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OS03: Threads

Based on Chapter 2 of [Hai19]

(Usage hints for this presentation)

Computer Structures and Operating Systems 2023
Dr. Jens Lechtenbörger (License Information)

1. Introduction

1.1. OS Plan

OS course plan, summer 2022

1.2. Today’s Core Questions

  • What exactly are threads?
    • Why and for what are they used?
    • How can I inspect them?
    • How are they created in Java?
    • What impact does blocking or non-blocking I/O have on the use of threads?
    • How does switching between threads work?

1.3. Learning Objectives

  • Explain thread concept, thread switching, and multitasking
    • Including states (after upcoming presentation)
    • Explain distinctions between threads and processes
    • Explain advantages of a multithreaded organization in structuring applications and in performance
  • Inspect threads on your system
  • Create threads in Java
  • Discuss differences between and use cases for blocking and non-blocking I/O

1.4. Retrieval practice

1.4.1. Informatik 1

What are interfaces and classes in Java, what is “this”?

If you are not certain, consult a textbook; these self-check questions and preceding tutorials may help:

1.4.2. Recall: Stack

  • Stack = Classical data structure (abstract data type)
    • LIFO (last in, first out) principle
    • See Appendix A in [Hai19] if necessary
  • Two elementary operations
    • Stack.Push(o): place object o on top of Stack
    • Stack.Pop(): remove object from top of Stack and return it
  • Supported in machine language of most processors (not in Hack, though)
    • Typically (e.g., x86), stack grows towards smaller addresses
      • Next object pushed gets smaller address than previous one
      • (Differently from stack of VM for Hack platform)

1.4.3. Drawing on Stack

What's the stack?

What's the stack?

Figure © 2016 Julia Evans, all rights reserved; from julia's drawings. Displayed here with personal permission.

1.4.4. Previously on OS …

1.4.5. Recall: Blocking vs Non-Blocking I/O

  • For blocking as well as non-blocking I/O, thread invokes system call
    • OS is responsible for I/O
  • Blocking I/O: OS initiates I/O and schedules different thread for execution
    • Calling thread is blocked for duration of I/O
    • After I/O is finished, OS un-blocks calling thread
      • Un-blocked thread to be scheduled later on, with result of I/O system call
  • Non-blocking I/O: OS initiates I/O and returns (incomplete) result to calling thread

Table of Contents

2. Threads

2.1. Threads and Programs

  • Program vs thread
    • Program contains instructions to be executed on CPU
    • OS schedules execution of programs
      • By default, program execution starts with one thread
        • Thread = unit of OS scheduling = independent sequence of computational steps
      • Programmer determines how many threads are created
    • Simple programs are single-threaded
    • More complex programs can be multithreaded
      • Multiple independent sequences of computational steps
        • E.g., an online game: different threads for game AI, GUI events, network handling
      • Multi-core CPUs can execute multiple threads in parallel

2.2. Thread Creation and Termination

  • Different OSes and different languages provide different APIs to manage threads
    • Thread creation
    • Thread termination
      • API-specific functions to end/destroy threads
      • Implicit termination when “last” instruction ends
        • E.g., in Java when methods main() (for main thread) or run() (for other threads) end (if at all)

2.3. Thread Terminology

2.3.1. Parallelism

  • Parallelism = simultaneous execution
    • E.g., multi-core
    • Potential speedup for computations!
  • Note
    • Processors contain more and more cores
    • Individual cores do not become much faster any longer
    • Consequence: Need parallel programming to take advantage of current hardware

2.3.2. Concurrency

  • Concurrency is more general term than parallelism

    • Concurrency includes
      • Parallel threads (on multiple CPU cores)

        • (Executing different code in general)
      • Interleaved threads (taking turns on single CPU core)

2.3.3. Thread Preemption

  • Preemption = temporary removal of thread from CPU by OS
    • Before thread is finished (with later continuation)
      • To allow others to continue after scheduling decision by OS
    • Typical technique in modern OSs
      • Run lots of threads for brief intervals per second; creates illusion of parallel executions, even on single-core CPU
  • Later slides: Cooperative vs preemptive multitasking
  • Upcoming presentation: Thread scheduling

2.3.4. Thread Classification

  • I/O bound
    • Threads spending most time submitting and waiting for I/O requests
    • Run frequently by OS, but only for short periods of time
      • Until next I/O operation
      • E.g., virus scanner, network server (e.g., web, chat)
  • CPU bound

3. Java Threads

3.1. Threads in Java

  • Threads are created from instances of classes implementing the Runnable interface
    1. Implement run() method
    2. Create new Thread instance from Runnable instance
    3. Invoke start() method on Thread instance

3.2. Java Thread Example

public class Simpler2Threads { // Based on Fig. 2.3 of [Hai17]
  // "Simplified" by removing anonymous class.
  public static void main(String args[]){
    Thread childThread = new Thread(new MyThread());
    System.out.println("Parent is done sleeping 5 seconds.");}

  static void sleep(int milliseconds){
    // Sleep milliseconds (blocked/removed from CPU).
    try{ Thread.sleep(milliseconds); } catch(InterruptedException e){
      // ignore this exception; it won't happen anyhow

class MyThread implements Runnable {
  public void run(){
    System.out.println("Child is done sleeping 3 seconds.");

3.3. Self-Study Task: CPU Usage

This task is available for self-study in Learnweb.

  • Compile and run the source code of Simpler2Threads and make sure that you can explain its output. Maybe ask in Learnweb.
    • In general, if a program behaves unexpectedly, a debugger helps to understand what is happening when. Your favorite IDE probably includes a debugger. Also, several Java implementations come with a simple debugger called jdb, e.g., the OpenJDK tools. (The notes on this slide contain sample commands for jdb.)

4. Reasons for Threads

4.1. Main Reasons

  • Resource utilization
    • Keep most of the hardware resources busy most of the time, e.g.:
      • While one thread is idle (e.g., waiting for external events such as user interaction, disk, or network I/O), allow other threads to continue
      • Keep multiple CPU cores busy
        • E.g., OS housekeeping such as zeroing of memory on second core
  • Responsiveness
    • Use separate threads to react quickly to external events
      • Think of game AI vs GUI
      • Other example on later slide: Web server
  • More modular design

4.2. Interleaved Execution Example

Interleaved execution example” by Jens Lechtenbörger under CC BY-SA 4.0; SVG image refers to converted and cut parts of Figure 2.6 of a book by Max Hailperin under CC BY-SA 3.0. From GitLab

4.3. Example: Web Server

  • Web server “talks” HTTP with browsers
  • Simplified
    • Lots of browsers ask per GET method for various web pages
    • Server responds with HTML files
  • How many threads on server side?

4.4. Single- vs Multithreaded Web Server

Figure 2.5 of cite:Hai19

Figure 2.5 of [Hai19]” by Max Hailperin under CC BY-SA 3.0; converted from GitHub

5. Thread Switching

5.1. Thread Switching for Multitasking

  • With multiple threads, OS decides which to execute when → Scheduling (later lecture)
    • (Similar to machine scheduling for industrial production, which you may know from operations management)
    • Recall multitasking
      • OS may use time-slicing to schedule threads for short intervals, illusion of parallelism on single CPU core
  • After that decision, a context switch takes place
    • (Recall introduction and interrupts; now, as thread switch)
    • Remove thread A from CPU
      • Remember A’s state (in TCB: instruction pointer, register contents, stack, …)
    • Dispatch thread B to CPU
      • Restore B’s state

5.1.1. Thread Switching with yield

In the following

  • First, simplified setting of voluntary switch from thread A to thread B
    • Function switchFromTo() on next slide
      • For details, see Sec. 2.4 in [Hai19]
    • Leaving the CPU voluntarily is called yielding; yield() may really be an OS system call
  • Afterwards, the real thing: Preemption by the OS

5.2. Interleaved Instruction Sequence

Interleaved execution of threads.  Based on [[][Figure 2.7 of book by Max Hailperin]], CC BY-SA 3.0.

Interleaved execution of threads. Based on Figure 2.7 of book by Max Hailperin, CC BY-SA 3.0.

Figure by Jens Lechtenbörger under CC BY-SA 4.0; from GitLab

5.3. Thread Control Blocks (TCBs)

  • All threads share the same CPU registers
    • Obviously, register values need to be saved somewhere to avoid incorrect results when switching threads
    • Also, each thread has its own
      • stack; current position given by stack pointer (SP)
      • instruction pointer (IP) (program counter); where to execute next machine instruction
    • Besides: priority, scheduling information, blocking events (if any)
  • OS uses block of memory for housekeeping, called thread control block (TCB)
    • One for each thread
      • Storing register contents, stack pointer, instruction pointer, …
    • Arguments of switchFromTo() are really (pointers to) TCBs

5.4. Cooperative Multitasking

  • Approach based on switchFromTo() is cooperative
    • Thread A decides to yield CPU (voluntarily)
      • A hands over to B
  • Disadvantages
    • Inflexible: A and B are hard-coded
    • No parallelism, just interleaved execution
    • What if A contains a bug and enters an infinite loop?
  • Advantages
    • Programmed, so full control over when and where of switches
    • Programmed, so usable even in restricted environments/OSs without support for multitasking/preemption

5.5. Preemptive Multitasking

  • Preemption: OS removes thread forcefully (but only temporarily) from CPU
    • Housekeeping on stacks to allow seamless continuation later on similar to cooperative approach
    • OS schedules different thread for execution afterwards
  • Additional mechanism: Timer interrupts
    • OS defines time slice (quantum), e.g., 30ms
      • Interrupt fires every 30ms
      • Interrupt handler invokes OS scheduler to determine next thread

5.6. Multitasking Overhead

  • OS performs scheduling, which takes time
  • Thread switching creates overhead
    • Minor sources: Scheduling costs, saving and restoring state
    • Major sources: Recall cache pollution
      • After a context switch, the CPU’s cache quite likely misses necessary data
        • Necessary data needs to be fetched from RAM
      • Accessing data in RAM takes hundreds of clock cycles

6. Server Models

6.1. Server Models with Blocking I/O: Single-Threaded

  • Figure 2.5 of cite:Hai19

    Figure 2.5 of [Hai19]” by Max Hailperin under CC BY-SA 3.0; converted from GitHub

  • Sequential processing of client requests
    • Long idle time during I/O
      → Not suitable in practice

6.2. Server Models with Blocking I/O: Multi-Threaded

  • One thread (or process) per client connection
  • Parallel processing of client connections
    • No idle time for I/O (switch to different client)
    • Limited scalability (thousands or millions of clients?)
      • Creation of threads causes overhead
        • Each thread allocates resources
      • OS needs to identify “correct” thread for incoming data
  • Worker Thread Pool as compromise

6.3. Server Models with Non-Blocking I/O

  • Single thread
    • Event loop, event-driven programming
    • E.g., web servers such as lighttpd, nginx
  • Finite automaton to keep track of state per client
    • State of automaton records state of interaction
    • Complex code
      • See Google’s experience mentioned in [B17]
  • Avoids overhead of context switches

6.4. Worker Thread Pool

  • Upon program start: Create set of worker threads
  • Client requests received by dispatcher thread
    • Requests recorded in to-do data structure
  • Idle worker threads process requests
  • Note
    • Re-use of worker threads
    • Limited resource usage
    • How to tune for load?
      • Dispatcher may be bottleneck
      • If more client requests than worker threads, then potentially long delays

6.4.1. Aside: Virtual Threads in Java

  • Beyond class topics
  • Java 19 introduced virtual threads in preview API
    • See JEP 436 or blog post for details
    • Overhead reduced to enable thread per client model with blocking I/O
      • Map large number of virtual threads to pool of small number of OS threads
      • When virtual thread blocks on I/O, Java runtime performs non-blocking OS call and
        • suspends virtual thread until it can be resumed later and
        • executes different virtual thread on same OS thread

7. Conclusions

7.1. Summary

  • Threads represent individual instruction execution sequences
  • Multithreading improves
    • Resource utilization
    • Responsiveness
    • Modular design in presence of concurrency
  • Preemptive multithreading with housekeeping by OS
    • Thread switching with overhead
  • Design choices: I/O blocking or not, servers with multiple threads or not


License Information

This document is part of an Open Educational Resource (OER) course on Operating Systems. Source code and source files are available on GitLab under free licenses.

Except where otherwise noted, the work “OS03: Threads”, © 2017-2023 Jens Lechtenbörger, is published under the Creative Commons license CC BY-SA 4.0.

No warranties are given. The license may not give you all of the permissions necessary for your intended use.

In particular, trademark rights are not licensed under this license. Thus, rights concerning third party logos (e.g., on the title slide) and other (trade-) marks (e.g., “Creative Commons” itself) remain with their respective holders.