Summary

Rust currently provides a compare_and_swap method on atomic types, but this method only exposes a subset of the functionality of the C++11 equivalents compare_exchange_strong and compare_exchange_weak:

  • compare_and_swap maps to the C++11 compare_exchange_strong, but there is no Rust equivalent for compare_exchange_weak. The latter is allowed to fail spuriously even when the comparison succeeds, which allows the compiler to generate better assembly code when the compare and swap is used in a loop.

  • compare_and_swap only has a single memory ordering parameter, whereas the C++11 versions have two: the first describes the memory ordering when the operation succeeds while the second one describes the memory ordering on failure.

Motivation

While all of these variants are identical on x86, they can allow more efficient code to be generated on architectures such as ARM:

  • On ARM, the strong variant of compare and swap is compiled into an LDREX / STREX loop which restarts the compare and swap when a spurious failure is detected. This is unnecessary for many lock-free algorithms since the compare and swap is usually already inside a loop and a spurious failure is often caused by another thread modifying the atomic concurrently, which will probably cause the compare and swap to fail anyways.

  • When Rust lowers compare_and_swap to LLVM, it uses the same memory ordering type for success and failure, which on ARM adds extra memory barrier instructions to the failure path. Most lock-free algorithms which make use of compare and swap in a loop only need relaxed ordering on failure since the operation is going to be restarted anyways.

Detailed design

Since compare_and_swap is stable, we can't simply add a second memory ordering parameter to it. This RFC proposes deprecating the compare_and_swap function and replacing it with compare_exchange and compare_exchange_weak, which match the names of the equivalent C++11 functions (with the _strong suffix removed).

compare_exchange

A new method is instead added to atomic types:


# #![allow(unused_variables)]
#fn main() {
fn compare_exchange(&self, current: T, new: T, success: Ordering, failure: Ordering) -> T;
#}

The restrictions on the failure ordering are the same as C++11: only SeqCst, Acquire and Relaxed are allowed and it must be equal or weaker than the success ordering. Passing an invalid memory ordering will result in a panic, although this can often be optimized away since the ordering is usually statically known.

The documentation for the original compare_and_swap is updated to say that it is equivalent to compare_exchange with the following mapping for memory orders:

Original Success Failure
Relaxed Relaxed Relaxed
Acquire Acquire Acquire
Release Release Relaxed
AcqRel AcqRel Acquire
SeqCst SeqCst SeqCst

compare_exchange_weak

A new method is instead added to atomic types:


# #![allow(unused_variables)]
#fn main() {
fn compare_exchange_weak(&self, current: T, new: T, success: Ordering, failure: Ordering) -> (T, bool);
#}

compare_exchange does not need to return a success flag because it can be inferred by checking if the returned value is equal to the expected one. This is not possible for compare_exchange_weak because it is allowed to fail spuriously, which means that it could fail to perform the swap even though the returned value is equal to the expected one.

A lock free algorithm using a loop would use the returned bool to determine whether to break out of the loop, and if not, use the returned value for the next iteration of the loop.

Intrinsics

These are the existing intrinsics used to implement compare_and_swap:


# #![allow(unused_variables)]
#fn main() {
    pub fn atomic_cxchg<T>(dst: *mut T, old: T, src: T) -> T;
    pub fn atomic_cxchg_acq<T>(dst: *mut T, old: T, src: T) -> T;
    pub fn atomic_cxchg_rel<T>(dst: *mut T, old: T, src: T) -> T;
    pub fn atomic_cxchg_acqrel<T>(dst: *mut T, old: T, src: T) -> T;
    pub fn atomic_cxchg_relaxed<T>(dst: *mut T, old: T, src: T) -> T;
#}

The following intrinsics need to be added to support relaxed memory orderings on failure:


# #![allow(unused_variables)]
#fn main() {
    pub fn atomic_cxchg_acqrel_failrelaxed<T>(dst: *mut T, old: T, src: T) -> T;
    pub fn atomic_cxchg_failacq<T>(dst: *mut T, old: T, src: T) -> T;
    pub fn atomic_cxchg_failrelaxed<T>(dst: *mut T, old: T, src: T) -> T;
    pub fn atomic_cxchg_acq_failrelaxed<T>(dst: *mut T, old: T, src: T) -> T;
#}

The following intrinsics need to be added to support compare_exchange_weak:


# #![allow(unused_variables)]
#fn main() {
    pub fn atomic_cxchg_weak<T>(dst: *mut T, old: T, src: T) -> (T, bool);
    pub fn atomic_cxchg_weak_acq<T>(dst: *mut T, old: T, src: T) -> (T, bool);
    pub fn atomic_cxchg_weak_rel<T>(dst: *mut T, old: T, src: T) -> (T, bool);
    pub fn atomic_cxchg_weak_acqrel<T>(dst: *mut T, old: T, src: T) -> (T, bool);
    pub fn atomic_cxchg_weak_relaxed<T>(dst: *mut T, old: T, src: T) -> (T, bool);
    pub fn atomic_cxchg_weak_acqrel_failrelaxed<T>(dst: *mut T, old: T, src: T) -> (T, bool);
    pub fn atomic_cxchg_weak_failacq<T>(dst: *mut T, old: T, src: T) -> (T, bool);
    pub fn atomic_cxchg_weak_failrelaxed<T>(dst: *mut T, old: T, src: T) -> (T, bool);
    pub fn atomic_cxchg_weak_acq_failrelaxed<T>(dst: *mut T, old: T, src: T) -> (T, bool);
#}

Drawbacks

Ideally support for failure memory ordering would be added by simply adding an extra parameter to the existing compare_and_swap function. However this is not possible because compare_and_swap is stable.

This RFC proposes deprecating a stable function, which may not be desirable.

Alternatives

One alternative for supporting failure orderings is to add new enum variants to Ordering instead of adding new methods with two ordering parameters. The following variants would need to be added: AcquireFailRelaxed, AcqRelFailRelaxed, SeqCstFailRelaxed, SeqCstFailAcquire. The downside is that the names are quite ugly and are only valid for compare_and_swap, not other atomic operations. It is also a breaking change to a stable enum.

Another alternative is to not deprecate compare_and_swap and instead add compare_and_swap_explicit, compare_and_swap_weak and compare_and_swap_weak_explicit. However the distiniction between the explicit and non-explicit isn't very clear and can lead to some confusion.

Not doing anything is also a possible option, but this will cause Rust to generate worse code for some lock-free algorithms.

Unresolved questions

None