10/26/2012

10-26-12 - Oodle Rewrite Thoughts

I'm getting increasingly annoyed with the C-style Oodle threading code. It's just such a nightmare to manually manage things like object lifetimes in an async / multi-threaded environment.

Even something as simple as "write part of this buffer to a file" constantly causes me pain, because implied in that operation is "the buffer must not be freed until the write is done" , "the buffer should not be changed in the area being written until the write is done" , and "the file should not be closed until the write is done".

When you first start out and aren't doing a lot of complicated ops, it doesn't seem too bad, you can keep those things in your head; they become "comment-enforced" rules; that is, the code doesn't make itself correct, you have to write comments like "// write is pending, don't free buffer yet" (often you don't actually write the comments, but they're still "comment-enforced" as opposed to "code-enforced").

I think the better way is the very-C++-y Oodle futures .

Oodle futures rely on every object they take as inputs having refcounts, so there is no issue of free before exit. Some key points about the Oodle futures that I think are good :

A. Dependencies are automatic based on your arguments. You depend on anything you take as arguments. If the arguments themselves depend on async ops, then you depend on the chain of ops automatically. This is super-sweet and just removes a ton of bugs. You are then required to write code such that all your dependencies are in the form of function arguments, which at first is a pain in the ass, but actually results in much cleaner code overall because it makes the expression of dependencies really clear (as opposed to just touching some global deep inside your function, which creates a dependency in a really nasty way).

B. Futures create implicit async handles; the async handles in Oodle future are all ref-counted so they clean themselves automatically when you no longer care about them. This is way better than the manual lifetime management in Oodle right now, in which you either have to hold a bunch of handles.

C. It's an easy way to plug in the result of one async op into the input of the next one. It's like an imperative way of using code to do that graph drawing thing ; "this op has an output which goes into this input slot". Without an automated system for this, what I'm doing at the moment is writing lots of little stub functions that just wait on one op, gather up its results and starts the next op. There's no inefficiency in this, it's the same thing the future system does, but it's a pain in the ass.

If I was restarting from scratch I would go even further. Something like :

1. Every object has a refcount AND a read-write lock built into. Maybe the refcount and RW lock count go together in one U32 or U64 which is maintained by lockfree ops.

Refcounting is obvious. Lifetimes of async ops are way too complicated without it.

The RW lock in every object is something that sophomoric programmers don't see the need for. They think "hey it's a simple struct, I fill it on one thread, then pass it to another thread, and he touches it". No no no, you're a horrible programmer and I don't want to work with you. It seems simple at first, but it's just so fragile and prone to bugs any time you change anything, it's not worth it. If every object doesn't just come with an RW lock it's too easy to be lazy and skip adding one, which is very bad. If the lock is uncontended, as in the simple struct handoff case above, then it's very cheap, so just use it anyway.

2. Whenever you start an async op on an object, it takes a ref and also takes either a read lock or write lock.

3. Buffers are special in that you RW lock them in ranges. Same thing with textures and such. So you can write non-overlapping ranges simultaneously.

4. Every object has a list of the ops that are pending on that object. Any time you start a new op on an object, it is delayed until those pending ops are done. Similarly, every op has a list of objects that it takes as input, and won't run until those objects are ready.

The other big thing I would do in a rewrite from scratch is the basic architecture :

1. Write all my own threading primitives (semaphore, mutex, etc) and base them on a single waitset. (I basically have this already).

2. Write stack-ful coroutines.

3. When the low level Wait() is called on a stackful coroutine, instead yield the coroutine.

That way the coroutine code can just use Semaphore or whatever, and when it goes to wait on the semaphore, it will yield instead. It makes the coroutine code exactly the same as non-coroutine code and makes it "composable" (eg. you can call functions and they actually work), which I believe is crucial to real programming. This lets you write stackful coroutine code that does file IO or waits on async ops or whatever, and when you hit some blocking code it just automatically yields the coroutine (instead of blocking the whole worker thread).

This would mean that you could write coroutine code without any special syntax; so eg. you can call the same functions from coroutines as you do from non-coroutines and it Just Works the way you want. Hmm I think I wrote the same sentence like 3 times, but it's significant enough to bear repetition.

1 comment:

Yann Collet said...

This reminds me this older post by Humus :

http://www.humus.name/index.php?page=News&ID=351

Title : Rewriting from scratch? Yeah, it's a bad idea.

old rants