kernel synchronization primitives
kernel is written to run across
multiple CPUs and as such provides several different synchronization
primitives to allow developers to safely access and manipulate many data
Mutexes (also called "blocking mutexes") are the most commonly used
synchronization primitive in the kernel. A thread acquires (locks) a mutex
before accessing data shared with other threads (including interrupt threads),
and releases (unlocks) it afterwards. If the mutex cannot be acquired, the
thread requesting it will wait. Mutexes are adaptive by default, meaning that
if the owner of a contended mutex is currently running on another CPU, then a
thread attempting to acquire the mutex will spin rather than yielding the
processor. Mutexes fully support priority propagation.
Spin mutexes are a variation of basic mutexes; the main difference between the
two is that spin mutexes never block. Instead, they spin while waiting for the
lock to be released. To avoid deadlock, a thread that holds a spin mutex must
never yield its CPU. Unlike ordinary mutexes, spin mutexes disable interrupts
when acquired. Since disabling interrupts can be expensive, they are generally
slower to acquire and release. Spin mutexes should be used only when
absolutely necessary, e.g. to protect data shared with interrupt filter code
for details), or for
With most synchronization primitives, such as mutexes, the programmer must
provide memory to hold the primitive. For example, a mutex may be embedded
inside the structure it protects. Mutex pools provide a preallocated set of
mutexes to avoid this requirement. Note that mutexes from a pool may only be
used as leaf locks.
Reader/writer locks allow shared access to protected data by multiple threads or
exclusive access by a single thread. The threads with shared access are known
since they should only read the
protected data. A thread with exclusive access is known as a
since it may modify protected data.
Reader/writer locks can be treated as mutexes (see above and
) with shared/exclusive semantics.
Reader/writer locks support priority propagation like mutexes, but priority is
propagated only to an exclusive holder. This limitation comes from the fact
that shared owners are anonymous.
Read-mostly locks are similar to reader/writer
locks but optimized for very infrequent write locking.
locks implement full priority
propagation by tracking shared owners using a caller-supplied
Sleepable Read-Mostly Locks¶
Sleepable read-mostly locks are a variation on read-mostly locks. Threads
holding an exclusive lock may sleep, but threads holding a shared lock may
not. Priority is propagated to shared owners but not to exclusive owners.
Shared/exclusive locks are similar to reader/writer locks; the main difference
between them is that shared/exclusive locks may be held during unbounded
sleep. Acquiring a contested shared/exclusive lock can perform an unbounded
sleep. These locks do not support priority propagation.
Lockmanager locks are sleepable shared/exclusive locks used mostly in
lock) and in the buffer cache
). They have features other lock
types do not have such as sleep timeouts, blocking upgrades, writer starvation
avoidance, draining, and an interlock mutex, but this makes them complicated
both to use and to implement; for this reason, they should be avoided.
Counting semaphores provide a mechanism for synchronizing access to a pool of
resources. Unlike mutexes, semaphores do not have the concept of an owner, so
they can be useful in situations where one thread needs to acquire a resource,
and another thread needs to release it. They are largely deprecated.
Condition variables are used in conjunction with locks to wait for a condition
to become true. A thread must hold the associated lock before calling one of
(), functions. When a thread
waits on a condition, the lock is atomically released before the thread yields
the processor and reacquired before the function call returns. Condition
variables may be used with blocking mutexes, reader/writer locks, read-mostly
locks, and shared/exclusive locks.
() also handle event-based thread
blocking. Unlike condition variables, arbitrary addresses may be used as wait
channels and a dedicated structure does not need to be allocated. However,
care must be taken to ensure that wait channel addresses are unique to an
event. If a thread must wait for an external event, it is put to sleep by
(). Threads may also wait using one of
the locking primitive sleep routines
The parameter chan
is an arbitrary address that
uniquely identifies the event on which the thread is being put to sleep. All
threads sleeping on a single chan
up later by
() (often called from
inside an interrupt routine) to indicate that the event the thread was
blocking on has occurred.
Several of the sleep functions including
(), and the locking primitive
sleep routines specify an additional lock parameter. The lock will be released
before sleeping and reacquired before the sleep routine returns. If
flag, then the lock will not be
reacquired before returning. The lock is used to ensure that a condition can
be checked atomically, and that the current thread can be suspended without
missing a change to the condition or an associated wakeup. In addition, all of
the sleep routines will fully drop the Giant
mutex (even if recursed) while the thread is suspended and will reacquire the
mutex (restoring any recursion) before
the function returns.
() function is a special sleep
function that waits for a specified amount of time to pass before the thread
resumes execution. This sleep cannot be terminated early by either an explicit
() or a signal.
Giant is a special mutex used to protect data structures that do not yet have
their own locks. Since it provides semantics akin to the old
interface, Giant has special
- It is recursive.
- Drivers can request that Giant be locked around them by not marking
themselves MPSAFE. Note that infrastructure to do this is slowly going
away as non-MPSAFE drivers either became properly locked or
- Giant must be locked before other non-sleepable locks.
- Giant is dropped during unbounded sleeps and reacquired after wakeup.
- There are places in the kernel that drop Giant and pick it back up again.
Sleep locks will do this before sleeping. Parts of the network or VM code
may do this as well. This means that you cannot count on Giant keeping
other code from running if your code sleeps, even if you want it to.
The primitives can interact and have a number of rules regarding how they can
and can not be combined. Many of these rules are checked by
Bounded vs. Unbounded Sleep¶
In a bounded sleep (also referred to as “blocking”) the only
resource needed to resume execution of a thread is CPU time for the owner of a
lock that the thread is waiting to acquire. In an unbounded sleep (often
referred to as simply “sleeping”) a thread waits for an external
event or for a condition to become true. In particular, a dependency chain of
threads in bounded sleeps should always make forward progress, since there is
always CPU time available. This requires that no thread in a bounded sleep is
waiting for a lock held by a thread in an unbounded sleep. To avoid priority
inversions, a thread in a bounded sleep lends its priority to the owner of the
lock that it is waiting for.
The following primitives perform bounded sleeps: mutexes, reader/writer locks
and read-mostly locks.
The following primitives perform unbounded sleeps: sleepable read-mostly locks,
shared/exclusive locks, lockmanager locks, counting semaphores, condition
variables, and sleep/wakeup.
- It is an error to do any operation that could result in yielding the
processor while holding a spin mutex.
- It is an error to do any operation that could result in unbounded sleep
while holding any primitive from the 'bounded sleep' group. For example,
it is an error to try to acquire a shared/exclusive lock while holding a
mutex, or to try to allocate memory with M_WAITOK while holding a
Note that the lock passed to one of the
cv_wait() functions is dropped before
the thread enters the unbounded sleep and does not violate this rule.
- It is an error to do any operation that could result in yielding of the
processor when running inside an interrupt filter.
- It is an error to do any operation that could result in unbounded sleep
when running inside an interrupt thread.
The following table shows what you can and can not do while holding one of the
locking primitives discussed. Note that “sleep” includes
(), any of the
() functions, and any of the
| You want:
There are calls that atomically release this
primitive when going to sleep and reacquire it on wakeup
These cases are only allowed while holding a
write lock on a sleepable read-mostly lock.
Though one can sleep while holding this lock,
one can also use a
() function to
atomically release this primitive when going to sleep and reacquire it on
Note that non-blocking try operations on locks are always permitted.
Context mode table¶
The next table shows what can be used in different contexts. At this time this
is a rather easy to remember table.
These functions appeared in BSD/OS 4.1
There are too many locking primitives to choose from.