CSCI 3500: Studio 11


Mutual exclusion is an important concept in concurrent and parallel programming where different threads of execution cooperate to avoid causing racy program behavior. This exclusion is encapsulated at a high level in an object called a mutex. A mutex allows for protection of shared data by allowing cooperating threads to lock the mutex and thereby claim the exclusive use of critical data.

In this studio, you will:

  1. Create a Pthreads mutex
  2. Use a single mutex to coordinate shared access to a variable
  3. Measure the overhead of using a mutex

Please complete the required exercises below, as well as any optional enrichment exercises that you wish to complete.

As you work through these exercises, please record your answers in a text file. When finished, submit your work by sending your text file and source code to with the phrase Mutex in the subject line.

Make sure that the name of each person who worked on these exercises is listed in the first answer, and make sure you number each of your responses so it is easy to match your responses with each exercise.

Required Exercises

  1. As the answer to the first exercise, list the names of the people who worked together on this studio.

  2. First, make a copy of your code from the previous studio where we created a race condition. Our goal today is to fix that race condition. We will do this by creating a pthread_mutex_t object, initializing it, and then locking and unlocking this mutex around the critical section.

    Create your pthread_mutex_t object with the help of the man page at man pthread_mutex_init. You may intialize your object with the static initializer (PTHREAD_MUTEX_INITIALIZER) or with the pthread_mutex_init() function (if you use this second you can leave the pthread_mutexattr_t pointer NULL). Create this mutex inside your main() function. Copy and paste your mutex creation code.

  3. Now you must pass a mutex pointer from your main() function to the adder() and subtractor() functions from last time. Pass these pointers through the fourth parameter of pthread_create(). Leave this answer blank.

  4. Take a moment to consider our goal. Previously, the simultaneous accesses to your variable caused some data corruption. What do you think the result will be if you synchronize your accesses? What will be the numeric value? How will this effect the amount of time your program takes to run?

  5. Now, use the functions pthread_mutex_lock() and pthread_mutex_unlock() to synchronize access to the racy variable. This means that your threads should not modify this variable unless they have successfully locked the mutex, and after modifying the variable they should unlock the mutex.

    Run your program many times. Does your program output match your expectations? Copy and paste several program outputs.

  6. Now we want to quantify the overhead of using this mutex. Locking and unlocking the mutex is not free, but it is the cost we pay for correct behavior. Go back to your original racy program from the previous studio. Modify the number of iterations each thread performs to be twenty million (20,000,000). Take three timings of this program with the time utility. Copy and paste your program output, and calculate the average time.

  7. Go back into your corrected program that uses your mutex. Set the number of iterations to be twenty million (20,000,000). You might have noticed that there are two possibilites for where you put your locking and unlocking code. You can have each thread perform one lock and unlock operation in total, or you can have each thread perform one lock and unlock operation for each individual increment or decrement of the racy variable.

    Modify your program, if necessary, so that each thread locks and unlocks the mutex once per increment or decrement (that is, each thread should lock and unlock the mutex twenty million times. Take three time measurements, copy and paste your output, and compute the average. How much longer did this execution take?

  8. Modify your program so that you lock and unlock the mutex just once per thread. Repeat your timing experiment and copy/paste the output. How does this time compare to the original, racy program?

  9. Speculate about what might cause the results from the previous exercise.

  10. Think of an example of where the first, per-iteration locking strategy might be more appropriate. Where might the second, per-thread locking strategy be more appropriate?

Optional Enrichment Exercises

  1. No optional exercises