I'm trying to write a message queue implementation so my threads can exchange data. To keep things simple, the queue is only responsible for sending pointers to memory. Only one thread may send messages, and only one thread may read messages.

The struct mq_t represents a message queue.

  • mq_t.messages is a circular buffer of pointers.
  • mq_t.send is the index of the last sent message.
  • mq_t.recv is the index of the next message to be received.

I'd like to know some things:

  1. Thread Safety: I didn't use a mutex or lock, but I think the code is quite thread-safe. Is this true?
  2. In the code I use things like while (isempty(queue));. Is there a better way to handle such things, like suspending the thread until a memory change occurs?
  3. Cross Platform: does my code rely on some non-cross platform code or undefined behaviour?
  4. Are there other things wrong with my code (except the highly generic function names)?

#include <stdlib.h>
#include <pthread.h>
#include <stdio.h>

#define null ((void*)0)
#define SIZE 2

typedef struct {
    int send;
    int recv;
    void * messages[SIZE];
} mq_t;

inline int isfull(mq_t * queue) {
    return (queue->send+1)%SIZE == queue->recv;

inline int isempty(mq_t * queue) {
    return queue->send == queue->recv;

mq_t * create(void) {
    mq_t * queue = (mq_t*)malloc(sizeof(mq_t));
    queue->send = 0;
    queue->recv = 0;

void send(mq_t * queue, void * message) {
    while (isfull(queue));
    int next = (queue->send+1) % SIZE;
    queue->messages[next] = message;
    queue->send = next;

void * recv(mq_t * queue) {
    while (isempty(queue));
    void * message = queue->messages[queue->send];
    queue->recv = (queue->recv+1) % SIZE;
    return message;

void destroy(mq_t * queue) {
    while (!isempty(queue));


void * sender(void * queue) {
    send(queue, "hello, ");
    send(queue, "world");
    send(queue, "how are you?");
    printf("sent data\n");

void * recver(void * queue) {
    printf("received '%s'\n", recv(queue));
    printf("received '%s'\n", recv(queue));
    printf("received '%s'\n", recv(queue));

int main() {
    mq_t * queue = create();

    pthread_t s, r;
    pthread_create(&s, null, sender, (void*)queue);
    pthread_create(&r, null, recver, (void*)queue);
    pthread_join(s, null);
    pthread_join(r, null);

    return 0;


received 'hello, '
received 'world'
received 'how are you?'
sent data
  • \$\begingroup\$ I don't think POSIX is portable to windows these days. I'm not very windows-savvy so I could easily be mistaken. \$\endgroup\$
    – weberc2
    Commented Feb 27, 2015 at 17:29

2 Answers 2


With a size of 2, your 'queue' can hold only one item, so it is not really a queue. If you increase the size to 8 (say) you now really have a queue, but your tests don't work.

You seem to define send and recv as follows:

  • send indicates the 'slot' holding the most recently entered data (queue not empty).

  • recv indicates the 'slot' before the oldest data in the queue (queue not empty).

  • if send == recv the queue is empty.

So with both send and recv at zero, when the first data is written it goes to slot 1 and send is incremented to 1; when the 2nd data is written it goes to slot 2 and send is incremented to 2. If you now read from the queue, in recv you use the send counter to extract the data instead of using recv + 1. Hence the queue fails.

A more logical arrangement might be as follows with the counters renamed in and out (naming them the same as the access functions is confusing):

  • in indicates the next 'slot' to be written by send (queue not empty).

  • out indicates the 'slot' containing the next data to be read by recv (queue not empty).

  • if in == out the queue is empty.

So with both send and recv at zero, when the first data is sent, it goes into slot 0 (to which in and out already point) and in is incremented to 1. The first read now reads from out at 0 - which is correct.

On thread safety, it is very difficult to see/analyse such things. You would be better to assume that it isn't (it certainly wouldn't be if there were more than 2 threads) and use a mutex. As your wait loops need to be rewritten (they just waste CPU cycles needlessly) and you are using Posix threads, use a Posix mutex and a "condition variable" to synchronise.

Here's an example, but there are many more on the web: http://www.ibm.com/developerworks/library/l-posix3/

Some minor coding points:

  • Add const to pointer parameters that do not change.

  • Return a value from create

  • Don't cast the return from malloc. Casting is necessary in C++ not C (where void* can be assigned to any pointer). In C, adding a cast can cause problems if you don't have the header for malloc included, as the compiler will assume that malloc returns an int. If int and pointer have different sizes this is a problem.

  • null is not really needed. You can use either 0 or NULL.

  • the _t type suffix is apparently reserved by Posix.


This code is surely not MTsafe:

void send(mq_t * queue, void * message) {
    while (isfull(queue));
    int next = (queue->send+1) % SIZE;

After while (isfull(queue)); and before queue->send = next;, you can enter a bit of threads and writes in common slot before they update queue->send pointer that cause isfull to locked state.


Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.