POSIX Simple Mutex Usage


Example

POSIX thread library provides implementation of the mutex primitive, used for the mutual exclusion. Mutex is created using pthread_mutex_init, and destroyed using pthread_mutex_destroy. Obtaining a mutex can be done using pthread_mutex_lock or pthread_mutex_trylock, (depending if the timeout is desired) and releasing a mutex is done via pthread_mutex_unlock.

A simple example using a mutex to serialize access to critical section follows. First, the example without using a mutex. Note that this program has data race due to unsynchronized access to global_resource by the two threads. As a result, this program has undefined behaviour:

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

// Global resource accessible to all threads
int global_resource;

// Threading routine which increments the resource 10 times and prints
// it after every increment
void* thread_inc (void* arg)
{
    for (int i = 0; i < 10; i++)
    {
        global_resource++;
        printf("Increment: %d\n", global_resource);
        // Make this thread slower, so the other one
        // can do more work
        sleep(1);
    }

    printf("Thread inc finished.\n");

    return NULL;
}

// Threading routine which decrements the resource 10 times and prints
// it after every decrement
void* thread_dec (void* arg)
{
    for (int i = 0; i < 10; i++)
    {
        global_resource--;
        printf("Decrement: %d\n", global_resource);
    }

    printf("Thread dec finished.\n");

    return NULL;
}

int main (int argc, char** argv)
{
    pthread_t threads[2];

    if (0 != (errno = pthread_create(&threads[0], NULL, thread_inc, NULL)))
    {
        perror("pthread_create() failed");
        return EXIT_FAILURE;
    }

    if (0 != (errno = pthread_create(&threads[1], NULL, thread_dec, NULL)))
    {
        perror("pthread_create() failed");
        return EXIT_FAILURE;
    }

    // Wait for threads to finish
    for (int i = 0; i < 2; i++)
    {
        if (0 != (errno = pthread_join(threads[i], NULL))) {
            perror("pthread_join() failed");
            return EXIT_FAILURE;
        }
    }

    return EXIT_SUCCESS;
}

A possible output is:

Increment: 1
Decrement: 0
Decrement: -1
Decrement: -2
Decrement: -3
Decrement: -4
Decrement: -5
Decrement: -6
Decrement: -7
Decrement: -8
Decrement: -9
Thread dec finished.
Increment: -8
Increment: -7
Increment: -6
Increment: -5
Increment: -4
Increment: -3
Increment: -2
Increment: -1
Increment: 0
Thread inc finished.

Now, if we want to synchronise these threads so that we want first to increment or decrement all the way up or down, and then do it in the different way, we need to use a synchronization primitive, such as mutex:

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

// Global resource accessible to all threads
int global_resource;
// Mutex protecting the resource
pthread_mutex_t mutex;

// Threading routine which increments the resource 10 times and prints
// it after every increment
void* thread_inc (void* arg)
{
    // Pointer to mutex is passed as an argument
    pthread_mutex_t* mutex = arg;

    // Execute the following code without interrupts, all the way to the
    // point B
    if (0 != (errno = pthread_mutex_lock(mutex)))
    {
        perror("pthread_mutex_lock failed");
        exit(EXIT_FAILURE);
    }

    for (int i = 0; i < 10; i++)
    {
        global_resource++;
        printf("Increment: %d\n", global_resource);
        // Make this thread slower, so the other one
        // can do more work
        sleep(1);
    }

    printf("Thread inc finished.\n");

    // Point B:
    if (0 != (errno = pthread_mutex_unlock(mutex)))
    {
        perror("pthread_mutex_unlock failed");
        exit(EXIT_FAILURE);
    }

    return NULL;
}

// Threading routine which decrements the resource 10 times and prints
// it after every decrement
void* thread_dec (void* arg)
{
    // Pointer to mutex is passed as an argument
    pthread_mutex_t* mutex = arg;

    if (0 != (errno = pthread_mutex_lock(mutex)))
    {
        perror("pthread_mutex_lock failed");
        exit(EXIT_FAILURE);
    }

    for (int i = 0; i < 10; i++)
    {
        global_resource--;
        printf("Decrement: %d\n", global_resource);
    }

    printf("Thread dec finished.\n");

    // Point B:
    if (0 != (errno = pthread_mutex_unlock(mutex)))
    {
        perror("pthread_mutex_unlock failed");
        exit(EXIT_FAILURE);
    }

    return NULL;
}

int main (int argc, char** argv)
{
    pthread_t threads[2];
    pthread_mutex_t mutex;

    // Create a mutex with the default parameters
    if (0 != (errno = pthread_mutex_init(&mutex, NULL)))
    {
        perror("pthread_mutex_init() failed");
        return EXIT_FAILURE;
    }

    if (0 != (errno = pthread_create(&threads[0], NULL, thread_inc, &mutex)))
    {
        perror("pthread_create() failed");
        return EXIT_FAILURE;
    }

    if (0 != (errno = pthread_create(&threads[1], NULL, thread_dec, &mutex)))
    {
        perror("pthread_create() failed");
        return EXIT_FAILURE;
    }

    // Wait for threads to finish
    for (int i = 0; i < 2; i++)
    {
        if (0 != (errno = pthread_join(threads[i], NULL))) {
            perror("pthread_join() failed");
            return EXIT_FAILURE;
        }
    }

    // Both threads are guaranteed to be finished here, so we can safely
    // destroy the mutex
    if (0 != (errno = pthread_mutex_destroy(&mutex)))
    {
        perror("pthread_mutex_destroy() failed");
        return EXIT_FAILURE;
    }

    return EXIT_SUCCESS;
}

One of the possible outputs is

Increment: 1
Increment: 2
Increment: 3
Increment: 4
Increment: 5
Increment: 6
Increment: 7
Increment: 8
Increment: 9
Increment: 10
Thread inc finished.
Decrement: 9
Decrement: 8
Decrement: 7
Decrement: 6
Decrement: 5
Decrement: 4
Decrement: 3
Decrement: 2
Decrement: 1
Decrement: 0
Thread dec finished.

The other possible output would be inverse, in case that thread_dec obtained the mutex first.