Condition Variables

  • Condition variables are one of the synchronization mechanism which enables the thread to wait until particular condition holds.
  • For example, parent thread blocks itself until the child thread completes execution. In this case, parents go for a spinning that keeps looping until the child finishes. This results in CPU cycle wastage.
  • Thus condition variable helps the parent to sleep rather than spinning until the condition that is child finishes becomes true.
  • When a thread goes to sleep, it releases the lock and re-acquires the lock once the condition becomes true and execute.

Condition Variables API:

  • Declaring a condition variable:
    pthread_cond_t cond_var = PTHREAD_COND_INITIALIZER;
  • A condition variable has two operation associated with it: wait() and signal()
    • Waiting API:
      pthread_cond_wait ( pthread_cond_t *cond_var, pthread_mutex_t lock);
      The responsibility of wait() is to release the lock and put the calling thread to sleep.
    • Signalling API:
      pthread_cond_signal(pthread_cond_t *cond_var);
      When the condition becomes true, signal is made to the sleeping thread and is woken up and lock is re-acquired before returning to the caller.
  • Note:
    • wait() API takes mutex as one of the parameter, since even the condition variable may face race condition and hence needs synchronization.
    • Always hold the lock when calling signal() or wait().
    • Always have while loop to test the condition.
  • Example of Parent thread and child Thread
#include <stdio.h>
#include <pthread.h>
#include <string.h>
#include <stdlib.h>

pthread_cond_t c = PTHREAD_COND_INITIALIZER;
pthread_mutex_t lock = PTHREAD_MUTEX_INITIALIZER;
int done =0;

void thr_exit()
        done =1;
        /* It signals parents, and parent is woken up */
        pthread_cond_signal (&c);
        pthread_mutex_unlock (&lock);
void *child(void *arg)
        printf("\n Child executing\n");

void thr_join()
        pthread_mutex_lock (&lock);
        /* Parent is sleeping for value for done to be non zero */
        while (done ==0)
                pthread_cond_wait(&c, &lock);

int main()
        pthread_t th_id;
        int res = pthread_create (&th_id, NULL, child, NULL);
        if (res)
                printf("\n Creating thread child fails %s\n", strerror(res));
        /* Write equivalent function to pthread_join which puts the parent spinning
         * Here we want parent to sleep rather than spinning by use condition variable */
        printf("\n Parent exit successful\n");
        return 0;


[aprakash@wtl-lview-6 thread]$ gcc condition_var.c -lpthread
[aprakash@wtl-lview-6 thread]$ ./a.out 

 Child executing
 Parent exit successful

Diag-1: Condition variables

Relevant Posts:

Categories: Operating system (OS)

1 reply


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