Multithreaded Programming Guide

Invariants and Locks

For both code locking and data locking, invariants are important to control lock complexity. An invariant is a condition or relation that is always true.

The definition is modified somewhat for concurrent execution: an invariant is a condition or relation that is true when the associated lock is being set. Once the lock is set, the invariant can be false. However, the code that holds the lock must reestablish the invariant before releasing the lock.

An invariant can also be a condition or relation that is true when a lock is being set. Condition variables can be thought of as having an invariant that is the condition.

Example 9–4 Testing the Invariant With assert(3C)


The assert() statement is testing the invariant. The cond_wait() function does not preserve the invariant, which is why the invariant must be reevaluated when the thread returns.

Another example is a module that manages a doubly linked list of elements. For each item on the list, a good invariant is the forward pointer of the previous item on the list. The forward pointer should also point to the same element as the backward pointer of the forward item.

Assume that this module uses code-based locking and therefore is protected by a single global mutex lock. When an item is deleted or added, the mutex lock is acquired, the correct manipulation of the pointers is made, and the mutex lock is released. Obviously, at some point in the manipulation of the pointers the invariant is false, but the invariant is reestablished before the mutex lock is released.