This RFC basically changes core::sync::atomic to look like this:

#[cfg(target_has_atomic = "8")]
struct AtomicBool {}
#[cfg(target_has_atomic = "8")]
struct AtomicI8 {}
#[cfg(target_has_atomic = "8")]
struct AtomicU8 {}
#[cfg(target_has_atomic = "16")]
struct AtomicI16 {}
#[cfg(target_has_atomic = "16")]
struct AtomicU16 {}
#[cfg(target_has_atomic = "32")]
struct AtomicI32 {}
#[cfg(target_has_atomic = "32")]
struct AtomicU32 {}
#[cfg(target_has_atomic = "64")]
struct AtomicI64 {}
#[cfg(target_has_atomic = "64")]
struct AtomicU64 {}
#[cfg(target_has_atomic = "128")]
struct AtomicI128 {}
#[cfg(target_has_atomic = "128")]
struct AtomicU128 {}
#[cfg(target_has_atomic = "ptr")]
struct AtomicIsize {}
#[cfg(target_has_atomic = "ptr")]
struct AtomicUsize {}
#[cfg(target_has_atomic = "ptr")]
struct AtomicPtr<T> {}


Many lock-free algorithms require a two-value compare_exchange, which is effectively twice the size of a usize. This would be implemented by atomically swapping a struct containing two members.

Another use case is to support Linux’s futex API. This API is based on atomic i32 variables, which currently aren’t available on x86_64 because AtomicIsize is 64-bit.

Detailed design

New atomic types

The AtomicI8, AtomicI16, AtomicI32, AtomicI64 and AtomicI128 types are added along with their matching AtomicU* type. These have the same API as the existing AtomicIsize and AtomicUsize types. Note that support for 128-bit atomics is dependent on the i128/u128 RFC being accepted.

Target support

One problem is that it is hard for a user to determine if a certain type T can be placed inside an Atomic<T>. After a quick survey of the LLVM and Clang code, architectures can be classified into 3 categories:

  • The architecture does not support any form of atomics (mainly microcontroller architectures).
  • The architecture supports all atomic operations for integers from i8 to iN (where N is the architecture word/pointer size).
  • The architecture supports all atomic operations for integers from i8 to i(N*2).

A new target cfg is added: target_has_atomic. It will have multiple values, one for each atomic size supported by the target. For example:

#[cfg(target_has_atomic = "128")]
static ATOMIC: AtomicU128 = AtomicU128::new(mem::transmute((0u64, 0u64)));
#[cfg(not(target_has_atomic = "128"))]
static ATOMIC: Mutex<(u64, u64)> = Mutex::new((0, 0));

#[cfg(target_has_atomic = "64")]
static COUNTER: AtomicU64 = AtomicU64::new(0);
#[cfg(not(target_has_atomic = "64"))]
static COUNTER: AtomicU32 = AtomicU32::new(0);

Note that it is not necessary for an architecture to natively support atomic operations for all sizes (i8, i16, etc) as long as it is able to perform a compare_exchange operation with a larger size. All smaller operations can be emulated using that. For example a byte atomic can be emulated by using a compare_exchange loop that only modifies a single byte of the value. This is actually how LLVM implements byte-level atomics on MIPS, which only supports word-sized atomics native. Note that the out-of-bounds read is fine here because atomics are aligned and will never cross a page boundary. Since this transformation is performed transparently by LLVM, we do not need to do any extra work to support this.

Changes to AtomicPtr, AtomicIsize and AtomicUsize

These types will have a #[cfg(target_has_atomic = "ptr")] bound added to them. Although these types are stable, this isn’t a breaking change because all targets currently supported by Rust will have this type available. This would only affect custom targets, which currently fail to link due to missing compiler-rt symbols anyways.

Changes to AtomicBool

This type will be changes to use an AtomicU8 internally instead of an AtomicUsize, which will allow it to be safely transmuted to a bool. This will make it more consistent with the other atomic types that have the same layout as their underlying type. (For example futex code will assume that a &AtomicI32 can be passed as a &i32 to the system call)


Having certain atomic types get enabled/disable based on the target isn’t very nice, but it’s unavoidable because support for atomic operations is very architecture-specific.

This approach doesn’t directly support for atomic operations on user-defined structs, but this can be emulated using transmutes.


One alternative that was discussed in a previous RFC was to add a generic Atomic<T> type. However the consensus was that having unsupported atomic types either fail at monomorphization time or fall back to lock-based implementations was undesirable.

Several other designs have been suggested here.

Unresolved questions