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From: Oliver Kullmann (O.Kullmann_at_[hidden])
Date: 2005-08-18 11:16:10

> >
> > 9. Why isn't thread cancellation or termination provided?
> >
> > There's a valid need for thread termination, so at some point
> > probably will include it, but only after we can find a truly safe
> > (and portable) mechanism for this concept.
> >
> > ----
> >
> > How do you cancel threads?
> The explanation in the FAQ doesn't explain the problem in details.
> Here's a brief example:
> bool f1(X x)
> {
> X * y = new X;
> // if f1() is aborted at this point
> // *y won't be deallocated
> delete y;
> return false;
> }

So we would get a memory leak. The underlying reason is that threads don't have their
own address space, and thus the problem seems inherent to the notion of threads?!

> > Can one compute the short-circuit parallel or with your "futures" ?!
> This is a common problem in the world of parallel computations. It's due
> to the nature of parallel execution and it's independent from
> boost::thread, futures or any library.
> Basically, the solution is always the same: f1() polls a flag
> periodically, and if it is raised it exits.
> To cancel the thread you just raise the flag and the thread terminates
> itself:
> class A
> {
> Flag cancel_f1;
> bool f1(X x)
> {
> X * y = new X;
> for (int i = 1; i < 1000; i++)
> {
> // some computations, e.g. one iteration of the algorithm
> if (flag.is_raised())
> {
> delete y;
> return false;
> }
> }
> return actual_result;
> }
> }
> ...
> A a;
> a.run_f1_in_a_new_thread();
> a.cancel_f1.raise();

This polling-solution doesn't look like a solution for
what I have in mind. First of all, it's a source of
inefficiency, but much more important, it does not work
with generic components: The component doing some computation
should not need to worry about the circumstances under which
the computation is performed. But the polling-solution forces
each component to provide measures for its own abortion,
and this looks like a design nightmare to me: The library
I'm developing consists of many components solving some sort
of "very hard computational problem" (for example AI ...).
The components on their own as well as any combination should
possibly run in a parallel computation. I don't believe that
the polling-solution, effectively polluting every component,
is suitable for these demands.

Altogether, it seems that threads are not suitable at all
what I want to achieve, but *processes* are right here.

Perhaps I outline shortly for what purpose I need distributed

As I said, I'm developing a generic (actually, generative) library
for solving hard problems (constraint satisfaction etc.). This library
consists mainly of concepts and models, that is, data structures and
algorithms. Due to the complicated problem domain, most of the time
it's completely unknown which of the many competing algorithmic resources
you should use. So I need to create an environment, where the user of
the library can start several algorithms (whether on a single processor
or using multiple processors doesn't matter), monitor them if needed
(how much progressing is it making? perhaps we should abort it??),
possibly getting a result from them, possibly aborting them.
(The algorithms would all run independently, using their own
data; they communicate only with the central control, and this in
a quite restricted way. The main point is, that it's easy to run
whatever I want in parallel and control it.)

The main motivation for distributed computing (of course, if possible,
not just on a single computer, but using the Internet ...) here is not
just that I have multiple processors which I want to exploit, but
equally (or even more) important is the ease with which alternative
algorithmic resources can be exploited, possibly gaining a super-linear
speed-up (quite common in this area --- even on a single processor
partitioning the (large) search space into different parts and searching
through them in parallel can be faster than doing it sequentially).

Originally it seemed clear to me, that processes are the right tool here,
while threads are not suitable. But then I didn't find any support in
Boost for process control, only the boost thread library, and I wondered
(hoped) that this could be used. But it seems that was just wishful thinking.

So, to conclude, there seems to be no support in Boost out there, and my
only chance there is to use the C library, and start forking ?!?!
Looks like a tough fate to me.

Now I hope I didn't bother the well-meaning reader too much, but it seemed
necessary to me to outline for what actually I would need threads or
whatever there is.

I would be thankful for any comments, links ...


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