What Is Multi-Threading?
Perhaps one of the reasons you use Linux is because it is a multi-tasking operating system. In which case you are probably well aware of the utility of being able to do more than one thing at a time—perhaps compiling the utility which will bring you fame and fortune whilst editing a letter of resignation to your boss. So you might recognise the utility of an individual process that can do more than one thing at once.
When might this be a good idea? One application for multi-threading is a program which relies on a large number of very similar and independent mathematical operations—the oft-quoted example of this is matrix multiplication. We look at a simple example of a multi-threaded matrix multiplier later in this article.
Another type of application which can benefit from multi-threading is a server application. Whenever a client attempts to connect to the server, a new thread can be created to look after that client whilst the “watcher” thread continues to wait for more clients to connect.
“But wait!” I hear you cry. “Lots of server applications already work like that, but they simply fork another process rather than starting another thread.”
“You're right...” I reply.
“Don't interrupt,” you continue. “This sounds like another way of doing the same thing, but for no good reason other than to say it's a `multi-threaded application' and so you can bump up the price to those who like to be blinded by science.”
At this point I decide to ignore any more of your interjections and just explain.
Yes, creating a new thread is very similar to forking a new process, but there are differences. When a new process is forked, it shares relatively little data with the parent process which created it; when a new thread is created, it shares much more information (such as all the global variables and static local variables, the open files, and the process ID). The overhead of creating separate copies of everything makes the creation of a new process slower than the creation of a new thread. And the time it takes to pass control from one process to another (a context switch) is longer than the time required to pass control from one thread to another. Also, since the threads share their data space, passing information from one thread to another is much more straightforward than passing information from one process to another—while this does have its own problems, it need not be difficult if a little care is taken. A simple example of a multi-threaded server is given below.
A third type of application which could benefit from multi-threading is a Doom-like game where each of the computer-controlled baddies has its own “intelligence” and can act independently. The main game-play part of the program could be in its own thread (or multiple threads), there could be another thread handling each of the characters in the game who are controlled by real people, and yet more threads for each of the characters controlled by the computer.
There is a POSIX standard for multi-threading: 1003.1c. If you want to write portable programs (which doesn't seem like a bad idea to me), it would be wise to stick to this standard rather than use non-POSIX conforming libraries or using the raw system calls which Linus so kindly provided in the Linux kernel (about which I say just a little more later).
The examples in this article use POSIX multi-threading functions called from C. However, the concepts in some non-POSIX libraries and systems are often very similar. Solaris threads are easily understood by someone familiar with POSIX threads, and while Java threads and the multi-threading in the Win32 and OS/2 APIs are a little different, there should be little in these which would leave you quaking in your boots.
Multi-threading capability is included in the version 2.0 Linux kernel (and many version 1.3 kernels). The clone() system call creates a new context of execution, or “COE” (to use Linus' term), which can be a new process, a new thread, or one of a range of possibilities which doesn't fit into either of these categories. The fork() system call is actually a call to clone() with particular values as parameters, and the pthread\_create() function call could be a call to clone() with a different set of values as parameters. clone() is used by some implementations of multi-threading libraries to provide kernel threads, but further discussion of clone() is beyond the scope of this article.
Practical Task Scheduling Deployment
One of the best things about the UNIX environment (aside from being stable and efficient) is the vast array of software tools available to help you do your job. Traditionally, a UNIX tool does only one thing, but does that one thing very well. For example, grep is very easy to use and can search vast amounts of data quickly. The find tool can find a particular file or files based on all kinds of criteria. It's pretty easy to string these tools together to build even more powerful tools, such as a tool that finds all of the .log files in the /home directory and searches each one for a particular entry. This erector-set mentality allows UNIX system administrators to seem to always have the right tool for the job.
Cron traditionally has been considered another such a tool for job scheduling, but is it enough? This webinar considers that very question. The first part builds on a previous Geek Guide, Beyond Cron, and briefly describes how to know when it might be time to consider upgrading your job scheduling infrastructure. The second part presents an actual planning and implementation framework.
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|The Firebird Project's Firebird Relational Database||Jul 29, 2016|
|Stunnel Security for Oracle||Jul 28, 2016|
|SUSE LLC's SUSE Manager||Jul 21, 2016|
|My +1 Sword of Productivity||Jul 20, 2016|
|Non-Linux FOSS: Caffeine!||Jul 19, 2016|
|Murat Yener and Onur Dundar's Expert Android Studio (Wrox)||Jul 18, 2016|
- The Firebird Project's Firebird Relational Database
- Stunnel Security for Oracle
- My +1 Sword of Productivity
- SUSE LLC's SUSE Manager
- Non-Linux FOSS: Caffeine!
- Managing Linux Using Puppet
- Murat Yener and Onur Dundar's Expert Android Studio (Wrox)
- Parsing an RSS News Feed with a Bash Script
- Google's SwiftShader Released
- Doing for User Space What We Did for Kernel Space
With all the industry talk about the benefits of Linux on Power and all the performance advantages offered by its open architecture, you may be considering a move in that direction. If you are thinking about analytics, big data and cloud computing, you would be right to evaluate Power. The idea of using commodity x86 hardware and replacing it every three years is an outdated cost model. It doesn’t consider the total cost of ownership, and it doesn’t consider the advantage of real processing power, high-availability and multithreading like a demon.
This ebook takes a look at some of the practical applications of the Linux on Power platform and ways you might bring all the performance power of this open architecture to bear for your organization. There are no smoke and mirrors here—just hard, cold, empirical evidence provided by independent sources. I also consider some innovative ways Linux on Power will be used in the future.Get the Guide