[concurrency-interest] On A Formal Definition of 'Data-Race'

Gregg Wonderly gregg at cytetech.com
Mon Apr 15 18:43:15 EDT 2013

Happens-before doesn't play a part in program=order, only thread-order.  This is 
the problem that a lot of developers seem to struggle with.  If you want the 
history of all possible paths, then the complexity of that possibility is huge. 
  Basically for X unrelated instructions, the possible histories are X^2. 
Because happens-before injects a "barrier", it can appear to simplify the 
complexity, but, the global ordering still is X^2 for all "blocks" between 
happens-before spots.

This is why I keep waving my hands here, and saying "stop that".  It makes it 
extremely difficult for "racy" software to be understood as "racy", because 
"reordering" introduces a whole realm of "unknown compiler reorderings changing 
JLS specified behaviors" that many developers, may not recognize as needing 
their attention.  I still encounter developers who just don't understand that 
the JLS doesn't describe "inter-thread" behaviors, because of the JMM.  People 
expect that they will just see data races, and not programmatic run time data 
corruption such as the Thread.getThread()/.setThread() discussion here revealed.

Many people pick java for the some reason that James Gosling wrote quite some 
time ago, regarding it working correctly.  The JLS and JMM decoupling of 
"behaviors" causes software to break with "corrupted data" (word tearing 
included) and that's something which I don't think is on the radar for as many 
people writing Java software, as seems to be expected by the aggressive demands 
on the JMM being perfectly understood and adhered to.


On 4/15/2013 2:18 PM, oleksandr otenko wrote:
> On 15/04/2013 17:55, thurstonn wrote:
>> oleksandr otenko wrote
>>> When "data race" means "broken logic", there must be a place where that
>>> logic is defined.
>> Yes, there is an assumption in my OP that "data-race" ==> "incorrect" (or
>> "broken logic" in your words)
>> Vitaly does not necessarily equate "raciness" with "incorrectness" (and
>> probably Brian as well) and that's OK with me
>> oleksandr otenko wrote
>>> Literature on linearizability introduces a history of events (not the
>>> only place where it is done so). If a valid reordering of events
>>> produces a invalid history, you have a data race. But you need a
>>> definition of a valid history.
>> Yes, what I'm in (a quixotic?) search for is a process that does the
>> following:
>> given a set of operations that can execute across multiple threads (like the
>> example in the OP)
>> -define a set of "execution histories" (your "history of events") that are
>> possible given the MM in effect and consistent with the original program's
>> set of operations (of course there will be multiple such histories)
>> -each "execution history" defines at least a partial ordering among
>> conflicting operations (r/w or w/w on the same shared data item)
>> -analyze each execution history for "correctness"
>> if each possible history is correct, then you're good
>> else add explicit happens-before relations. Repeat
> This sounds awfully like Java PathFinder.
> Not tractable for less-trivial code. (I couldn't test a semaphore-like primitive
> with more than 4 threads).
> Alex
>> oleksandr otenko wrote
>>> Your argument is that any reordering of instructions in your example is
>>> a valid history. But in order to state that, we would need to see the
>>> rest of history. The subsequent use of local will determine the validity
>>> of history.
>>> Alex
>> Agreed (the example 'program' is simplistic at best).
>> What my original post described was exactly the kind of process (viz. an
>> acyclic serialization graph) that I'm in search of, but is applied to
>> database concurrency control.  The problems are very similar (turning
>> concurrent executions into serial, partially-ordered ones; operations are
>> reads/writes of data items), but they are not exactly the same.  I was
>> wondering if we could use the same techniques (with a serialization graph
>> ==> "execution graph") to analyze the "correctness" of, e.g. non-locking
>> concurrent algorithms/data structures.
>> Thurston
>> On 12/04/2013 19:55, thurstonn wrote:
>>> In thinking about whether code is thread-safe or not, one can attempt to
>>> identify whether it 'contains a data-race'.  If not, you're good.  Else
>>> you
>>> need to add an explicit happens-before relationship.
>>> Which begs the question: what exactly constitutes a 'data-race'?  And here
>>> I'm interested in something a little more formal than the famed judicial
>>> judgement of obscenity (I know it when I see it)
>>> If you do a web search, you unfortunately get quite a few divergent
>>> definitions, many of which seem to be inconsistent.
>>> IIRC, the official JMM defines a data-race as any two conflicting
>>> operations
>>> from two or more threads on shared data (where at least one of the two
>>> operations is a write).
>>> Brian Goetz (in his excellent  article
>>> <http://www.ibm.com/developerworks/library/j-jtp03304/>  ) defines
>>> data-race
>>> thusly:
>>> "A program is said to have a data race, and therefore not be a "properly
>>> synchronized" program, when there is a variable that is read by more than
>>> one thread, written by at least one thread, and the write and the reads
>>> are
>>> not ordered by a happens-before relationship."
>>> But this would mark the following code as a data-race
>>> int shared = 0
>>> Thread 1                  Thread 2                 Thread 3
>>> local = this.shared      this.shared = 10       local = this.shared
>>> This clearly meets his definition, yet I do not consider this a
>>> 'data-race'.
>>> I've always relied on traditional database concurrency control theory (I
>>> still find the treatise by Bernstein, Hadzilacos, and Goodman to be the
>>> best), which has a formal definition of 'serializability', viz. that any
>>> transaction log is 'serializable', if and only if, its serialization graph
>>> is acyclic.  Why can we not use this as the basis for a formal definition
>>> of
>>> 'data-race' (excluding the notion of commit and abort of course):
>>> "A program is said to have a data-race, if any legal (as prescribed by the
>>> MM) execution order produces a serialization graph that is *cyclic*"
>>> It has the advantage of a formal, mathematical model and although it is
>>> has
>>> historically been confined to databases (and transactions), it seems
>>> applicable to concurrent execution of any kind?
>>> Hoping that I don't get flamed.
>>> --
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