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[Caml-list] Why systhreads?
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Date: 2002-11-26 (09:02)
From: Xavier Leroy <xavier.leroy@i...>
Subject: Re: [Caml-list] Why systhreads?
Blair Zajac wrote:

> To summarize, for (2) system threads are required and and you can't
> prevent blocking with user level threads easily or at all.  For (3),
> making the Ocaml system support SMP is "Too complex; too hard to
> debug" and SMP boxes aren't all that popular.
> Aren't these contradictory statements?
> For Ocaml to support a Ocaml program to have one thread to block on a
> system call and to allow other threads to continue, doesn't this support
> SMP?  Does Ocaml support this?

No to the first question.  Yes to the second.

By "supporting SMP", I mean having several threads executing Caml code
in parallel, thus using the Caml runtime system in a concurrent fashion.
This is the hard part.  

In the current implementation of systhreads, the Caml executor and
runtime system is one big critical section: at most one thread can
execute Caml code at a given time, but arbitrarily many other threads
can be blocked on I/O (and thus isn't calling the Caml runtime system).
Each thread leaves the critical section before calling a potentially
blocking I/O operation, and re-enters it when the I/O completes.

> I need the functionality to have multiple threads where one thread can
> block and not stop the others, either due to the OS or to the Ocaml
> runtime system.

You have that functionality.  What you don't have is the ability to
keep several processors busy running Caml code.  (As Markus said, you
can still have C code running concurrently with Caml code, provided
that the C code doesn't call the Caml runtime system.)

Chris Hecker wrote:

> Xavier saying 1.5x is not worth it is really strange to me; most 
> performance sensitive programmers I know would kill their mother to get 
> 1.5x.  I wonder what factor would be worth it for Xavier?

Factors of 10 are always nice :-)  Just kidding.  What I meant is the
following: assume making the Caml runtime system thread-safe entails a
25% slowdown on program execution.  (This can easily happen if e.g. we
have to lock a mutex at each heap allocation.)  Further assume that by
doing so, you get a 1.5 speedup from hyperthreading.  In the end, your
program will run 1.5 * 0.75 = 1.12 times faster than its equivalent
running on the standard, single-processor Caml runtime.  It's not
worth the effort.

- Xavier Leroy

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