8.3 Thread communication

8.3.1 Message queues

Prolog threads can exchange data using dynamic predicates, database records, and other globally shared data. These provide no suitable means to wait for data or a condition as they can only be checked in an expensive polling loop. Message queues provide a means for threads to wait for data or conditions without using the CPU.

Each thread has a message-queue attached to it that is identified by the thread. Additional queues are created using message_queue_create/1.

thread_send_message(+QueueOrThreadId, +Term)
Place Term in the given queue or default queue of the indicated thread (which can even be the message queue of itself (see thread_self/1). Any term can be placed in a message queue, but note that the term is copied to the receiving thread and variable-bindings are thus lost. This call returns immediately.

If more than one thread is waiting for messages on the given queue and at least one of these is waiting with a partially instantiated Term, the waiting threads are all sent a wake-up signal, starting a rush for the available messages in the queue. This behaviour can seriously harm performance with many threads waiting on the same queue as all-but-the-winner perform a useless scan of the queue. If there is only one waiting thread or all waiting threads wait with an unbound variable an arbitrary thread is restarted to scan the queue.76See the documentation for the POSIX thread functions pthread_cond_signal() v.s. pthread_cond_broadcastt() for background information.

Examines the thread message queue and if necessary blocks execution until a term that unifies to Term arrives in the queue. After a term from the queue has been unified to Term, the term is deleted from the queue.

Please note that not-unifying messages remain in the queue. After the following has been executed, thread 1 has the term b(gnu) in its queue and continues execution using A = gnat.

   <thread 1>

   <thread 2>
   thread_send_message(Thread_1, b(gnu)),
   thread_send_message(Thread_1, a(gnat)),

See also thread_peek_message/1.

Examines the thread message-queue and compares the queued terms with Term until one unifies or the end of the queue has been reached. In the first case the call succeeds (possibly instantiating Term. If no term from the queue unifies this call fails.
If Queue is an atom, create a named queue. To avoid ambiguity of thread_send_message/2, the name of a queue may not be in use as a thread-name. If Queue is unbound an anonymous queue is created and Queue is unified to its identifier.
message_queue_create(-Queue, +Options)
Create a message queue from Options. Defined options are.
Same as message_queue_create(Alias), but according to the ISO draft on Prolog threads.
Maximum number of terms in the queue. If this number is reached, thread_send_message/2 will suspend until the queue is drained. The option can be used if the source, sending messages to the queue, is faster than the drain, consuming the messages.
Destroy a message queue created with message_queue_create/1. It is not allowed to destroy the queue of a thread. Neither is it allowed to destroy a queue other threads are waiting for.bugNone of these constraints are properly enforced by the system in the current implementation. It is therefore advised not to delete queues unless you are absolutely sure it is safe.
thread_get_message(+Queue, ?Term)
As thread_get_message/1, operating on a given queue. It is allowed (but not advised) to get messages from the queue of other threads.
thread_peek_message(+Queue, ?Term)
As thread_peek_message/1, operating on a given queue. It is allowed to peek into another thread's message queue, an operation that can be used to check whether a thread has swallowed a message sent to it.
message_queue_property(?Queue, ?Property)
True if Property is a property of Queue. Defined properties are:
Queue has the given alias name.
Queue currently contains Size terms. Note that due to concurrent access the returned value may be outdated before it is returned. It can be used for debugging purposes as well as work distribution purposes.

Explicit message queues are designed with the worker-pool model in mind, where multiple threads wait on a single queue and pick up the first goal to execute. Below is a simple implementation where the workers execute arbitrary Prolog goals. Note that this example provides no means to tell when all work is done. This must be realised using additional synchronisation.

%       create_workers(+Id, +N)
%       Create a pool with given Id and number of workers.

create_workers(Id, N) :-
        forall(between(1, N, _),
               thread_create(do_work(Id), _, [])).

do_work(Id) :-
          thread_get_message(Id, Goal),
          (   catch(Goal, E, print_message(error, E))
          ->  true
          ;   print_message(error, goal_failed(Goal, worker(Id)))

%       work(+Id, +Goal)
%       Post work to be done by the pool

work(Id, Goal) :-
        thread_send_message(Id, Goal).

8.3.2 Signalling threads

These predicates provide a mechanism to make another thread execute some goal as an interrupt. Signalling threads is safe as these interrupts are only checked at safe points in the virtual machine. Nevertheless, signalling in multi-threaded environments should be handled with care as the receiving thread may hold a mutex (see with_mutex). Signalling probably only makes sense to start debugging threads and to cancel no-longer-needed threads with throw/1, where the receiving thread should be designed carefully do handle exceptions at any point.

thread_signal(+ThreadId, :Goal)
Make thread ThreadId execute Goal at the first opportunity. In the current implementation, this implies at the first pass through the Call-port. The predicate thread_signal/2 itself places Goal into the signalled-thread's signal queue and returns immediately.

Signals (interrupts) do not cooperate well with the world of multi-threading, mainly because the status of mutexes cannot be guaranteed easily. At the call-port, the Prolog virtual machine holds no locks and therefore the asynchronous execution is safe.

Goal can be any valid Prolog goal, including throw/1 to make the receiving thread generate an exception and trace/0 to start tracing the receiving thread.

In the Windows version, the receiving thread immediately executes the signal if it reaches a Windows GetMessage() call, which generally happens of the thread is waiting for (user-)input.

8.3.3 Threads and dynamic predicates

Besides queues (section 8.3.1) threads can share and exchange data using dynamic predicates. The multi-threaded version knows about two types of dynamic predicates. By default, a predicate declared dynamic (see dynamic/1) is shared by all threads. Each thread may assert, retract and run the dynamic predicate. Synchronisation inside Prolog guarantees the consistency of the predicate. Updates are logical: visible clauses are not affected by assert/retract after a query started on the predicate. In many cases primitive from section 8.4 should be used to ensure application invariants on the predicate are maintained.

Besides shared predicates, dynamic predicates can be declared with the thread_local/1 directive. Such predicates share their attributes, but the clause-list is different in each thread.

thread_local +Functor/+Arity, \ldots
This directive is related to the dynamic/1 directive. It tells the system that the predicate may be modified using assert/1, retract/1, etc. during execution of the program. Unlike normal shared dynamic data however each thread has its own clause-list for the predicate. As a thread starts, this clause list is empty. If there are still clauses as the thread terminates these are automatically reclaimed by the system (see also volatile/1). The thread_local property implies the properties dynamic and volatile.

Thread-local dynamic predicates are intended for maintaining thread-specific state or intermediate results of a computation.

It is not recommended to put clauses for a thread-local predicate into a file as in the example below as the clause is only visible from the thread that loaded the source-file. All other threads start with an empty clause-list.

:- thread_local


DISCLAIMER Whether or not this declaration is appropriate in the sense of the proper mechanism to reach the goal is still debated. If you have strong feeling in favour or against, please share them in the SWI-Prolog mailing list.