Executors and System IO

In the previous section on The Future Trait, we discussed this example of a future that performed an asynchronous read on a socket:

pub struct SocketRead<'a> {
    socket: &'a Socket,

impl SimpleFuture for SocketRead<'_> {
    type Output = Vec<u8>;

    fn poll(&mut self, wake: fn()) -> Poll<Self::Output> {
        if self.socket.has_data_to_read() {
            // The socket has data -- read it into a buffer and return it.
        } else {
            // The socket does not yet have data.
            // Arrange for `wake` to be called once data is available.
            // When data becomes available, `wake` will be called, and the
            // user of this `Future` will know to call `poll` again and
            // receive data.

This future will read available data on a socket, and if no data is available, it will yield to the executor, requesting that its task be awoken when the socket becomes readable again. However, it's not clear from this example how the Socket type is implemented, and in particular it isn't obvious how the set_readable_callback function works. How can we arrange for wake() to be called once the socket becomes readable? One option would be to have a thread that continually checks whether socket is readable, calling wake() when appropriate. However, this would be quite inefficient, requiring a separate thread for each blocked IO future. This would greatly reduce the efficiency of our async code.

In practice, this problem is solved through integration with an IO-aware system blocking primitive, such as epoll on Linux, kqueue on FreeBSD and Mac OS, IOCP on Windows, and ports on Fuchsia (all of which are exposed through the cross-platform Rust crate mio). These primitives all allow a thread to block on multiple asynchronous IO events, returning once one of the events completes. In practice, these APIs usually look something like this:

struct IoBlocker {
    /* ... */

struct Event {
    // An ID uniquely identifying the event that occurred and was listened for.
    id: usize,

    // A set of signals to wait for, or which occurred.
    signals: Signals,

impl IoBlocker {
    /// Create a new collection of asynchronous IO events to block on.
    fn new() -> Self { /* ... */ }

    /// Express an interest in a particular IO event.
    fn add_io_event_interest(

        /// The object on which the event will occur
        io_object: &IoObject,

        /// A set of signals that may appear on the `io_object` for
        /// which an event should be triggered, paired with
        /// an ID to give to events that result from this interest.
        event: Event,
    ) { /* ... */ }

    /// Block until one of the events occurs.
    fn block(&self) -> Event { /* ... */ }

let mut io_blocker = IoBlocker::new();
    Event { id: 1, signals: READABLE },
    Event { id: 2, signals: READABLE | WRITABLE },
let event = io_blocker.block();

// prints e.g. "Socket 1 is now READABLE" if socket one became readable.
println!("Socket {:?} is now {:?}", event.id, event.signals);

Futures executors can use these primitives to provide asynchronous IO objects such as sockets that can configure callbacks to be run when a particular IO event occurs. In the case of our SocketRead example above, the Socket::set_readable_callback function might look like the following pseudocode:

impl Socket {
    fn set_readable_callback(&self, waker: Waker) {
        // `local_executor` is a reference to the local executor.
        // this could be provided at creation of the socket, but in practice
        // many executor implementations pass it down through thread local
        // storage for convenience.
        let local_executor = self.local_executor;

        // Unique ID for this IO object.
        let id = self.id;

        // Store the local waker in the executor's map so that it can be called
        // once the IO event arrives.
        local_executor.event_map.insert(id, waker);
            Event { id, signals: READABLE },

We can now have just one executor thread which can receive and dispatch any IO event to the appropriate Waker, which will wake up the corresponding task, allowing the executor to drive more tasks to completion before returning to check for more IO events (and the cycle continues...).