Task Wakeups with Waker

It's common that futures aren't able to complete the first time they are polled. When this happens, the future needs to ensure that it is polled again once it is ready to make more progress. This is done with the Waker type.

Each time a future is polled, it is polled as part of a "task". Tasks are the top-level futures that have been submitted to an executor.

Waker provides a wake() method that can be used to tell the executor that the associated task should be awoken. When wake() is called, the executor knows that the task associated with the Waker is ready to make progress, and its future should be polled again.

Waker also implements clone() so that it can be copied around and stored.

Let's try implementing a simple timer future using Waker.

Applied: Build a Timer

For the sake of the example, we'll just spin up a new thread when the timer is created, sleep for the required time, and then signal the timer future when the time window has elapsed.

First, start a new project with cargo new --lib timer_future and add the imports we'll need to get started to src/lib.rs:

fn main() {
use std::{
    sync::{Arc, Mutex},
    task::{Context, Poll, Waker},

Let's start by defining the future type itself. Our future needs a way for the thread to communicate that the timer has elapsed and the future should complete. We'll use a shared Arc<Mutex<..>> value to communicate between the thread and the future.

pub struct TimerFuture {
    shared_state: Arc<Mutex<SharedState>>,

/// Shared state between the future and the waiting thread
struct SharedState {
    /// Whether or not the sleep time has elapsed
    completed: bool,

    /// The waker for the task that `TimerFuture` is running on.
    /// The thread can use this after setting `completed = true` to tell
    /// `TimerFuture`'s task to wake up, see that `completed = true`, and
    /// move forward.
    waker: Option<Waker>,

Now, let's actually write the Future implementation!

impl Future for TimerFuture {
    type Output = ();
    fn poll(self: Pin<&mut Self>, cx: &mut Context<'_>) -> Poll<Self::Output> {
        // Look at the shared state to see if the timer has already completed.
        let mut shared_state = self.shared_state.lock().unwrap();
        if shared_state.completed {
        } else {
            // Set waker so that the thread can wake up the current task
            // when the timer has completed, ensuring that the future is polled
            // again and sees that `completed = true`.
            // It's tempting to do this once rather than repeatedly cloning
            // the waker each time. However, the `TimerFuture` can move between
            // tasks on the executor, which could cause a stale waker pointing
            // to the wrong task, preventing `TimerFuture` from waking up
            // correctly.
            // N.B. it's possible to check for this using the `Waker::will_wake`
            // function, but we omit that here to keep things simple.
            shared_state.waker = Some(cx.waker().clone());

Pretty simple, right? If the thread has set shared_state.completed = true, we're done! Otherwise, we clone the Waker for the current task and pass it to shared_state.waker so that the thread can wake the task back up.

Importantly, we have to update the Waker every time the future is polled because the future may have moved to a different task with a different Waker. This will happen when futures are passed around between tasks after being polled.

Finally, we need the API to actually construct the timer and start the thread:

impl TimerFuture {
    /// Create a new `TimerFuture` which will complete after the provided
    /// timeout.
    pub fn new(duration: Duration) -> Self {
        let shared_state = Arc::new(Mutex::new(SharedState {
            completed: false,
            waker: None,

        // Spawn the new thread
        let thread_shared_state = shared_state.clone();
        thread::spawn(move || {
            let mut shared_state = thread_shared_state.lock().unwrap();
            // Signal that the timer has completed and wake up the last
            // task on which the future was polled, if one exists.
            shared_state.completed = true;
            if let Some(waker) = shared_state.waker.take() {

        TimerFuture { shared_state }

Woot! That's all we need to build a simple timer future. Now, if only we had an executor to run the future on...