In the C++11 standard several concurrency related classes were added. I will talk about thread, future and promise. Yes, I know there are others more useful than these three. However, I think that it is really important to know well the bases to be able to use the more complex ones properly.
As usual, I am working from an Arch Linux computer. Therefore, I can install Clang and the tools from the repository (clang). For other distributions you can find the information in the documentation.
As always, all the code used in this post is available in this repo.
The videos are made with asciinema, that means you can copy from the video.
Thread is the basic element of concurrency in the C++11 standard and they are intended to map one-to-one the operating system’s threads.
In this example we use a thread to perform the task done by the function accum_up_to. Some parts to note in the code are the following:
- The function that is executing the thread has a return type of void. Therefore, to get a result from that function it is required to provide a parameter to hold it.
- Before being able to use the result stored in the parameters passed we have to make sure the thread has finished. To do so we use the join method of the thread to synchronize it.
In this example we use two threads that perform the same task done by the function accum_up_to. As you can see above once the code is able to hold a thread, it is quite easy to make it hold two. However, now we have two result variables and two calls to the method join. As you can see it is not really easy to keep track once you have several threads.
Future provides a way to access the result of asynchronous operations. You can imagine we use this to avoid the tedious part of getting the results from the threads.
In this example we use a future to perform the task done by the function accum_up_to. Some changes compared to the thread version:
- The function returns the value directly and it can be accesed by the method get. Moreover, the method get synchronizes the future.
- Future is gotten from the async function. This is really similar to how the threads are created.
In this example we use two futures that perform the same task done by the function accum_up_to. This time the execution of two tasks in separate threads is way cleaner.
Promise is where a task can deposit its result to be retrieved through a future. In other words, promise is a way to have a single point of synchronization between two threads without being the end of one of them.
In this example we use a promise to send some information (from the user) into a future to perform the task done by the function accum_up_to. Some key points from the example:
- The promise provides you a future and that future is used by the accum_up_to function.
- Once the user gives a number, the promise sends it to the future, as it is waiting for the number where the get method is called.
- Finally, the method join from the thread is called in order to wait for it to finish the execution of the function accum_up_to.
In this execution something called data race is shown. That can be seen because the execution of the same program can generate different outputs (even if the result value is always the same).
These are really the basics of concurrency that are provided in the C++11 standard. I know there are other important topics from concurrency such as mutex or condition variable and I will talk about them in the future because they deserve their own post. Futhermore, I know I have not talked about data races, dead locks and all the other problems you face when doing concurrency, again if people are interested in this topic I can write about it too.