished, we call makePushedElementsAvailable(), so that consumers can read the newly added elements

It's meant to be used for several worker threads to communicate with the GUI simultaneously. I wouldn't necessarily need multi-consumers, single would suffice, but I figured it would be relatively easy to have multi-consumers.

#pragma once
#include <list>
#include <atomic>

template<typename T, int Size>
class MCMP
{
public:
    MCMP();
    bool tryPushLater(const T &element);
    bool tryPop(T &element);
    void makePushedElementsAvailable();
    bool wasEmpty();
    int size();
protected:
private:
    T elements[Size];
    std::atomic<int> iHead, iTail, iWrite;
};

template<typename T, int Size>
int MCMP<T, Size>::size()
{
    return (iTail.load() - iHead.load());
}

template<typename T, int Size>
bool MCMP<T, Size>::wasEmpty()
{
    return (iHead.load() == iTail.load());
}

template<typename T, int Size>
MCMP<T, Size>::MCMP() : iHead(0), iTail(0), iWrite(0)
{
}

template<typename T, int Size>
void MCMP<T, Size>::makePushedElementsAvailable()
{
    iTail.store(iWrite.load());
}

template<typename T, int Size>
bool MCMP<T, Size>::tryPop(T &element)
{
    int newIndex;
    int index;
    do {
        index = iHead.load();
        if (index == iTail.load())
            return false;
        newIndex = index + 1;
    } while (!iHead.compare_exchange_weak(index, newIndex));

    index = index % Size;
    element = elements[index];
    return true;
}

template<typename T, int Size>
bool MCMP<T, Size>::tryPushLater(const T &element)
{
    int newIndex;
    int index;
    do {
        index = iWrite.load();
        if (index - iHead.load() >= Size)
            return false;
        newIndex = index + 1;
    } while (!iWrite.compare_exchange_weak(index, newIndex));

    index = index % Size;
    elements[index] = element;
    return true;
}

So far this seems to work fine. I'd like to have it checked and validated by some others though, please. Is there a simpler way than making the elements available after all updating has finished?

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Welcome to Code Review! This is a good first question, though you forgot to add a language tag. Can you confirm what language you wrote this in so it can be edited onto your question? This makes it easier for people with the right knowledge to find your post and review it. \$\endgroup\$ – SuperBiasedMan Sep 30 '15 at 9:12
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ I've added it to the title and as a tag. Couldn't find a way to mark the topic as C++ though. Thanks for the comment. \$\endgroup\$ – Joh Sep 30 '15 at 9:15
  • \$\begingroup\$ Sorry, I made a small fix to the code after posting it and forgot to change the constructor definition. Should be working now. \$\endgroup\$ – Joh Sep 30 '15 at 10:38
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Hello and welcome to Code Review.

Code comments

Consider writing what you expect each function to do at its most important steps. Short concise comments are preferred (I am guilty of not doing this, too!). This would help reviewers that look at your code and yourself when debugging.

Class names

Your queue's name is MCMP, which I assume stands for multi-consumer/multi-producer. It is an unclear class name. Consider changing it to something more descriptive such as: lock_free_queue.

template <typename T, int Size>
class lock_free_queue
{
    /* declarations */
}

Redundancy in iHead, iTail, iWrite

One of those variables is redundant, your queue should support pushing from one end and popping from the other concurrently, so you only require iHead and iTail. The interaction between these three variables is confusing. Can you explain how they are supposed to work together?

They don't do what you think they do

size() and wasEmpty() are obviously supposed to return the size of the queue and if it is empty, respectively. However, you are not doing an atomic operation to evaluate their expressions. Therefore, nothing prevents another thread from modifying one of either atomic variable after it is loaded. For example:

template<typename T, int Size>
bool MCMP<T, Size>::wasEmpty()
{
    return ( iHead.load() == iTail.load() );
}

What happens if a value is loaded from iHead.load(), but then another thread modifies iHead a bunch of times before iTail loads? It will be compared with an outdated value of iHead and could make your queue say that it is not empty, but it is actually empty in reality.

Compare/exchange loops

You seem to misunderstand how compare/exchange loops work. Every time the compare/exchange operation fails, the first argument of the compare/exchange function (expected) gets updated with the newest value of A.

So in your case, there is no need to load from A every single time in the loop. Your compare/exchange loops thus become:

int newIndex;
int index = iHead.load(); // the initial load from the atomic variable
do
{
    if ( index == iTail.load() )
        return false;
    newIndex = index + 1;
} // 'index' gets updated when the loop fails
while ( !iHead.compare_exchange_weak( index, newIndex ) );

The ABA problem

tryPop( T& ) and tryPushLater( const T& )

Because concurrent code can execute with undetermined timings, your do{} while{} loops suffer from the ABA problem; newIndex gets updated in the loop when the condition fails, but it is possible for one thread to stall and for another to come in and change the value of index from A to B then back to A. In that case, newIndex would not be updated, as the condition would succeed when the original (stalled) thread resumes.

How could it fail if iHead is always incremented?

Thread A can be paused for an indeterminate amount of time. While A is paused, a number of threads concurrently push/pop elements causing your index to overflow and reach the value that A has; A resumes and finds that the comparison is equal and doesn't update newIndex. You have the ABA problem.

While this scenario is very unlikely, it is still possible. Therefore, the code is not error-free. Your queue could not be used as part of a long running application because that issue might eventually arise causing the application's state to become corrupted.

If you require further explanation of this issue, tell me so in a comment.

The ABA problem - Extended

For an atomic compare/exchange operation:

  • Let T1, T2 be threads.
  • Let A be the atomic variable.
  • Let E be the expected value of A.
  • Let N be the new value of A on success.

In any compare/exchange based algorithm that loads the value of A and performs another operation based on that value, such as:

  • Updating N if the compare/exchange operation fails (A.load() != E) with the result of a calculation dependent on the most up-to-date value of A.
  • Dereferencing the value loaded from A if it is a pointer.
  • Performing a lookup based on the value loaded from A.
  • etc.

The ABA problem occurs when thread execution timings cause T1 to stall before the compare/exchange operation (that is dependent on the value loaded from A) is evaluated.

While T1 is stalled, T2 changes the value of A to some other value and then back to the original value of A before T1 resumes. Once T1 continues, the condition of the compare/exchange operation will thus evaluate to true when it should in fact be false.

In the case of the first example of the previous bullet list, N would be stored in A while N has an invalid value/state; had the compare/exchange operation failed (as it should have) N would have been updated according to the new value of A before the next compare/exchange evaluation.

Other bugs

  • When you pop an element from your queue, you don't actually remove the element, you just return a reference to it.
  • The values get written to the array whether makePushedDataAvailable() is called or not, so other threads will see those values. Is this expected?

Conclusion

I've highlighted the most obvious bugs in your program and a few design issues. The ABA problem being the most serious one.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Thank you for the large response, really helpful. First of all, how would I fix the size() and wasEmpty() problem? \$\endgroup\$ – Joh Sep 30 '15 at 20:52
  • \$\begingroup\$ @redundancy: iWrite is needed so that while thread A is still copying data into the queue, thread B can already write at the new iWrite index. Since iTail is only adjusted after makePushedDataAvailable(), consuming threads will not see those values either, right? \$\endgroup\$ – Joh Sep 30 '15 at 20:52
  • \$\begingroup\$ @compare/exchange: thanks for pointing that out, will fix it and edit my post. \$\endgroup\$ – Joh Sep 30 '15 at 20:52
  • \$\begingroup\$ @ABA: I'm not sure if I understand the problem correctly, but since my indices iHead,iTail,iWrite never get decremented anywhere, I dont think this is a problem here, is it? \$\endgroup\$ – Joh Sep 30 '15 at 20:54
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Joh I have added further explanation of the ABA problem. I hope with my notes it will be clear. I recommend you read it and if it still isn't clear, to do further research on your own (that's how I compiled those notes in the first place). \$\endgroup\$ – cr_oag Sep 30 '15 at 22:04
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Bug

When you pop an element off, you increment iHead before reading the return element from elements. If that thread pauses between the increment and the read, another thread can push a new element into the same slot that you were just about to pop, because iHead indicates that the slot is free. This will cause the pop to return the new element instead of the old.

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new tryPop(): fixed the bug pointed out by JS1, thanks. Push should now no longer be able to overwrite the return element. Also fixed the compare_exchange_weak, as pointed out by cr_oag.

template<typename T, int Size>
bool MCMP<T, Size>::tryPop(T &element)
{
    T returnElement;
    int newIndex;
    int index = iHead.load();
    do {
        if (index == iTail.load())
            return false;

        // Added this line to fix the bug pointed out by JS1: push could have overwritten element before it was actually popped
        returnElement = elements[index % Size];

        newIndex = index + 1;
    } while (!iHead.compare_exchange_weak(index, newIndex));

    element = returnElement;
    return true;
}

new tryPushLater(): fixed compare_exchange_weak. However, I still dont understand how ABA applies here. I've read a bit about it now and I think I do understand it. However my threads are never allowed to decrease an index, so there can't be an A>B>A, but only an A>B>C. Or am I still missing something?

template<typename T, int Size>
bool MCMP<T, Size>::tryPushLater(const T &element)
{
    int newIndex;
    int index = iWrite.load();
    do {
        if (index - iHead.load() >= Size)
            return false;
        newIndex = index + 1;
    } while (!iWrite.compare_exchange_weak(index, newIndex));

    index = index % Size;
    elements[index] = element;
    return true;
}
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