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Parallel Containers and Objects

The Parallel Patterns Library (PPL) includes several containers and objects that provide thread-safe access to their elements.

A concurrent container provides concurrency-safe access to the most important operations. The functionality of these containers resembles those that are provided by the Standard Template Library (STL). For example, the Concurrency::concurrent_vector class resembles the std::vector class, except that the concurrent_vector class lets you append elements in parallel. Use concurrent containers when you have parallel code that requires both read and write access to the same container.

A concurrent object is shared concurrently among components. A process that computes the state of a concurrent object in parallel produces the same result as another process that computes the same state serially. The Concurrency::combinable class is one example of a concurrent object type. The combinable class lets you perform computations in parallel, and then combine those computations into a final result. Use concurrent objects when you would otherwise use a synchronization mechanism, for example, a mutex, to synchronize access to a shared variable or resource.

This topic describes the following parallel containers and objects in detail.

Concurrent containers:

Concurrent objects:

The Concurrency::concurrent_vector class is a sequence container class that, just like the std::vector class, lets you randomly access its elements. The concurrent_vector class enables concurrency-safe append and element access operations. Append operations do not invalidate existing pointers or iterators. Iterator access and traversal operations are also concurrency-safe.

Differences Between concurrent_vector and vector

The concurrent_vector class closely resembles the vector class. The complexity of append, element access, and iterator access operations on a concurrent_vector object are the same as for a vector object. The following points illustrate where concurrent_vector differs from vector:

  • Append, element access, iterator access, and iterator traversal operations on a concurrent_vector object are concurrency-safe.

  • You can add elements only to the end of a concurrent_vector object. The concurrent_vector class does not provide the insert method.

  • A concurrent_vector object does not use move semantics when you append to it.

  • The concurrent_vector class does not provide the erase or pop_back methods. As with vector, use the clear method to remove all elements from a concurrent_vector object.

  • The concurrent_vector class does not store its elements contiguously in memory. Therefore, you cannot use the concurrent_vector class in all the ways that you can use an array. For example, for a variable named v of type concurrent_vector, the expression &v[0]+2 produces undefined behavior.

  • The concurrent_vector class defines the grow_by and grow_to_at_least methods. These methods resemble the resize method, except that they are concurrency-safe.

  • A concurrent_vector object does not relocate its elements when you append to it or resize it. This enables existing pointers and iterators to remain valid during concurrent operations.

  • The runtime does not define a specialized version of concurrent_vector for type bool.

Concurrency-Safe Operations

All methods that append to or increase the size of a concurrent_vector object, or access an element in a concurrent_vector object, are concurrency-safe. The exception to this rule is the resize method.

The following table shows the common concurrent_vector methods and operators that are concurrency-safe.

Operations that the runtime provides for compatibility with the STL, for example, reserve, are not concurrency -safe. The following table shows the common methods and operators that are not concurrency-safe.

Operations that modify the value of existing elements are not concurrency-safe. Use a synchronization object such as a reader_writer_lock object to synchronize concurrent read and write operations to the same data element. For more information about synchronization objects, see Synchronization Data Structures.

When you convert existing code that uses vector to use concurrent_vector, concurrent operations can cause the behavior of your application to change. For example, consider the following program that concurrently performs two tasks on a concurrent_vector object. The first task appends additional elements to a concurrent_vector object. The second task computes the sum of all elements in the same object.


// parallel-vector-sum.cpp
// compile with: /EHsc
#include <ppl.h>
#include <concurrent_vector.h>
#include <iostream>

using namespace Concurrency;
using namespace std;

int wmain()
{
   // Create a concurrent_vector object that contains a few
   // initial elements.
   concurrent_vector<int> v;
   v.push_back(2);
   v.push_back(3);
   v.push_back(4);

   // Perform two tasks in parallel.
   // The first task appends additional elements to the concurrent_vector object.
   // The second task computes the sum of all elements in the same object.

   parallel_invoke(
      [&v] { 
         for(int i = 0; i < 10000; ++i)
         {
            v.push_back(i);
         }
      },
      [&v] {
         combinable<int> sums;
         for(auto i = v.begin(); i != v.end(); ++i) 
         {
            sums.local() += *i;
         }     
         wcout << L"sum = " << sums.combine(plus<int>()) << endl;
      }
   );
}


Although the end method is concurrency-safe, a concurrent call to the push_back method causes the value that is returned by end to change. The number of elements that the iterator traverses is indeterminate. Therefore, this program can produce a different result each time that you run it.

Exception Safety

If a growth or assignment operation throws an exception, the state of the concurrent_vector object becomes invalid. The behavior of a concurrent_vector object that is in an invalid state is undefined unless stated otherwise. However, the destructor always frees the memory that the object allocates, even if the object is in an invalid state.

The data type of the vector elements, _Ty, must meet the following requirements. Otherwise, the behavior of the concurrent_vector class is undefined.

  • The destructor must not throw.

  • If the default or copy constructor throws, the destructor must not be declared by using the virtual keyword and it must work correctly with zero-initialized memory.

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The Concurrency::concurrent_queue class, just like the std::queue class, lets you access its front and back elements. The concurrent_queue class enables concurrency-safe enqueue and dequeue operations. The concurrent_queue class also provides iterator support that is not concurrency-safe.

Differences Between concurrent_queue and queue

The concurrent_queue class closely resembles the queue class. The following points illustrate where concurrent_queue differs from queue:

  • Enqueue and dequeue operations on a concurrent_queue object are concurrency-safe.

  • The concurrent_queue class provides iterator support that is not concurrency-safe.

  • The concurrent_queue class does not provide the front or pop methods. The concurrent_queue class replaces these methods by defining the try_pop method.

  • The concurrent_queue class does not provide the back method. Therefore, you cannot reference the end of the queue.

  • The concurrent_queue class provides the unsafe_size method instead of the size method. The unsafe_size method is not concurrency-safe.

Concurrency-Safe Operations

All methods that enqueue to or dequeue from a concurrent_queue object are concurrency-safe.

The following table shows the common concurrent_queue methods and operators that are concurrency-safe.

Although the empty method is concurrency-safe, a concurrent operation may cause the queue to grow or shrink before the empty method returns.

The following table shows the common methods and operators that are not concurrency-safe.

Iterator Support

The concurrent_queue provides iterators that are not concurrency-safe. We recommend that you use these iterators for debugging only.

A concurrent_queue iterator traverses elements in the forward direction only. The following table shows the operators that each iterator supports.

Operator

Description

operator++

Advances to next item in the queue. This operator is overloaded to provide both pre-increment and post-increment semantics.

operator*

Retrieves a reference to the current item.

operator->

Retrieves a pointer to the current item.

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The Concurrency::combinable class provides reusable, thread-local storage that lets you perform fine-grained computations and then merge those computations into a final result. You can think of a combinable object as a reduction variable.

The combinable class is useful when you have a resource that is shared among several threads or tasks. The combinable class helps you eliminate shared state by providing access to shared resources in a lock-free manner. Therefore, this class provides an alternative to using a synchronization mechanism, for example, a mutex, to synchronize access to shared data from multiple threads.

Methods and Features

The following table shows some of the important methods of the combinable class. For more information about all the combinable class methods, see combinable Class.

Method

Description

local

Retrieves a reference to the local variable that is associated with the current thread context.

clear

Removes all thread-local variables from the combinable object.

combine

combine_each

Uses the provided combine function to generate a final value from the set of all thread-local computations.

The combinable class is a template class that is parameterized on the final merged result. If you call the default constructor, the _Ty template parameter type must have a default constructor and a copy constructor. If the _Ty template parameter type does not have a default constructor, call the overloaded version of the constructor that takes an initialization function as its parameter.

You can store additional data in a combinable object after you call the combine or combine_each methods. You can also call the combine and combine_each methods multiple times. If no local value in a combinable object changes, the combine and combine_each methods produce the same result every time that they are called.

Examples

For examples about how to use the combinable class, see the following topics:

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How to: Use Parallel Containers to Increase Efficiency

Shows how to use parallel containers to efficiently store and access data in parallel.

How to: Use combinable to Improve Performance

Shows how to use the combinable class to eliminate shared state, and thereby improve performance.

How to: Use combinable to Combine Sets

Shows how to use a combine function to merge thread-local sets of data.

Parallel Patterns Library (PPL)

Describes the PPL, which provides an imperative programming model that promotes scalability and ease-of-use for developing concurrent applications.

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