[armedbear-devel] Thread safety of clos.lisp (and supporting Java classes)

Erik Huelsmann ehuels at gmail.com
Wed Jul 15 20:18:05 UTC 2009

During my testing of multi-threaded use of ABCL over the past weeks, I
found that ABCL performs reliably with 2 threads on 2 cores (fully
dedicated to running ABCL code). However, there's one notable
exception: Any code which requires CLOS, such as the pretty printer
and other actions which require generic methods. I'm able to quite
reliably break ABCL by starting a  specific series of actions on 2
threads at the same time. (No global values in the program code!)

The cause can be led back to slow-method-lookup; if I add
SYNCHRONIZED-ON to it, the tests work fine. However,
SLOW-METHOD-LOOKUP has friends which also manipulate the EMF-CACHE, so
I don't think this would be the full solution.

There's however an additional issue: Hashmap is defined to be
thread-unsafe: 2 concurrent readers are fine, but concurrent writers
or mixed concurrent readers/writers are not guaranteed to work. So, to
guarantee results with the current EMF-CACHE implementation, we need
to make sure there's 1 reader/writer at the same time - using
synchronized-on, that is. For most applications this would be horribly
inefficient: most methods will be added once and read huge numbers of

ECL chose a rather unconventional direction in this case: instead of
searching for lock-less semantics of global state, they have an
EMF-CACHE per thread, meaning that read/write operations on the cache
are thread-local and hence can be done lockless.

ABCL could easily go with java.util.concurrent.ConcurrentHashMap,
which is lock-less and allows concurrent readers and limited
synchronous writers (~16 by default). However, this assumes that the
actual threading issue is mainly with writing values to the cache. ie,
before an "entry to be cached" is available, nothing happens which
can't be overwritten immediately after it has been added to the cache.
It's that last bit I have problems with assessing: do we simply need
to use another caching hash class or do we need to do much broader
"global" locking? (The "global" locking proposed would simply be
locking that specific generic function; clos could easily run in other
threads for other GFs...)

Help welcome!



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