Are Lock-Free Concurrent Algorithms Practically Wait-Free?

Dan Alistarh, Keren Censor-Hillel, and Nir Shavit

Abstract

Lock-free concurrent algorithms guarantee that some concurrent operation will always make progress in a finite number of steps. Yet programmers prefer to treat concurrent code as if it were wait-free, guaranteeing that all operations always make progress. Unfortunately, designing wait-free algorithms is generally a very complex task, and the resulting algorithms are not always efficient. While obtaining efficient wait-free algorithms has been a long-time goal for the theory community, most non-blocking commercial code is only lock-free.

This paper suggests a simple solution to this problem. We show that, for a large class of lock-free algorithms, under scheduling conditions which approximate those found in commercial hardware architectures, lock-free algorithms behave as if they are wait-free. In other words, programmers can keep on designing simple lock-free algorithms instead of complex wait-free ones, and in practice, they will get wait-free progress.

Our main contribution is a new way of analyzing a general class of lock-free algorithms under a stochastic scheduler. Our analysis relates the individual performance of processes with the global performance of the system using Markov chain lifting between a complex per-process chain and a simpler system progress chain. We show that lock-free algorithms are not only wait-free with probability 1, but that in fact a general subset of lock-free algorithms can be closely bounded in terms of the average number of steps required until an operation completes.

To the best of our knowledge, this is the first attempt to analyze progress conditions, typically stated in relation to a worst case adversary, in a stochastic model capturing their expected asymptotic behavior.

Details

Publication typeInproceedings
Published inProceedings of STOC 2014: 46th Annual Symposium on the Theory of Computing
PublisherACM
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