atomic Weapons: The C++ Memory Model and Modern Hardware—Herb Sutter

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Herb Sutter's biggest and deepest talk at C++ and Beyond 2012 is now online:

atomic<> Weapons: The C++ Memory Model and Modern Hardware

by Herb Sutter

This session in one word: Deep.

It's a session that includes topics I've publicly said for years is Stuff You Shouldn't Need To Know and I Just Won't Teach, but it's becoming achingly clear that people do need to know about it. Achingly, heartbreakingly clear, because some hardware incents you to pull out the big guns to achieve top performance, and C++ programmers just are so addicted to full performance that they'll reach for the big red levers with the flashing warning lights. Since we can't keep people from pulling the big red levers, we'd better document the A to Z of what the levers actually do, so that people don't SCRAM unless they really, really, really meant to.

Topics Covered:

  • The facts: The C++11 memory model and what it requires you to do to make sure your code is correct and stays correct. We'll include clear answers to several FAQs: "how do the compiler and hardware cooperate to remember how to respect these rules?", "what is a race condition?", and the ageless one-hand-clapping question "how is a race condition like a debugger?"
  • The tools: The deep interrelationships and fundamental tradeoffs among mutexes, atomics, and fences/barriers. I'll try to convince you why standalone memory barriers are bad, and why barriers should always be associated with a specific load or store.
  • The unspeakables: I'll grudgingly and reluctantly talk about the Thing I Said I'd Never Teach That Programmers Should Never Need To Now: relaxed atomics. Don't use them! If you can avoid it. But here's what you need to know, even though it would be nice if you didn't need to know it.
  • The rapidly-changing hardware reality: How locks and atomics map to hardware instructions on ARM and x86/x64, and throw in POWER and Itanium for good measure – and I'll cover how and why the answers are actually different last year and this year, and how they will likely be different again a few years from now. We'll cover how the latest CPU and GPU hardware memory models are rapidly evolving, and how this directly affects C++ programmers.

Herb adds on his blog:

Note: This is about the basic structure and tools, not how to write lock-free algorithms using atomics. That next-level topic may be on deck for this year’s C++ and Beyond in December, we’ll see...

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Comments (2)

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LongTimeLurker said on Feb 12, 2013 01:28 AM:

Too bad most of the great stuff of Herb Sutter comes in the form of videos. Could we at least get the slides?
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H Sutter said on Feb 15, 2013 11:15 AM:

They usually post the slides, and I just sent them a link again. You should see it posted on the page.

In the meantime, you can use this: http://sdrv.ms/NxDB6u (PDF 2-up handouts)