C++ future


Recently updating my hobby project Med, memory editor for Linux, still under heavy development with various bugs.

In this project, I use several C++1x features (compiled with C++14 standard). Most recent notable feature is multi-threading scanning. In memory scanning, scan through the accessible memory blocks sequentially is slow. Therefore, I need to scan the memory blocks in parallel. To implement this, I have to create multiple threads to scan through the memory blocks.

How many threads I need? I make it into variable n, default to 4. Meaning, when scanning is started, the n threads will start scanning asynchronously. When one of the thread finish scanning, the next (n+1) thread will start scanning the next (n+1) memory block, until the end.

I design the solution top-down, and implement it bottom-up. In order to design the solution for the requirement above, I created a ThreadManager (header file here). So the ThreadManager basically will let me queue the tasks that I am going to launch in parallel with n threads. After queuing all the tasks, I just need to start, then they will run in parallel as multi-threading. This is what ThreadManager is doing. If mutex is needed, it is the task need to handle with, not the ThreadManager to handle. ThreadManager just make sure the tasks are run in parallel.

This is the simple test that uses the ThreadManager.

Technically, there are several important C++ standard libraries used, vector, functional, future, mutex, and condition_variable. Vector is an STL that allows me to store a list of items as vector (just like array or list).

Since C++11, it supports lambda expression. Then using functional, I can use std::function template to create any function object.

std::function<void()> fn = []() {
  for (int i = 0; i < 4; i++) {
    this_thread::sleep_for(chrono::milliseconds(300));
    cout << "thread1: " << i << endl;
  }
};

The code above initialize a variable fn which stores an anonymous function. Previously, this can be done using callback function, which makes the code difficult to manage. By using std::function and std::vector, I can store all the anonymous functions to the vector.

Future is a very interesting library. If we are familiar with JavaScript promise or C# async, then it is similar to these (futures and promises). Whenever a task is start, it will return a future. Because we don’t know when the task will be ended. We can also do something like using a loop to check the condition of a task whether is ended, but this will be over complicated. Because future will let you handle what should be done when the task is ended.

Using future, I need not to create thread directly (though it is called ThreadManager). I can use async function to run the callback function asynchronously. It is the async that returns future. And this async function allows lambda expression as function argument. Great C++11.

C++11 supports mutex (mutual exclusion) and condition variable. Mutex can prevent race condition. When we are using multi-threading, most of the time the threads are using some shared resource. Read the empty data may crash the program. Therefore, we need to make sure when reading or writing, the resource is not accessible by other threads. This can be done by locking the mutex, so that other threads cannot continue. Then after the operation, unlock the mutex, and the other threads can lock the mutex and continue. Hence, only a single thread can access the resource.

Condition variable is used together with mutex. We can use condition variable to wait if a condition is fulfilled. When a wait is performed, the mutex will be locked (by unique lock). As a result, the thread will be blocked and cannot continue. The thread will wait until the condition variable notifies the thread to perform a condition check. If it is fulfilled, then the mutex will be unlocked and the thread will continue.

In ThreadManager, my previous code uses a loop to check the condition, if the condition doesn’t allows to run the next thread, then it will sleep a while and check again. This method is wasting the CPU resources. Because it keeps checking the condition. By using condition variable and mutex, I can just stop the thread, until it is notified to continue.

Yeah. Modern C++ is cool!

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