Kernel - Processes and threads - Synchronization primitives

Phoenix-RTOS kernel implements three widely used methods for synchronization of concurrently executed instruction streams.


Spinlocks are used in kernel for active synchronization of instruction streams executed parallely on multiple processing cores. They are implemented using special processor instruction allowing to atomically exchange value stored in processor register with a value stored in a memory at specified linear address. This processor instruction belongs to the class of so-called set-and-test instructions introduced especially for synchronization purposes. Their logic may a little-bit vary between specific processor architectures but the overall semantic remains consistent with atomic exchange between memory and processor register.

Spinlocks are the basic method of synchronization used to implement mechanisms based on the thread scheduling. They are used to synchronize access to scheduler thread lists or to synchronize access before thread scheduler is not initialized or when data is shared among threads and interrupt handlers.

Spinlock logic is quite simple. When program tries to enter into the cricital section wich should be executed exclusively by only one instruction stream it checks the spinlock value in memory by exchanging it with the value 0 meaning that access to the critical section has been granted. If the spinlock value readed from memory and swapped atomically with 0 was greater then 0 processor can start the further instruction stream execution. If not it should repeat previous exchange until it checks that access was not granted before the check (spinlock value gathered from memory during the swap was 1).

Sinlocks are widely used to synchronize memory access between synchronous code executed as main instruction stream and asynchronous code executed as interrupt/exception handlers so before spinlock check and set operation, interrupts on the current processing core should be disabled and the processor state connected with interrupt handling should be preserved.

Overall spinlock lock implementation has been presented below in C using preprocessor macros to represent blocks of processor-specific assembly code.


    while (!TEST_AND_SET(0, spinlock));

Spinlock unlocking operation is quite simple. Processor atomically changes spinlock value in memory to non-zero and restores its interrupt state based on state saved in spinlock. It is worth to add that operation on spinlock should save and restore processor state from the variable assigned specifically for this particular processor.

    TEST_AND_SET(1, spinlock);

Locks and mutexes

Locks are used to synchronize access to critical sections inside kernel using scheduling mechanism. The main difference between locks and spinlocks is that they use passive waiting (removal from scheduler queues) insteat of active waiting (iterations until spinlock value becomes non-zero).

Conditional variables

See also

  1. Kernel - Processes and threads
  2. Kernel - Processes and threads - Management
  3. Kernel - Processes and threads - Message passing
  4. Kernel - Processes and threads - Namespace
  5. Table of Contents