package kcas

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Multi-word compare-and-set library


Dune Dependency






Published: 17 Mar 2023


API reference · (The API was redesigned in version 0.2.0. See API reference for version 0.1.8.)

kcas — Multi-word compare-and-set library

kcas provides an implementation of atomic lock-free multi-word compare-and-set (MCAS), which is a powerful tool for designing concurrent algorithms.

Features and properties:

  • Efficient: In the common uncontended case only k + 1 single-word CASes are required per k-CAS.

  • Lock-free: The underlying algorithm guarantees that at least one domain will be able to make progress.

  • Disjoint-access parallel: Unrelated operations progress independently, without interference, even if they occur at the same time.

  • Read-only compares: The algorithm supports obstruction-free read-only compare (CMP) operations that can be performed on overlapping locations in parallel without interference.

  • Composable: Independently developed transactions can be composed with ease.

kcas is published on opam and is distributed under the ISC license.


A quick tour

To use the library

# #require "kcas"
# open Kcas

one first creates shared memory locations:

# let a = Loc.make 0
  and b = Loc.make 0
  and x = Loc.make 0
val a : int Loc.t = <abstr>
val b : int Loc.t = <abstr>
val x : int Loc.t = <abstr>

One can then manipulate the locations individually:

# Loc.set a 6
- : unit = ()
# Loc.get a
- : int = 6

Attempt primitive operations over multiple locations:

# Op.atomically [
    Op.make_cas a 6 10;
    Op.make_cas b 0 52
- : bool = true

Perform transactions over them:

# Tx.(
    commit (
      let* a = get a
      and* b = get b in
      set x (b - a)
- : unit = ()

Explicitly pass a transaction log through a computation:

# Xt.commit { tx = fun ~xt ->
    Xt.set ~xt a (Xt.get ~xt b) }
- : unit = ()

And get the answer:

# Loc.get x
- : int = 42


The API of kcas is divided into submodules. The main modules are

  • Loc, providing an abstraction of shared memory locations,

  • Op, providing an interface for primitive operations over multiple shared memory locations,

  • Tx, providing composable transactions over shared memory locations, and

  • Xt, providing explicit transaction log passing over shared memory locations.

The following sections discuss each of the above in turn.

Creating and manipulating individual shared memory locations

The Loc module is essentially compatible with the Stdlib Atomic module, except that a number of functions take an optional backoff as an argument.

In other words, an application that uses Atomic, but then needs to perform atomic operations over multiple atomic locations, could theoretically just rebind module Atomic = Loc and then use the Op, Tx, and/or Xt APIs to perform operations over multiple locations. This should not be done just-in-case, however, as, even though kcas is efficient, it does naturally have higher overhead than the Stdlib Atomic.

Programming with primitive operations

The Op module is probably most suitable when using kcas as a means to design and implement new lock-free algorithms.

To program with primitive operations one simply makes a list of CAS operations using make_cas and then attempts them using atomically. Typically that needs to be done inside a loop of some kind as such an attempt can naturally fail.

Let's first make two locations representing stacks:

# let stack_a = Loc.make [19]
  and stack_b = Loc.make [76]
val stack_a : int list Loc.t = <abstr>
val stack_b : int list Loc.t = <abstr>

Here is a function that can atomically move an element from given source stack to the given target stack:

# let rec move ?(backoff = Backoff.default)
               target =
    match Loc.get source with
    | [] -> raise Exit
    | (elem::rest) as old_source ->
      let old_target = Loc.get target in
      let ops = [
        Op.make_cas source old_source rest;
        Op.make_cas target old_target (elem::old_target)
      ] in
      if not (Op.atomically ops) then
        let backoff = Backoff.once backoff in
        move ~backoff source target
val move : ?backoff:Backoff.t -> 'a list Loc.t -> 'a list Loc.t -> unit =

Note that we also used the Backoff module provided by kcas above.

Now we can simply call move:

# move stack_a stack_b
- : unit = ()
# Loc.get stack_a
- : int list = []
# Loc.get stack_b
- : int list = [19; 76]

As one can see, the API provided by Op is quite low-level and is not intended for application level programming.

Programming with transactions

The Tx module provides a higher-level API that is intended to be suitable for both designing and implementing new lock-free algorithms and as an application level programming interface for compositional use of such algorithms.

A transactional lock-free stack

As our first example of using transactions, let's implement a lock-free stack. A stack can be just a shared memory location that holds a list of elements:

# type 'a stack = 'a list Loc.t
type 'a stack = 'a list Loc.t

To create a stack we just make a new location with an empty list:

# let stack () : _ stack = Loc.make []
val stack : unit -> 'a stack = <fun>

To push an element to a stack we modify the stack to cons the element onto the list:

# let push stack element =
    Tx.modify stack @@ List.cons element
val push : 'a list Loc.t -> 'a -> unit Tx.t = <fun>

Popping an element from a stack is a little more complicated as we need to handle the case of an empty stack. Let's go with a basic approach where we first get the content of the stack, set it if necessary, and return an optional element.

# let try_pop stack = Tx.(
    let* content = get stack in
    match content with
    | [] -> return None
    | element :: rest ->
      let+ () = set stack rest in
      Some element
val try_pop : 'a list Loc.t -> 'a option Tx.t = <fun>

Above we used the let* and let+ binding operators to sequence primitive transactions. We could also implement try_pop more concisely using the infix operators >>= and >>.:

# let try_pop stack = Tx.(
    get stack >>= function
    | [] -> return None
    | element :: rest ->
      set stack rest >>.
      Some element
val try_pop : 'a list Loc.t -> 'a option Tx.t = <fun>

With a couple of useful list manipulation helper functions

# let hd_opt = function
    | [] -> None
    | element :: _ -> Some element
val hd_opt : 'a list -> 'a option = <fun>
# let tl_safe = function
    | [] -> []
    | _ :: rest -> rest
val tl_safe : 'a list -> 'a list = <fun>

an even more concise implementation is possible using update_as:

# let try_pop stack = Tx.update_as hd_opt stack tl_safe
val try_pop : 'a list Loc.t -> 'a option Tx.t = <fun>

Above, update_as is used as a shorthand to both compute the result and the new value for the stack contents.

If the stack already contained an empty list, [], all of the above variations of try_pop generate a read-only CMP operation in the obstruction_free mode. This means that multiple domains may run try_pop on an empty stack in parallel without interference. The variation using update_as also makes only a single access to the underlying transaction log and is likely to be the fastest variation.

So, to use a stack, we first need to create it and then we may commit transactions to push and try_pop elements:

# let a_stack : int stack = stack ()
val a_stack : int stack = <abstr>
# Tx.commit @@ push a_stack 101
- : unit = ()
# Tx.commit @@ try_pop a_stack
- : int option = Some 101
# Tx.commit @@ try_pop a_stack
- : int option = None

As an astute reader you may wonder why push and try_pop return transactions that we then need to separately commit to. We'll get to that soon!

A transactional lock-free queue

Let's then implement a lock-free queue. To keep things simple we just use the traditional two-stack queue data structure:

# type 'a queue = {
    front: 'a list Loc.t;
    back: 'a list Loc.t
type 'a queue = { front : 'a list Loc.t; back : 'a list Loc.t; }

To create a queue we make the two locations:

# let queue () = {
    front = Loc.make [];
    back = Loc.make []
val queue : unit -> 'a queue = <fun>

To enqueue we just modify the back of the queue and cons the element to the list:

# let enqueue queue element =
    Tx.modify queue.back @@ List.cons element
val enqueue : 'a queue -> 'a -> unit Tx.t = <fun>

Dequeue is again more complicated. First we examine the front of the queue. If there is an element, we update the front and return the element. If the front is empty, we examine the back of the queue in reverse. If there is an element we clear the back, move the rest of the elements to the front, and return the element. Otherwise we return None as the queue was empty.

# let try_dequeue queue = Tx.(
    update queue.front tl_safe >>= function
    | element :: _ -> return (Some element)
    | [] ->
      exchange_as List.rev queue.back [] >>= function
      | [] -> return None
      | element :: rest ->
        set queue.front rest >>.
        Some element
val try_dequeue : 'a queue -> 'a option Tx.t = <fun>

Above, update and exchange_as are used as convenient shorthands and to reduce the number of accesses to the transaction log. If both the front and back locations already contained an empty list, [], the above generates read-only CMP operations in the obstruction_free mode allowing multiple domains to run try_dequeue on an empty queue in parallel without interference. Additionally, if the back contained only one element, no write to the front is generated.

So, to use a queue, we first need to create it and then we may commit transactions to enqueue and try_dequeue elements:

# let a_queue : int queue = queue ()
val a_queue : int queue = {front = <abstr>; back = <abstr>}
# Tx.commit @@ enqueue a_queue 76
- : unit = ()
# Tx.commit @@ try_dequeue a_queue
- : int option = Some 76
# Tx.commit @@ try_dequeue a_queue
- : int option = None
Composing transactions

The main benefit of the Tx API over the Op API is that transactions are composable. In fact, we already used let* to compose primitive transactions when implementing transactional stacks and queues. Composition is not limited to primitive transactions.

For example, one can push multiple elements to a transactional stack atomically:

# Tx.(
    commit (
      push a_stack 3 >>
      push a_stack 1 >>
      push a_stack 4
- : unit = ()

Or transfer elements between different transactional data structures:

# Tx.(
    commit (
      try_pop a_stack >>= function
      | Some element ->
        enqueue a_queue element
      | None ->
        return ()
- : unit = ()

The ability to compose transactions allows algorithms and data-structures to be used for a wider variety of purposes.

About transactions

The transaction mechanism provided by kcas is quite intentionally designed to be very simple and efficient. This also means that it cannot provide certain features, because adding such features would either add significant dependencies or overheads to the otherwise simple and efficient implementation. In particular, the transactions provided by kcas do not directly provide blocking or the ability to wait for changes to shared memory locations before retrying a transaction. The way commit works is that it simply retries the transaction in case it failed. To avoid contention, a backoff mechanism is used, but otherwise commit will essentially perform a busy-wait, which should usually be avoided.

Programming with explicit transaction log passing

The Xt module provides an API that allows transactions to be implemented by explicitly passing a mutable transaction log, which allows convenient use of all the ordinary sequential control flow structures of OCaml.

A transactional lock-free leftist heap

Let's implement something a bit more complicated, a leftist heap, which is a kind of priority queue.

First we define a data type to represent the spine of a leftist heap:

# type 'v leftist =
    [ `Null
    | `Node of 'v leftist Loc.t
             * int Loc.t
             * 'v
             * 'v leftist Loc.t ]
type 'v leftist =
    [ `Node of 'v leftist Loc.t * int Loc.t * 'v * 'v leftist Loc.t | `Null ]

To create a leftist heap we make a location with an empty spine:

# let leftist () : _ leftist Loc.t = Loc.make `Null
val leftist : unit -> 'a leftist Loc.t = <fun>

We then define an auxiliary function npl_of to get the null path length of a leftist heap:

# let npl_of ~xt : _ leftist -> int = function
    | `Null -> 0
    | `Node (_, npl, _, _) -> Xt.get ~xt npl
val npl_of : xt:'a Xt.t -> 'b leftist -> int = <fun>

Notice the ~xt parameter. It refers to the transaction log being passed explicitly. Above we pass it to get to record an operation in the log.

The core operation of leftist heaps is that of merging two leftist heaps:

# let rec merge ~xt ~lt h1 h2 =
    match h1, h2 with
    | `Null, h2 -> h2
    | h1, `Null -> h1
    | (`Node (_, _, v1, _) as h1),
      (`Node (_, _, v2, _) as h2) ->
      let (`Node (h1l, npl, _, h1r) as h1), h2 =
        if lt v1 v2 then h1, h2 else h2, h1 in
      let l = Xt.get ~xt h1l in
      if l == `Null then
        Xt.set ~xt h1l h2
      else begin
        let r = merge ~xt ~lt (Xt.get ~xt h1r) h2 in
        match npl_of ~xt l, npl_of ~xt r with
        | l_npl, r_npl when l_npl < r_npl ->
          Xt.set ~xt h1l r;
          Xt.set ~xt h1r l;
          Xt.set ~xt npl (l_npl + 1)
        | _, r_npl ->
          Xt.set ~xt h1r r;
          Xt.set ~xt npl (r_npl + 1)
val merge :
  xt:'a Xt.t ->
  lt:('b -> 'b -> bool) -> 'b leftist -> 'b leftist -> 'b leftist = <fun>

Again, merge passes the ~xt parameter explicitly to the get and set operations to record them in the log.

The merge operation can be used to implement both insertion to

# let insert ~xt ~lt h x =
    let h1 = `Node (
        Loc.make `Null,
        Loc.make 1,
        Loc.make `Null
      ) in
    Xt.set ~xt h (merge ~xt ~lt h1 (Xt.get ~xt h))
val insert :
  xt:'a Xt.t -> lt:('b -> 'b -> bool) -> 'b leftist Loc.t -> 'b -> unit =

and deletion from

# let delete_min_opt ~xt ~lt h =
    match Xt.get ~xt h with
    | `Null -> None
    | `Node (h1, _, x, h2) ->
        Xt.set ~xt h
          (merge ~xt ~lt (Xt.get ~xt h1) (Xt.get ~xt h2));
        Some x
val delete_min_opt :
  xt:'a Xt.t -> lt:('b -> 'b -> bool) -> 'b leftist Loc.t -> 'b option =

a leftist heap.

Let's then first pick an ordering

# let lt = (>)
val lt : 'a -> 'a -> bool = <fun>

and create a leftist heap:

# let a_heap : int leftist Loc.t = leftist ()
val a_heap : int leftist Loc.t = <abstr>

To populate the heap we need to define a transaction passing function and pass it to commit:

# Xt.commit { tx = fun ~xt ->
    List.iter (insert ~xt ~lt a_heap) [3; 1; 4; 1; 5] }
- : unit = ()

Notice that we could simply use List.iter from the Stdlib to iterate over a list of elements.

Let's then define a transaction passing function to remove all elements from a heap

# let remove_all ~xt ~lt h =
    let xs = ref [] in
    while match delete_min_opt ~xt ~lt h with
          | None -> false
          | Some x -> xs := x :: !xs; true do
    List.rev !xs
val remove_all :
  xt:'a Xt.t -> lt:('b -> 'b -> bool) -> 'b leftist Loc.t -> 'b list = <fun>

and use it

# Xt.commit { tx = remove_all ~lt a_heap }
- : int list = [5; 4; 3; 1; 1]

on the heap we populated earlier.

Notice how we were able to use a while loop, rather than recursion, in remove_all.

Designing lock-free algorithms with k-CAS

The key benefit of k-CAS, or k-CAS-n-CMP, and transactions in particular, is that it allows developing lock-free algorithms compositionally. In the following sections we discuss a number of basic tips and approaches for making best use of k-CAS.

Minimize accesses

Accesses of shared memory locations inside transactions consult the transaction log. While the log is optimized, it still adds overhead. For best performance it can be advantageous to minimize the number of accesses.

Prefer compound accesses

For best performance it can be advantageous to use compound accesses such as update, exchange, and modify instead of get and set, because the compound accesses only consult the transaction log once.

Consider the following example that swaps the values of the shared memory locations a and b:

# Xt.commit { tx = fun ~xt ->
    let a_val = Xt.get ~xt a
    and b_val = Xt.get ~xt b in
    Xt.set ~xt a b_val;
    Xt.set ~xt b a_val }
- : unit = ()

The above performs four accesses. Using exchange we can reduce that to three:

# Xt.commit { tx = fun ~xt ->
    let a_val = Xt.get ~xt a in
    let b_val = ~xt b a_val in
    Xt.set ~xt a b_val }
- : unit = ()

The above will likely perform slightly better.

Log updates optimistically and abort

Transactional write accesses to shared memory locations are only attempted after the transaction log construction finishes successfully. Therefore it is entirely safe to optimistically log updates against shared memory locations, validate them during the log construction, and abort the transaction in case validation fails.

Consider the following function to transfer an amount from specified source location to specified target location:

# let transfer amount ~source ~target =
    let tx ~xt =
      if amount <= Xt.get ~xt source then begin
        Xt.set ~xt source (Xt.get ~xt source - amount);
        Xt.set ~xt target (Xt.get ~xt target + amount)
    Xt.commit { tx }
val transfer : int -> source:int Loc.t -> target:int Loc.t -> unit = <fun>

The above first examine the source location and then updates both source and target. In a successful case it makes a total of five accesses. Using compound accesses and optimistic updates we can reduce that to just two accesses:

# let transfer amount ~source ~target =
    let tx ~xt =
      if Xt.fetch_and_add ~xt source (-amount) < amount then
        raise Not_found;
      Xt.fetch_and_add ~xt target amount |> ignore
    try Xt.commit { tx } with Not_found -> ()
val transfer : int -> source:int Loc.t -> target:int Loc.t -> unit = <fun>

Note that we raise the Stdlib Not_found exception to abort the transaction. As we can see

# Loc.get a, Loc.get b
- : int * int = (52, 52)
# transfer 100 ~source:a ~target:b
- : unit = ()
# Loc.get a, Loc.get b
- : int * int = (52, 52)
# transfer 10 ~source:a ~target:b
- : unit = ()
# Loc.get a, Loc.get b
- : int * int = (42, 62)

the updates are only done in case of success.


The more time a transaction takes, the more likely it is to suffer from interference or even starvation. For best performance it is important to keep transactions as short as possible. In particular, when possible, perform expensive computations after the transactions.

Consider the following example of computing the size of a stack:

# let a_stack = Loc.make [2; 3]
val a_stack : int list Loc.t = <abstr>
# let n_elems =
    let tx ~xt =
      Xt.get ~xt a_stack
      |> List.length
    Xt.commit { tx }
val n_elems : int = 2

The problem is that the computation of the list length is potentially expensive and opens a potentially long time window for other domains to interfere.

In this case we can trivially move the list length computation outside of the transaction:

# let n_elems =
    Xt.commit { tx = Xt.get a_stack }
    |> List.length
val n_elems : int = 2

As a more general approach, one could e.g. use closures to move compute after transactions:

# let n_elems =
    let tx ~xt =
      let xs = Xt.get ~xt a_stack in
      fun () -> List.length xs
    Xt.commit { tx } ()
val n_elems : int = 2

Race to cooperate

Sometimes it is necessary to perform slower transactions that access many shared memory locations or need to perform expensive computations during the transaction. As mentioned previously, such transactions are more likely to suffer from interference or even starvation as other transactions race to make conflicting mutations to shared memory locations. To avoid such problems, it is often possible to split the transaction into two:

  1. A quick transaction that adversarially races against others.

  2. A slower transaction that others will then cooperate to complete.

This lock-free algorithm design technique and the examples in the following subsections are more advanced than the basic techniques described previously. To understand and reason about these examples it is necessary to have a good understanding of how transactions work.

Understanding transactions

We have previously casually talked about "transactions". Let's sharpen our understanding of transactions.

In kcas, a transaction is essentially a function that can be called to prepare a specification of an operation or operations, in the form of a transaction log, that can then be attempted to be performed atomically by the underlying k-CAS-n-CMP algorithm provided by kcas.

In other words, and simplifying a bit, when an explicit attempt is made to perform a transaction, it basically proceeds in phases:

  1. The first phase records a log of operations to access shared memory locations.

  2. The second phase attempts to perform the operations atomically.

Either of the phases may fail. The first phase, which is under the control of the transaction function, may raise an exception to abort the attempt. The second phase fails when the accesses recorded in the transaction log are found to be inconsistent with the contents of the shared memory locations. That happens when the shared memory locations are mutated outside of the accesses specified in the transaction log regardless of who made those mutations.

A transaction is not itself atomic and the construction of a transaction log, by recording accesses of shared memory locations to the log, does not logically mutate any shared memory locations.

When a transaction is (unconditionally) committed, rather than merely attempted (once), the commit mechanism keeps on retrying until an attempt succeeds or the transaction function raises an exception (other than Exit or Interference) that the commit mechanism does not handle.

Each attempt or retry calls the transaction function again. This means that any side-effects within the transaction function are also performed again.

In previous sections we have used transactions as a coarse-grained mechanism to encompass all shared memory accesses of the algorithm being implemented. This makes it easy to reason about the effects of committing a transaction as the accesses are then all performed as a single atomic operation. In the following examples we will use our deeper understanding of transactions to implement more fine-grained algorithms.

A three-stack lock-free queue

Recall the two-stack queue discussed earlier. The problem is that the try_dequeue operation reverses the back of the queue and that can be relatively expensive. One way to avoid that problem is to introduce a third "middle" stack, or shared memory location, to the queue and quickly move the back to the middle stack.

First we redefine the queue type to include a middle location:

# type 'a queue = {
    back : 'a list Loc.t;
    middle : 'a list Loc.t;
    front : 'a list Loc.t;
type 'a queue = {
  back : 'a list Loc.t;
  middle : 'a list Loc.t;
  front : 'a list Loc.t;

And adjust the queue constructor function accordingly:

# let queue () =
    let back = Loc.make []
    and middle = Loc.make []
    and front = Loc.make [] in
    { back; middle; front }
val queue : unit -> 'a queue = <fun>

The enqueue operation remains essentially the same:

# let enqueue ~xt queue elem =
    Xt.modify ~xt queue.back @@ List.cons elem
val enqueue : xt:'a Xt.t -> 'b queue -> 'b -> unit = <fun>

For the quick transaction we introduce a helper function:

# let back_to_middle queue =
    let tx ~xt =
      match ~xt queue.back [] with
      | [] -> raise Not_found
      | xs ->
        if ~xt queue.middle xs != [] then
          raise Not_found
    try Xt.commit { tx } with Not_found -> ()
val back_to_middle : 'a queue -> unit = <fun>

Note that the above uses exchange to optimistically record shared memory accesses and then uses the Not_found exception to abort the transaction in case the optimistic accesses turn out to be unnecessary or incorrect.

The dequeue operation then runs the quick transaction to move elements from the back to the middle before examining the middle:

# let dequeue ~xt queue =
    match Xt.update ~xt queue.front tl_safe with
    | x :: _ -> Some x
    | [] ->
      back_to_middle queue;
      match ~xt queue.middle [] |> List.rev with
      | x :: xs ->
        Xt.set ~xt queue.front xs;
        Some x
      | [] ->
        match ~xt queue.back [] |> List.rev with
        | x :: xs ->
          Xt.set ~xt queue.front xs;
          Some x
        | [] -> None
val dequeue : xt:'a Xt.t -> 'b queue -> 'b option = <fun>

There are a number of subtle implementation details above that deserve attention.

First of all, notice that dequeue calls back_to_middle queue before accessing queue.middle and queue.back. If the call back_to_middle queue would be made after accessing queue.middle or queue.back, then those accesses would be recorded in the transaction log xt and the log would be inconsistent after back_to_middle queue mutates the locations. This would cause the transaction attempt to fail and we want to avoid such doomed attempts.

Another subtle, but important, detail is that despite calling back_to_middle queue to move queue.back to queue.middle, it would be incorrect to assume that queue.back would be empty or that queue.middle would be non-empty. That is because we must assume other domains may be performing operations on the queue simultaneously. Another domain may have pushed new elements to the queue.back or emptied queue.middle. Therefore we meticulously examine both queue.middle and queue.back, if necessary. If we don't do that, then it is possible that we incorrectly report the queue as being empty.

Also, as should be clear, the side-effect performed by calling back_to_middle queue is committed immediately every time it is called regardless of the outcome of the transaction attempt. This is safe, because back_to_middle queue does not logically change the state of the queue. It merely performs a helping step, that is invisible to outside observers, towards advancing the internal state of the queue. This is a common pattern in lock-free algorithms.

As subtle as these kinds of lock-free algorithms are, this approach avoids the potential starvation problems as now consumers do not attempt a slow transaction to race against producers. Rather, the consumers perform quick adversarial races against producers and then cooperatively race to complete the slow transaction.

A rehashable lock-free hash table

The previous example of adding a middle stack to the queue may seem like a special case. Let's implement a simple lock-free hash table and, along the way, examine a simple general way to replace a slow transaction with a quick adversarial transaction and a slow cooperative transaction.

The difficulty with hash tables is rehashing. Let's ignore that for now and implement a hash table without rehashing. For further simplicity, let's just use separate chaining. Here is a type for such a basic hash table:

# type ('k, 'v) basic_hashtbl = {
    size: int Loc.t;
    data: ('k * 'v Loc.t) list Loc.t array Loc.t;
type ('k, 'v) basic_hashtbl = {
  size : int Loc.t;
  data : ('k * 'v Loc.t) list Loc.t array Loc.t;

The basic hash table constructor just allocates all the locations:

# let basic_hashtbl () = {
    size = Loc.make 0;
    data = Loc.make (Array.init 4 (fun _ -> Loc.make []))
val basic_hashtbl : unit -> ('a, 'b) basic_hashtbl = <fun>

Note that we (intentionally) used a very small capacity for the data table. In a real implementation you'd probably want to have a bigger minimum capacity (and might e.g. want to use a prime number).

Before tackling the basic operations, let's implement a helper function for accessing the association list location corresponding to specified key:

# let access ~xt basic_hashtbl key =
    let data = Xt.get ~xt in
    let n = Array.length data in
    let i = Hashtbl.hash key mod n in
val access :
  xt:'a Xt.t -> ('b, 'c) basic_hashtbl -> 'd -> ('b * 'c Loc.t) list Loc.t =

Now, to find an element, we access the association list and try to find the key-value -pair:

# let find ~xt hashtbl key =
    let assoc_loc = access ~xt hashtbl key in
    Xt.get ~xt (List.assoc key (Xt.get ~xt assoc_loc))
val find : xt:'a Xt.t -> ('b, 'c) basic_hashtbl -> 'b -> 'c = <fun>

When replacing (or adding) the value corresponding to a key, we need to take care to update the size when necessary:

# let replace ~xt hashtbl key value =
    let assoc_loc = access ~xt hashtbl key in
    let assoc = Xt.get ~xt assoc_loc in
      let value_loc = List.assoc key assoc in
      Xt.set ~xt value_loc value
    with Not_found ->
      Xt.set ~xt assoc_loc ((key, Loc.make value) :: assoc);
      Xt.incr ~xt hashtbl.size
val replace : xt:'a Xt.t -> ('b, 'c) basic_hashtbl -> 'b -> 'c -> unit =

Removing an association also involves making sure that the size is updated correctly:

# let remove ~xt hashtbl key =
    let assoc_loc = access ~xt hashtbl key in
    let rec loop ys = function
      | ((key', _) as y) :: xs ->
        if key <> key' then
          loop (y :: ys) xs
        else begin
          Xt.set ~xt assoc_loc (List.rev_append ys xs);
          Xt.decr ~xt hashtbl.size
      | [] -> ()
    loop [] (Xt.get ~xt assoc_loc)
val remove : xt:'a Xt.t -> ('b, 'c) basic_hashtbl -> 'b -> unit = <fun>

Now, the problem with the above is the lack of rehashing. As more associations are added, performance deteriorates. We could implement a naive rehashing operation:

let rehash ~xt hashtbl new_capacity =
  let new_data = Array.init new_capacity (fun _ -> Loc.make []) in ~xt new_data
  |> Array.iter (fun assoc_loc ->
     Xt.get ~xt assoc_loc
     |> List.iter (fun ((key, _) as bucket) ->
        let i = Hashtbl.hash key mod new_capacity in
        Xt.modify ~xt new_data.(i) (List.cons bucket)));

But that involves reading all the bucket locations. Any mutation that adds or removes an association would cause such a rehash to fail.

To avoid taking on such adversarial races, we can use a level of indirection:

# type ('k, 'v) hashtbl = {
    pending: [`Nothing | `Rehash of int] Loc.t;
    basic: ('k, 'v) basic_hashtbl;
type ('k, 'v) hashtbl = {
  pending : [ `Nothing | `Rehash of int ] Loc.t;
  basic : ('k, 'v) basic_hashtbl;

The idea is that a hash table is either considered to be normally accessible or in the middle of being rehashed. It is easy to use this approach even when there are many different slow operations.

Finding an element does not require mutating any locations, so we might just as well allow those also during rehashes:

# let find ~xt hashtbl key = find ~xt hashtbl.basic key
val find : xt:'a Xt.t -> ('b, 'c) hashtbl -> 'b -> 'c = <fun>

Then we use a similar trick as with the three-stack queue. We use a quick adversarial transaction to switch a hash table to the rehashing state in case a rehash seems necessary:

# let prepare_rehash hashtbl delta =
    let tx ~xt =
      match Xt.get ~xt hashtbl.pending with
      | `Rehash _ -> ()
      | `Nothing ->
        let size = Int.max 1 (Xt.get ~xt hashtbl.basic.size + delta) in
        let capacity = Array.length (Xt.get ~xt in
        if capacity < size * 4 then
          Xt.set ~xt hashtbl.pending (`Rehash (capacity * 2))
        else if size * 8 < capacity then
          Xt.set ~xt hashtbl.pending (`Rehash (capacity / 2))
          raise Not_found
    try Xt.commit { tx } with Not_found -> ()
val prepare_rehash : ('a, 'b) hashtbl -> int -> unit = <fun>

Note again that while the rehash logic allows some slack in the capacity, a real implementation would likely use a bigger minimum capacity and perhaps avoid using powers of two.

Before we mutate a hash table, we will then call a helper to check whether we need to rehash:

# let maybe_rehash ~xt hashtbl delta =
    prepare_rehash hashtbl delta;
    match Xt.get ~xt hashtbl.pending with
    | `Nothing -> ()
    | `Rehash new_capacity ->
      Xt.set ~xt hashtbl.pending `Nothing;
      rehash ~xt hashtbl.basic new_capacity
val maybe_rehash : xt:'a Xt.t -> ('b, 'c) hashtbl -> int -> unit = <fun>

Similarly to the previous example of a three-stack queue, a subtle, but important detail is that the call to prepare_rehash is made before accessing hashtbl.pending. This way the transaction log is not poisoned and there is chance for the operation to succeed on the first attempt.

After switching to the rehashing state, all mutators will then cooperatively race to perform the rehash.

We can now just implement the replace

# let replace ~xt hashtbl key value =
    maybe_rehash ~xt hashtbl (+1);
    replace ~xt hashtbl.basic key value
val replace : xt:'a Xt.t -> ('b, 'c) hashtbl -> 'b -> 'c -> unit = <fun>

and remove

# let remove ~xt hashtbl key =
    maybe_rehash ~xt hashtbl (-1);
    remove ~xt hashtbl.basic key
val remove : xt:'a Xt.t -> ('b, 'c) hashtbl -> 'b -> unit = <fun>

operations with rehashing.

After creating a constructor function

# let hashtbl () = {
    pending = Loc.make `Nothing;
    basic = basic_hashtbl ();
val hashtbl : unit -> ('a, 'b) hashtbl = <fun>

for hash tables, we are ready to take it out for a spin:

# let a_hashtbl : (string, int) hashtbl = hashtbl ()
val a_hashtbl : (string, int) hashtbl =
  {pending = <abstr>; basic = {size = <abstr>; data = <abstr>}}
# let assoc = [
    ("Intro", 101);
    ("Answer", 42);
    ("OCaml", 5);
    ("Year", 2023)
val assoc : (string * int) list =
  [("Intro", 101); ("Answer", 42); ("OCaml", 5); ("Year", 2023)]
# assoc
  |> List.iter @@ fun (key, value) ->
     Xt.commit { tx = replace a_hashtbl key value }
- : unit = ()
# assoc
  |> List.iter @@ fun (key, _) ->
     Xt.commit { tx = remove a_hashtbl key }
- : unit = ()

What we have here is a lock-free hash table with rehashing that should not be highly prone to starvation. In other respects this is a fairly naive hash table implementation. You might want to think about various ways to improve upon it.



This project uses ocamlformat (for OCaml) and prettier (for Markdown).

To make a new release

  1. Update

  2. Run dune-release tag VERSION to create a tag for the new VERSION.

  3. Run dune-release to publish the new VERSION.

  4. Run ./update-gh-pages-for-tag VERSION to update the online documentation.

Dependencies (2)

  1. ocaml >= "5.0"
  2. dune >= "3.3"

Dev Dependencies (2)

  1. odoc with-doc
  2. mdx >= "1.10.0" & with-test

Used by





Innovation. Community. Security.