Lab: Multithreading

This lab will familiarize you with multithreading. You will implement switching between threads in a user-level threads package, use multiple threads to speed up a program, and implement a barrier.

Before writing code, you should make sure you have read "Chapter 7: Scheduling" from the xv6 book and studied the corresponding code.

To start the lab, switch to the thread branch:

  $ git fetch
  $ git checkout thread
  $ make clean

Uthread: switching between threads

In this exercise you will design the context switch mechanism for a user-level threading system, and then implement it. To get you started, your xv6 has two files user/uthread.c and user/uthread_switch.S, and a rule in the Makefile to build a uthread program. uthread.c contains most of a user-level threading package, and code for three simple test threads. The threading package is missing some of the code to create a thread and to switch between threads.

Your job is to come up with a plan to create threads and save/restore registers to switch between threads, and implement that plan. When you're done, make grade should say that your solution passes the uthread test.

Once you've finished, you should see the following output when you run uthread on xv6 (the three threads might start in a different order):
$ make qemu
$ uthread
thread_a started
thread_b started
thread_c started
thread_c 0
thread_a 0
thread_b 0
thread_c 1
thread_a 1
thread_b 1
thread_c 99
thread_a 99
thread_b 99
thread_c: exit after 100
thread_a: exit after 100
thread_b: exit after 100
thread_schedule: no runnable threads

This output comes from the three test threads, each of which has a loop that prints a line and then yields the CPU to the other threads.

At this point, however, with no context switch code, you'll see no output.

You will need to add code to thread_create() and thread_schedule() in user/uthread.c, and thread_switch in user/uthread_switch.S. One goal is ensure that when thread_schedule() runs a given thread for the first time, the thread executes the function passed to thread_create(), on its own stack. Another goal is to ensure that thread_switch saves the registers of the thread being switched away from, restores the registers of the thread being switched to, and returns to the point in the latter thread's instructions where it last left off. You will have to decide where to save/restore registers; modifying struct thread to hold registers is a good plan. You'll need to add a call to thread_switch in thread_schedule; you can pass whatever arguments you need to thread_switch, but the intent is to switch from thread t to next_thread.

Some hints:

Using threads

In this assignment you will explore parallel programming with threads and locks using a hash table. You should do this assignment on a real Linux or MacOS computer (not xv6, not qemu) that has multiple cores. Most recent laptops have multicore processors.

This assignment uses the UNIX pthread threading library. You can find information about it from the manual page, with man pthreads, and you can look on the web, for example here, here, and here.

The file notxv6/ph.c contains a simple hash table that is correct if used from a single thread, but incorrect when used from multiple threads. In your main xv6 directory (perhaps ~/xv6-labs-2021), type this:

$ make ph
$ ./ph 1
Note that to build ph the Makefile uses your OS's gcc, not the 6.S081 tools. The argument to ph specifies the number of threads that execute put and get operations on the the hash table. After running for a little while, ph 1 will produce output similar to this:
100000 puts, 3.991 seconds, 25056 puts/second
0: 0 keys missing
100000 gets, 3.981 seconds, 25118 gets/second

The numbers you see may differ from this sample output by a factor of two or more, depending on how fast your computer is, whether it has multiple cores, and whether it's busy doing other things.

ph runs two benchmarks. First it adds lots of keys to the hash table by calling put(), and prints the achieved rate in puts per second. The it fetches keys from the hash table with get(). It prints the number keys that should have been in the hash table as a result of the puts but are missing (zero in this case), and it prints the number of gets per second it achieved.

You can tell ph to use its hash table from multiple threads at the same time by giving it an argument greater than one. Try ph 2:

$ ./ph 2
100000 puts, 1.885 seconds, 53044 puts/second
1: 16579 keys missing
0: 16579 keys missing
200000 gets, 4.322 seconds, 46274 gets/second
The first line of this ph 2 output indicates that when two threads concurrently add entries to the hash table, they achieve a total rate of 53,044 inserts per second. That's about twice the rate of the single thread from running ph 1. That's an excellent "parallel speedup" of about 2x, as much as one could possibly hope for (i.e. twice as many cores yielding twice as much work per unit time).

However, the two lines saying 16579 keys missing indicate that a large number of keys that should have been in the hash table are not there. That is, the puts were supposed to add those keys to the hash table, but something went wrong. Have a look at notxv6/ph.c, particularly at put() and insert().

Why are there missing keys with 2 threads, but not with 1 thread? Identify a sequence of events with 2 threads that can lead to a key being missing. Submit your sequence with a short explanation in answers-thread.txt

To avoid this sequence of events, insert lock and unlock statements in put and get in notxv6/ph.c so that the number of keys missing is always 0 with two threads. The relevant pthread calls are:

pthread_mutex_t lock;            // declare a lock
pthread_mutex_init(&lock, NULL); // initialize the lock
pthread_mutex_lock(&lock);       // acquire lock
pthread_mutex_unlock(&lock);     // release lock

You're done when make grade says that your code passes the ph_safe test, which requires zero missing keys with two threads. It's OK at this point to fail the ph_fast test.

Don't forget to call pthread_mutex_init(). Test your code first with 1 thread, then test it with 2 threads. Is it correct (i.e. have you eliminated missing keys?)? Does the two-threaded version achieve parallel speedup (i.e. more total work per unit time) relative to the single-threaded version?

There are situations where concurrent put()s have no overlap in the memory they read or write in the hash table, and thus don't need a lock to protect against each other. Can you change ph.c to take advantage of such situations to obtain parallel speedup for some put()s? Hint: how about a lock per hash bucket?

Modify your code so that some put operations run in parallel while maintaining correctness. You're done when make grade says your code passes both the ph_safe and ph_fast tests. The ph_fast test requires that two threads yield at least 1.25 times as many puts/second as one thread.


In this assignment you'll implement a barrier: a point in an application at which all participating threads must wait until all other participating threads reach that point too. You'll use pthread condition variables, which are a sequence coordination technique similar to xv6's sleep and wakeup.

You should do this assignment on a real computer (not xv6, not qemu).

The file notxv6/barrier.c contains a broken barrier.

$ make barrier
$ ./barrier 2
barrier: notxv6/barrier.c:42: thread: Assertion `i == t' failed.
The 2 specifies the number of threads that synchronize on the barrier ( nthread in barrier.c). Each thread executes a loop. In each loop iteration a thread calls barrier() and then sleeps for a random number of microseconds. The assert triggers, because one thread leaves the barrier before the other thread has reached the barrier. The desired behavior is that each thread blocks in barrier() until all nthreads of them have called barrier().

Your goal is to achieve the desired barrier behavior. In addition to the lock primitives that you have seen in the ph assignment, you will need the following new pthread primitives; look here and here for details.

pthread_cond_wait(&cond, &mutex);  // go to sleep on cond, releasing lock mutex, acquiring upon wake up
pthread_cond_broadcast(&cond);     // wake up every thread sleeping on cond

Make sure your solution passes make grade's barrier test.

pthread_cond_wait releases the mutex when called, and re-acquires the mutex before returning.

We have given you barrier_init(). Your job is to implement barrier() so that the panic doesn't occur. We've defined struct barrier for you; its fields are for your use.

There are two issues that complicate your task:

Test your code with one, two, and more than two threads.

Submit the lab

This completes the lab. Make sure you pass all of the make grade tests. If this lab had questions, don't forget to write up your answers to the questions in answers-lab-name.txt. Commit your changes (including adding answers-lab-name.txt) and type make handin in the lab directory to hand in your lab.

Time spent

Create a new file, time.txt, and put in it a single integer, the number of hours you spent on the lab. Don't forget to git add and git commit the file.


You will turn in your assignments using the
submission website. You need to request once an API key from the submission website before you can turn in any assignments or labs.

After committing your final changes to the lab, type make handin to submit your lab.

$ git commit -am "ready to submit my lab"
[util c2e3c8b] ready to submit my lab
 2 files changed, 18 insertions(+), 2 deletions(-)

$ make handin
tar: Removing leading `/' from member names
Get an API key for yourself by visiting
  % Total    % Received % Xferd  Average Speed   Time    Time     Time  Current
                                 Dload  Upload   Total   Spent    Left  Speed
100 79258  100   239  100 79019    853   275k --:--:-- --:--:-- --:--:--  276k
make handin will store your API key in myapi.key. If you need to change your API key, just remove this file and let make handin generate it again (myapi.key must not include newline characters).

If you run make handin and you have either uncomitted changes or untracked files, you will see output similar to the following:

 M hello.c
?? bar.c
?? foo.pyc
Untracked files will not be handed in.  Continue? [y/N]
Inspect the above lines and make sure all files that your lab solution needs are tracked i.e. not listed in a line that begins with ??. You can cause git to track a new file that you create using git add filename.

If make handin does not work properly, try fixing the problem with the curl or Git commands. Or you can run make tarball. This will make a tar file for you, which you can then upload via our web interface.

Optional challenges for uthread

The user-level thread package interacts badly with the operating system in several ways. For example, if one user-level thread blocks in a system call, another user-level thread won't run, because the user-level threads scheduler doesn't know that one of its threads has been descheduled by the xv6 scheduler. As another example, two user-level threads will not run concurrently on different cores, because the xv6 scheduler isn't aware that there are multiple threads that could run in parallel. Note that if two user-level threads were to run truly in parallel, this implementation won't work because of several races (e.g., two threads on different processors could call thread_schedule concurrently, select the same runnable thread, and both run it on different processors.)

There are several ways of addressing these problems. One is using scheduler activations and another is to use one kernel thread per user-level thread (as Linux kernels do). Implement one of these ways in xv6. This is not easy to get right; for example, you will need to implement TLB shootdown when updating a page table for a multithreaded user process.

Add locks, condition variables, barriers, etc. to your thread package.