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Microsoft Specific

Forces reads and writes to memory to complete at the point of the call.

Caution noteCaution

The _ReadBarrier, _WriteBarrier, and _ReadWriteBarrier compiler intrinsics prevent only compiler re-ordering. To prevent the CPU from re-ordering read and write operations, use the MemoryBarrier macro.

void _ReadWriteBarrier(void);




x86, IPF, x64

Header file <intrin.h>

The _ReadBarrier, _WriteBarrier, and _ReadWriteBarrier functions help ensure the correct operation of multithreaded programs that are optimized by the Visual C++ compiler. A correctly optimized program yields the same results when it executes on multiple threads as when it executes on a single thread.

The point in an application where a _ReadBarrier, _WriteBarrier, or _ReadWriteBarrier function executes is called a memory barrier. A memory barrier can be for reads, writes, or both.

An instruction that accesses a variable in memory might be deleted or moved across a memory barrier as part of an optimization. Consequently, a thread might read an old value from a global variable before another thread completes writing a new value to the variable, or write a new value before another thread completes reading an old value from the variable.

To help ensure that the optimized program operates correctly, the _ReadWriteBarrier function forces reads and writes to memory to complete at the point of the call. After the call, other threads can access the memory without fear that the thread that made the call might have a pending read or write to the memory. A memory barrier prevents the compiler from optimizing memory accesses across the barrier, but enables the compiler to still optimize instructions between barriers.

Marking memory with a memory barrier is similar to marking memory with the volatile (C++) keyword. However, a memory barrier is more efficient because reads and writes are forced to complete at specific points in the program rather than globally. The optimizations that can occur if a memory barrier is used cannot occur if the variable is declared volatile.


In past versions of the Visual C++ compiler, the _ReadWriteBarrier and _WriteBarrier functions were enforced only locally and did not affect functions up the call tree. These functions are now enforced all the way up the call tree.

Affected Memory

Global variables are affected by memory barriers, but typically local variables are not. Most local variables are not accessible to other threads and therefore do not need protection. A variable is affected by a memory barrier if it satisfies one of the following conditions:

  • The variable is a global variable.

  • The variable is a local variable used in a __try, __except, or __finally block if structured exception handling is used, or a catch block if C++ exception handling is used. For more information, see the /EHa compiler option.

  • The variable is a local variable that is declared volatile.

  • The variable is a local variable whose address escapes the current function in some way. For example, the variable is passed by reference to another function or its address is assigned to a global variable.

  • The variable is accessed indirectly through a pointer and the dereferenced pointer satisfies one of the previous conditions. The most typical case is *p where p is a global variable or parameter.

// intrinsics_readwritebarrier.c
// compile with: /O2 -DNO_BARRIER
// This code contains an error--dereferencing a null pointer--
// which will be optimized away as a useless assignment.
// Omit the NO_BARRIER command line to activate the Write Barrier.
// With the barrier activated, the assignment is not optimized away
// and causes an access violation.

#include <windows.h> // for EXCEPTION_ACCESS_VIOLATION
#include <excpt.h>
#include <stdio.h>
#include <intrin.h>

#pragma intrinsic(_ReadWriteBarrier)

int x = 0;

__declspec(noinline) int f(int* p)
    x = *p;
#ifndef NO_BARRIER
    x = 7;
    return x;

// If code is EXCEPTION_ACCESS_VIOLATION it means an
// attempt to read from the NULL pointer we passed in, so
// we handle the exception.
int filter(unsigned int code, struct _EXCEPTION_POINTERS *ep)

    // If not what we were looking for, we don't want to handle it.

int main()
    int nRet = 0;

        // Should return only if the first assignment is
        // optimized away.
        nRet = f(NULL);
        printf_s("Assignment was optimized away!\n");
    __except(filter(GetExceptionCode(), GetExceptionInformation()))
        // We get here if an Access violation occurred.
        printf_s("Access Violation: assignment was not optimized away.\n");
Assignment was optimized away!

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