Lock, mutex, semaphore… what’s the difference?

[Origin]: https://stackoverflow.com/questions/2332765/lock-mutex-semaphore-whats-the-difference

A lock allows only one thread to enter the part that’s locked and the lock is not shared with any other processes.

A mutex is the same as a lock but it can be system wide (shared by multiple processes).

A semaphore does the same as a mutex but allows x number of threads to enter, this can be used for example to limit the number of cpu, io or ram intensive tasks running at the same time.

You also have read/write locks that allows either unlimited number of readers or 1 writer at any given time.

There are a lot of misconceptions regarding these words.This is from a previous post (https://stackoverflow.com/a/24582076/3163691) which fits superb here:

1) Critical Section= User object used for allowing the execution of just one active thread from many others within one process. The other non selected threads are put to sleep.

[No interprocess capability, very primitive object].

2) Mutex Semaphore (aka Mutex)= Kernel object used for allowing the execution of just one active thread from many others, among different processes. The other non selected threads are put to sleep. This object supports thread ownership, thread termination notification, recursion (multiple ‘acquire’ calls from same thread) and ‘priority inversion avoidance’.

[Interprocess capability, very safe to use, a kind of ‘high level’ synchronization object].

3) Counting Semaphore (aka Semaphore)= Kernel object used for allowing the execution of a group of active threads from many others. The other non selected threads are put to sleep.

[Interprocess capability however not very safe to use because it lacks following ‘mutex’ attributes: thread termination notification, recursion?, ‘priority inversion avoidance’?, etc].

4) And now, talking about ‘spinlocks’, first some definitions:

Critical Region= A region of memory shared by 2 or more processes.

Lock= A variable whose value allows or denies the entrance to a ‘critical region’. (It could be implemented as a simple ‘boolean flag’).

Busy waiting= Continuosly testing of a variable until some value appears.

Finally:

Spin-lock (aka Spinlock)= A lock which uses busy waiting. (The acquiring of the lock is made by xchg or similar atomic operations).

[No thread sleeping, mostly used at kernel level only. Ineffcient for User level code].

As a last comment, I am not sure but I can bet you some big bucks that the above first 3 synchronizing objects (#1, #2 and #3) make use of this simple beast (#4) as part of their implementation.

Have a good day!.

References:

-Real-Time Concepts for Embedded Systems by Qing Li with Caroline Yao (CMP Books).

-Modern Operating Systems (3rd) by Andrew Tanenbaum (Pearson Education International).

-Programming Applications for Microsoft Windows (4th) by Jeffrey Richter (Microsoft Programming Series).

Also, you can take a look at look at: https://stackoverflow.com/a/24586803/3163691

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