[Haskell-cafe] MVar considered harmful

Brandon Allbery allbery.b at gmail.com
Sat Dec 29 13:28:00 UTC 2018

Having no sense of either history or implementation.

On Sat, Dec 29, 2018 at 5:43 AM Serguey Zefirov <sergueyz at gmail.com> wrote:

> MVar and IVar things are from dataflow programming, I believe, from Id90
> programming language (read about it, it's fascinating). They were ued there
> with greate success (linear scaling on CM-5, no less; they had to invent
> throttling to tame huge parallelism available). MVar were used for
> synchronization and IVars to provide a kind of call-by-need in a lenient
> language. Mind that Id90 was not as sofisticated as Haskell today and these
> things were used as a coordination tool between huge number of small
> threads of execution, with no I/O and all threads must work to completion.
> Thus, they are, as usually happens, not general purpose yet very useful. I
> consider them "baby-STM".
> But what it takes to consider them harmful is beyond me.
> чт, 20 дек. 2018 г. в 00:02, Станислав Черничкин <schernichkin at gmail.com>:
>> Recently I had an interesting discussion on MVars with cats-effect
>> library designers. Cats-effect brings MVar synchronization primitive along
>> with other IO stuff to the Scala programming language. I tried to persuade
>> them to include some Control.Concurrent.MVar’s functions to  the library
>> but has failed completely. Moreover, now I think that MVar is a poor choice
>> for basic synchronization primitive. Your may find discussion here
>> https://github.com/typelevel/cats-effect/issues/451 and event try to
>> advocate, tl;dr. Anyway, what is so wrong with MVar?
>> 1.       It’s complex. Each MVar has 2 state transitions, each may
>> block.
>> 2.       It does not play well in presence of asynchronous exceptions.
>> More specifically, `take` and `put` operations should be balanced (each
>> `take` must be followed by `put`) this force programmer to mask
>> asynchronous exceptions during the MVar acquisition and since `take`
>> function may block, this will delay task cancelation. Well, you may argue
>> what the `takeMVar` function is actually interruptible, but I’m going to
>> show an easier approach which renders interpretability magic unnecessary.
>> What could be the sensible alternative? Guy from the cats-effect
>> suggested me IVar + atomic reference (IORef). This pattern separates
>> concern of blocking (synchronization) from the atomic mutation. So
>> everything can be represented as atomic reference with IVar inside. Just
>> look at this beautiful mutex implementation
>> https://github.com/ovotech/fs2-kafka/blob/master/src/main/scala/fs2/kafka/internal/Synchronized.scala
>> (By ”beautiful” I mean approach itself of course, but not the Scala’s
>> syntax. Scala is one of most ugliest girls after C++ I was forced to date
>> with by my employer for money. Thankfully he didn’t force me to do the same
>> things with her grandma Java).
>> For people who don’t read Scala, the approach is fairly simple. Each
>> thread which want to touch mutex, will create IVar, atomically swap it in
>> the IORef masked (note, that IORef’s operations non-blocking), unmask and
>> wait for previous become available IVar *unmasked*. Then it will either
>> perform it’s operations or fail due to the interruption or exception and
>> trigger newly installed IVar anyway. It just works. Without any
>> «interruptible» magic.
>> So, which benefits can we get?
>> 1.       Simpler implementation of basic primitives. Obliviously IORef
>> is fairly simple. IVar is also mind be simpler than MVar, and possibly
>> faster (just “possibly”, I don’t know how it’s implemented, but I guess
>> lesser state transitions implies less logic).
>> 2.       Simplified deadlock analysis. Really, we have only IVar with
>> only one state transition and only one potentially blocking operation.
>> 3.       Magicless support of interruptions. We don’t need to separate
>> mask/uninterruptibleMask anymore, because all updates are non-blocking, and
>> all waits are unmasked.
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brandon s allbery kf8nh
allbery.b at gmail.com
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