Blocking and Yielding Resource API

The goal of this page is to list the most common synchronization and resource management patterns used in ConcurrentSim.jl simulations and to briefly compare them to Julia's base capabilities for asynchronous and parallel programming.

There are many different approaches to discrete event simulation in particular and to asynchronous and parallel programming in general. This page assumes some rudimentary understanding of concurrency in programming. While not necessary, you are encouraged to explore the following resources for a more holistic understanding:

  • "concurrency" vs "parallelism" - see on the topic;
  • "threads" vs "tasks": A task is the actual piece of work, a thread is the "runway" on which a task runs. You can have more tasks than threads and you can even have tasks that jump between threads - see Julia's parallel programming documentation (in particular the async and multithreading docs), and multiple Julia blog post on multithreading and its misuses;
  • "locks" used to guard (or synchronize) the access to a given resource: i.e. one threads locks an array while modifying it in order to ensure that another thread will not be modifying it at the same time. Julia's Base multithreading capabilities provide a ReentrantLock, together with a lock, trylock, unlock, and islocked API;
  • "channels" used to organize concurrent tasks. Julia's Base multithreading capabilities provide Channel, together with take!, put!, isready;
  • knowing of the "red/blue-colored functions" metaphor can be valuable as well as learning of "promises" and "futures".

Programming discrete event simulations can be very similar to async parallel programming, except for the fact that in the simulation the "time" is fictitious (and tracking it is a big part of the value proposition in the simulation software). On the other hand, in usual parallel programming the goal is simply to do as much work as possible in the shortest (actual) time. In that context, one possible use of discrete event simulations is to cheaply model and optimize various parallel implementations of actual expensive algorithms (whether numerical computer algorithms or the algorithms used to schedule a real factory or a fleet of trucks).

In particular, the ConcurrentSim.jl package uses the async "coroutines" model of parallel programing. ConcurrentSim uses the ResumableFunctions.jl package to build its coroutines, which uses the @resumable macro to mark a function as an "async" coroutine and the @yield macro to yield between coroutines.

Base Julia coroutines vs ConcurrentSim coroutines

The ConcurrentSim and ResumableFunctions coroutines are currently incompatible with Julia's base coroutines (which based around wait and fetch). A separate coroutines implementation was necessary, because Julia's coroutines are designed for computationally heavy tasks and practical parallel algorithms, leading to significant overhead when they are used with extremely large numbers of computationally cheap tasks, as it is common in discrete event simulators. ResumableFunctions's coroutines are single threaded but with drastically lower call overhead. A future long-term goal of ours is to unify the API used by ResumableFunctions and base Julia, but this will not be achieved in the near term, hence the need for pages like this one.

Without further ado, here is the typical API used with:

  • ConcurrentSim.Resource which is used to represent scarce resource that can be used by only up to a fixed number of tasks. If the limit is just one task (the default), this is very similar to Base.ReentrantLock. Resource is a special case of Container with an integer "resource counter".
  • ConcurrentSim.Store which is used to represent an unordered heap. For the ordered versions, consider QueueStore or StackStore.
Base ReentrantLockBase ChannelConcurrentSim ContainerConcurrentSim Resource, i.e. Container{Int}ConcurrentSim Store
put!@yield@yield@yieldlow-level "put an object in" API
take!block@yieldthe Channel-like API for Store
lockblock@yieldthe Lock-like API for Resource (there is also trylock)
unlock✔️@yieldthe Lock-like API for Resource
isready✔️✔️✔️✔️something is stored in the resource
islocked✔️✔️✔️✔️the resource can not store anything more

The table denotes which methods exist (✔️), are blocking (block), need to be explicitly yielded with ResumableFunctions (@yield), or are not applicable (❌).

As you can see Resource shares some properties with ReentrantLock and avails itself of the lock/unlock/trylock Base API. Store similarly shares some properties with Channel and shares the put!/take! Base API. Of note is that when the Base API would be blocking, the corresponding ConcurrentSim methods actually give coroutines that need to be @yield-ed.

take! and unlock are both implemented on top of the lower level get.

The Base.lock and Base.unlock are aliased to ConcurrentSim.request and ConcurrentSim.release respectively for semantic convenience when working with Resource.

unlock(::Resource) is instantaneous so the @yield is not strictly necessary. Similarly for put!(::Store) if the store has infinite capacity.