🦋 66. Atomic operations in Perl 6

N. B. The examples below require a fresh Rakudo compiler, at least of the version 2017.09.

Discussing parallel computing earlier or later leads to solving race conditions. Let us look at a simple counter that is incremented by two parallel threads:

my $c = 0;

await do for 1..10 {
    start {
        $c++ for 1 .. 1_000_000

say $c;

If you run the program a few times, you will immediately see that the results are very different:

$ perl6 atomic-1.pl 
$ perl6 atomic-1.pl 
$ perl6 atomic-1.pl 
$ perl6 atomic-1.pl 

Of course, the idea was to increase the counter by 1 million in all of the ten threads, but about ⅓ of the steps were lost. It is quite easy to understand why that happens: the parallel threads read the variable and write to it ignoring the presence of other threads and not thinking that the value can be changed in-between. Thus, some of the threads work with an outdated value of the counter.

Perl 6 offers a solution: atomic operations. The syntax of the language is equipped with the Atom Symbol (U+0x269B) ⚛ character (no idea of why it is displayed in that purple colour). Instead of $c++, you should type $c⚛++.

my atomicint $c = 0;

await do for 1..10 {
    start {
        $c⚛++ for 1 .. 1_000_000

say $c;

And before thinking of the necessity to use a Unicode character, let us look at the result of the updated program:

$ perl6 atomic-2.pl 

This is exactly the result we wanted!

Notice also, that the variable is declared as a variable of the atomicint type. That is a synonym for int, which is a native integer (unlike Int, which is a data type represented by a Perl 6 class).

It is not possible to ask a regular value to be atomic. That attempt will be rejected by the compiler:

$ perl6 -e'my $c; $c⚛++'
Expected a modifiable native int argument for '$target'
  in block  at -e line 1

A few other operators can be atomic, for example, prefix and postfix increments and decrements ++ and --, or += and -=. There are also atomic versions of the assignment operator = and the one for reading: ⚛ (sic!).

If you need atomic operations in your code, you are not forced to use the ⚛ character. There exists a bunch of alternative functions that you can use instead of the operators:

my atomicint $c = 1;

my $x = ⚛$c;  $x = atomic-fetch($c);
$c ⚛= $x;     atomic-assign($c, $x);
$c⚛++;        atomic-fetch-inc($c);
$c⚛--;        atomic-fetch-dec($c);
++⚛$c;        atomic-inc-fetch($c);
--⚛$c;        atomic-dec-fetch($c);
$c ⚛+= $x;    atomic-fetch-add($c,$x);

say $x; # 1
say $c; # 3

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