[Python-ideas] [Python-Dev] [ANN]: "newthreading" - an approach to simplified thread usage, and a path to getting rid of the GIL

Guido van Rossum guido at python.org
Tue Jun 29 01:09:55 CEST 2010

I'm moving this thread to python-ideas, where it belongs.

I've looked at the implementation code (even stepped through it with
pdb!), read the sample/test code, and read the two papers on
animats.com fairly closely (they have a lot of overlap, and the memory
model described below seems copied verbatim from
http://www.animats.com/papers/languages/pythonconcurrency.html version

Some reactions (trying to hide my responses to the details of the code):

- First of all, I'm very happy to see radical ideas proposed, even if
they are at present unrealistic. We need a big brainstorm to come up
with ideas from which an eventual solution to the multicore problem
might be chosen. (Jesse Noller's multiprocessing is another; Adam
Olsen's work yet another, at a different end of the spectrum.)

- The proposed new semantics (frozen objects, memory model,
auto-freezing of globals, enforcement of naming conventions) are
radically different from Python's current semantics. They will break
every 3rd party library in many more ways than Python 3. This is not
surprising given the goals of the proposal (and its roots in Adam
Olsen's work) but places a huge roadblock for acceptance. I see no
choice but to keep trying to come up with a compromise that is more
palatable and compatible without throwing away all the advantages. As
it now stands, the proposal might as well be a new and different

- SynchronizedObject looks like a mixture of a Java synchronized class
(a non-standard concept in Java but easily understood as a class all
whose public methods are synchronized) and a condition variable (which
has the same semantics of releasing the lock while waiting but without
crawling the stack for other locks to release). It looks like the
examples showing off SynchronizedObject could be implemented just as
elegantly using a condition variable (and voluntary abstention from
using shared mutable objects).

- If the goal is to experiment with new control structures, I
recommend decoupling them from the memory model and frozen objects,
instead relying (as is traditional in Python) on programmer caution to
avoid races. This would make it much easier to see how programmers
respond to the new control structures.

- You could add the freeze() function for voluntary use, and you could
even add automatic wrapping of arguments and return values for certain
classes using a class decorator or a metaclass, but the performance
overhead makes this unlikely to win over many converts. I don't see
much use for the "whole program freezing" done by the current
prototype -- there are way too many backdoors in Python for the
prototype approach to be anywhere near foolproof, and if we want a
non-foolproof approach, voluntary constraint (and, in some cases,
voluntary, i.e. explicit, wrapping of modules or classes) would work
just as well.

- For a larger-scale experiment with the new memory model and semantic
restrictions (or would it be better to call them syntactic
restrictions? -- after all they are about statically detectable
properties like naming conventions) I recommend looking at PyPy, which
has as one of its explicitly stated project goals easy experimentation
with different object models.

- I'm sure I've forgotten something, but I wanted to keep my impressions fresh.

- Again, John, thanks for taking the time to come up with an
implementation of your idea!


On Sat, Jun 26, 2010 at 9:39 AM, John Nagle <nagle at animats.com> wrote:
> On 6/26/2010 7:44 AM, Jesse Noller wrote:
>> On Sat, Jun 26, 2010 at 9:29 AM, Michael Foord
>> <fuzzyman at voidspace.org.uk>  wrote:
>>> On 26/06/2010 07:11, John Nagle wrote:
>>>> We have just released a proof-of-concept implementation of a new
>>>> approach to thread management - "newthreading".
> ....
>>> The import * form is considered bad practise in *general* and
>>> should not be recommended unless there is a good reason.
>   I agree.  I just did that to make the examples cleaner.
>>> however the introduction of free-threading in Python has not been
>>> hampered by lack of synchronization primitives but by the
>>> difficulty of changing the interpreter without unduly impacting
>>> single threaded code.
>    That's what I'm trying to address here.
>>> Providing an alternative garbage collection mechanism other than
>>> reference counting would be a more interesting first-step as far as
>>> I can see, as that removes the locking required around every access
>>> to an object (which currently touches the reference count).
>>> Introducing free-threading by *changing* the threading semantics
>>> (so you can't share non-frozen objects between threads) would not
>>> be acceptable. That comment is likely to be based on a
>>> misunderstanding of your future intentions though. :-)
>    This work comes out of a discussion a few of us had at a restaurant
> in Palo Alto after a Stanford talk by the group at Facebook which
> is building a JIT compiler for PHP.  We were discussing how to
> make threading both safe for the average programmer and efficient.
> Javascript and PHP don't have threads at all; Python has safe
> threading, but it's slow.  C/C++/Java all have race condition
> problems, of course.  The Facebook guy pointed out that you
> can't redefine a function dynamically in PHP, and they get
> a performance win in their JIT by exploiting this.
>    I haven't gone into the memory model in enough detail in the
> technical paper.  The memory model I envision for this has three
> memory zones:
>    1.  Shared fully-immutable objects: primarily strings, numbers,
> and tuples, all of whose elements are fully immutable.  These can
> be shared without locking, and reclaimed by a concurrent garbage
> collector like Boehm's.  They have no destructors, so finalization
> is not an issue.
>    2.  Local objects.  These are managed as at present, and
> require no locking.  These can either be thread-local, or local
> to a synchronized object.  There are no links between local
> objects under different "ownership".  Whether each thread and
> object has its own private heap, or whether there's a common heap with
> locks at the allocator is an implementation decision.
>    3.  Shared mutable objects: mostly synchronized objects, but
> also immutable objects like tuples which contain references
> to objects that aren't fully immutable.  These are the high-overhead
> objects, and require locking during reference count updates, or
> atomic reference count operations if supported by the hardware.
> The general idea is to minimize the number of objects in this
> zone.
>    The zone of an object is determined when the object is created,
> and never changes.   This is relatively simple to implement.
> Tuples (and frozensets, frozendicts, etc.) are normally zone 2
> objects.  Only "freeze" creates collections in zones 1 and 3.
> Synchronized objects are always created in zone 3.
> There are no difficult handoffs, where an object that was previously
> thread-local now has to be shared and has to acquire locks during
> the transition.
>    Existing interlinked data structures, like parse trees and GUIs,
> are by default zone 2 objects, with the same semantics as at
> present.  They can be placed inside a SynchronizedObject if
> desired, which makes them usable from multiple threads.
> That's optional; they're thread-local otherwise.
>    The rationale behind "freezing" some of the language semantics
> when the program goes multi-thread comes from two sources -
> Adam Olsen's Safethread work, and the acceptance of the
> multiprocessing module.  Olsen tried to retain all the dynamism of
> the language in a multithreaded environment, but locking all the
> underlying dictionaries was a boat-anchor on the whole system,
> and slowed things down so much that he abandoned the project.
> The Unladen Swallow documentation indicates that early thinking
> on the project was that Olsen's approach would allow getting
> rid of the GIL, but later notes indicate that no path to a
> GIL-free JIT system is currently in development.
>    The multiprocessing module provides semantics similar to
> threading with "freezing".  Data passed between processes is "frozen"
> by pickling.  Processes can't modify each other's code.  Restrictive
> though the multiprocessing module is, it appears to be useful.
> It is sometimes recommended as the Pythonic approach to multi-core CPUs.
> This is an indication that "freezing" is not unacceptable to the
> user community.
>    Most of the real-world use cases for extreme dynamism
> involve events that happen during startup.  Configuration files are
> read, modules are selectively included, functions are overridden, tables
> of references to functions are set up, regular expressions are compiled,
> and the code is brought into the appropriately configured state.  Then
> the worker threads are started and the real work starts. The
> "newthreading" approach allows all that.
>    After two decades of failed attempts remove the Global
> Interpreter Lock without making performance worse, it is perhaps
> time to take a harder look at scaleable threading semantics.
>                                        John Nagle
>                                        Animats

--Guido van Rossum (python.org/~guido)

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