Книга: Distributed operating systems

6.3.6. Release Consistency

6.3.6. Release Consistency

Weak consistency has the problem that when a synchronization variable is accessed, the memory does not know whether this is being done because the process is finished writing the shared variables or about to start reading them. Consequently, it must take the actions required in both cases, namely making sure that all locally initiated writes have been completed (i.e., propagated to all other machines), as well as gathering in all writes from other machines. If the memory could tell the difference between entering a critical region and leaving one, a more efficient implementation might be possible. To provide this information, two kinds of synchronization variables or operations are needed instead of one.

Release consistency (Gharachorloo et al., 1990) provides these two kinds. Acquire accesses are used to tell the memory system that a critical region is about to be entered. Release accesses say that a critical region has just been exited. These accesses can be implemented either as ordinary operations on special variables or as special operations. In either case, the programmer is responsible for putting explicit code in the program telling when to do them, for example, by calling library procedures such as acquire and release or procedures such as enter_critical_region and leave_critical_region.

It is also possible to use barriers instead of critical regions with release consistency. A barrier is a synchronization mechanism that prevents any process from starting phase n+1 of a program until all processes have finished phase n. When a process arrives at a barrier, it must wait until all other processes get there too. When the last one arrives, all shared variables are synchronized and then all processes are resumed. Departure from the barrier is acquire and arrival is release.

In addition to these synchronizing accesses, reading and writing shared variables is also possible. Acquire and release do not have to apply to all of memory. Instead, they may only guard specific shared variables, in which case only those variables are kept consistent. The shared variables that are kept consistent are said to be protected.

The contract between the memory and the software says that when the software does an acquire, the memory will make sure that all the local copies of the protected variables are brought up to date to be consistent with the remote ones if need be. When a release is done, protected variables that have been changed are propagated out to other machines. Doing an acquire does not guarantee that locally made changes will be sent to other machines immediately. Similarly, doing a release does not necessarily import changes from other machines.


Fig. 6-23. A valid event sequence for release consistency.

To make release consistency clearer, let us briefly describe a possible simple-minded implementation in the context of distributed shared memory (release consistency was actually invented for the Dash multiprocessor, but the idea is the same, even though the implementation is not). To do an acquire, a process sends a message to a synchronization manager requesting an acquire on a particular lock. In the absence of any competition, the request is granted and the acquire completes. Then an arbitrary sequence of reads and writes to the shared data can take place locally. None of these are propagated to other machines. When the release is done, the modified data are sent to the other machines that use them. After each machine has acknowledged receipt of the data, the synchronization manager is informed of the release. In this way, an arbitrary number of reads and writes on shared variables can be done with a fixed amount of overhead. Acquires and releases on different locks occur independently of one another.

While the centralized algorithm described above will do the job, it is by no means the only approach. In general, a distributed shared memory is release consistent if it obeys the following rules:

1. Before an ordinary access to a shared variable is performed, all previous acquires done by the process must have completed successfully.

2. Before a release is allowed to be performed, all previous reads and writes done by the process must have completed.

3. The acquire and release accesses must be processor consistent (sequential consistency is not required).

If all these conditions are met and processes use acquire and release properly (i.e., in acquire-release pairs), the results of any execution will be no different than they would have been on a sequentially consistent memory. In effect, blocks of accesses to shared variables are made atomic by the acquire and release primitives to prevent interleaving.

A different implementation of release consistency is lazy release consistency (Keleher et al., 1992). In normal release consistency, which we will henceforth call eager release consistency, to distinguish it from the lazy variant, when a release is done, the processor doing the release pushes out all the modified data to all other processors that already have a cached copy and thus might potentially need it. There is no way to tell if they actually will need it, so to be safe, all of them get everything that has changed. 

Although pushing all the data out this way is straightforward, it is generally inefficient. In lazy release consistency, at the time of a release, nothing is sent anywhere. Instead, when an acquire is done, the processor trying to do the acquire has to get the most recent values of the variables from the machine or machines holding them. A timestamp protocol can be used to determine which variables have to be transmitted.

In many programs, a critical region is located inside a loop. With eager release consistency, on every pass through the loop a release is done, and all the modified data have to be pushed out to all the processors maintaining copies of them. This algorithm wastes bandwidth and introduces needless delay. With lazy release consistency, at the release nothing is done. At the next acquire, the processor determines that it already has all the data it needs, so no messages are generated here either. The net result is that with lazy release consistency no network traffic is generated at all until another processor does an acquire. Repeated acquire-release pairs done by the same processor in the absence of competition from the outside are free.

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