Beng-Hong Lim and Anant Agarwal. Reactive Synchronization Algorithms for Multiprocessors. Proceedings of the Sixth International Conference on Architectural Support for Programming Languages and Operating Systems (ASPLOS VI), pages 25-35, October 1994.
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Synchronization algorithms that are efficient across a wide range of applications and operating conditions are hard to design because their performance depends on unpredictable run-time factors. The designer of a synchronization algorithm has a choice of protocols to use for implementing the synchronization operation. For example, candidate protocols for locks include test-and-set protocols and queueing protocols. Frequently, the best choice of protocols depends on the level of contention: previous research has shown that test-and-set protocols for locks outperform queueing protocols at low contention, while the opposite is true at high contention.

This paper investigates reactive synchronization algorithms that dynamically choose protocols in response to the level of contention. We describe reactive algorithms for spin locks and fetch-and-op that choose among several shared-memory and message-passing protocols. Dynamically choosing protocols presents a challenge: a reactive algorithm needs to select and change protocols efficiently, and has to allow for the possibility that multiple processes may be executing different protocols at the same time. We describe the notion of consensus objects that the reactive algorithms use to preserve correctness in the face of dynamic protocol changes.

Experimental measurements demonstrate that reactive algorithms perform close to the best static choice of protocols at all levels of contention. Furthermore, with mixed levels of contention, reactive algorithms outperform passive algorithms with fixed protocols, provided that contention levels do not change too frequently. Measurements of several parallel applications show that reactive algorithms result in modest performance gains for spin locks and significant gains for fetch-and-op.

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