Concurrent computing

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Concurrent computing is a form of computing in which several computations are executed during overlapping time periods— concurrently —instead of sequentially (one completing before the next starts). This is a property of a system—this may be an individual program, a computer, or a network—and there is a separate execution point or "thread of control" for each computation ("process"). A concurrent system is one where a computation can advance without waiting for all other computations to complete. [1]

Computing activity requiring, benefiting from, or creating computers

Computing is any activity that uses computers. It includes developing hardware and software, and using computers to manage and process information, communicate and entertain. Computing is a critically important, integral component of modern industrial technology. Major computing disciplines include computer engineering, software engineering, computer science, information systems, and information technology.

Computation is any type of calculation that includes both arithmetical and non-arithmetical steps and follows a well-defined model, for example an algorithm.

Concurrency (computer science)

In computer science, concurrency refers to the ability of different parts or units of a program, algorithm, or problem to be executed out-of-order or in partial order, without affecting the final outcome. This allows for parallel execution of the concurrent units, which can significantly improve overall speed of the execution in multi-processor and multi-core systems. In more technical terms, concurrency refers to the decomposability property of a program, algorithm, or problem into order-independent or partially-ordered components or units.


As a programming paradigm, concurrent computing is a form of modular programming, namely factoring an overall computation into subcomputations that may be executed concurrently. Pioneers in the field of concurrent computing include Edsger Dijkstra, Per Brinch Hansen, and C.A.R. Hoare.

Programming paradigms are a way to classify programming languages based on their features. Languages can be classified into multiple paradigms.

Modular programming is a software design technique that emphasizes separating the functionality of a program into independent, interchangeable modules, such that each contains everything necessary to execute only one aspect of the desired functionality.

Decomposition in computer science, also known as factoring, is breaking a complex problem or system into parts that are easier to conceive, understand, program, and maintain.


The concept of concurrent computing is frequently confused with the related but distinct concept of parallel computing, [2] [3] although both can be described as "multiple processes executing during the same period of time". In parallel computing, execution occurs at the same physical instant: for example, on separate processors of a multi-processor machine, with the goal of speeding up computations—parallel computing is impossible on a (one-core) single processor, as only one computation can occur at any instant (during any single clock cycle). [lower-alpha 1] By contrast, concurrent computing consists of process lifetimes overlapping, but execution need not happen at the same instant. The goal here is to model processes in the outside world that happen concurrently, such as multiple clients accessing a server at the same time. Structuring software systems as composed of multiple concurrent, communicating parts can be useful for tackling complexity, regardless of whether the parts can be executed in parallel. [4] :1

Parallel computing programming paradigm in which many calculations or the execution of processes are carried out simultaneously

Parallel computing is a type of computation in which many calculations or the execution of processes are carried out simultaneously. Large problems can often be divided into smaller ones, which can then be solved at the same time. There are several different forms of parallel computing: bit-level, instruction-level, data, and task parallelism. Parallelism has long been employed in high-performance computing, but it's gaining broader interest due to the physical constraints preventing frequency scaling. As power consumption by computers has become a concern in recent years, parallel computing has become the dominant paradigm in computer architecture, mainly in the form of multi-core processors.

Central processing unit electronic circuitry within a computer that carries out the instructions of a computer program by performing the basic arithmetic, logical, control and input/output (I/O) operations specified by the instructions

A central processing unit (CPU), also called a central processor or main processor, is the electronic circuitry within a computer that carries out the instructions of a computer program by performing the basic arithmetic, logic, controlling, and input/output (I/O) operations specified by the instructions. The computer industry has used the term "central processing unit" at least since the early 1960s. Traditionally, the term "CPU" refers to a processor, more specifically to its processing unit and control unit (CU), distinguishing these core elements of a computer from external components such as main memory and I/O circuitry.

Multi-core processor computing component

A multi-core processor is a single computing component with two or more independent processing units called cores, which read and execute program instructions. The instructions are ordinary CPU instructions but the single processor can run multiple instructions on separate cores at the same time, increasing overall speed for programs amenable to parallel computing. Manufacturers typically integrate the cores onto a single integrated circuit die or onto multiple dies in a single chip package. The microprocessors currently used in almost all personal computers are multi-core.

For example, concurrent processes can be executed on one core by interleaving the execution steps of each process via time-sharing slices: only one process runs at a time, and if it does not complete during its time slice, it is paused, another process begins or resumes, and then later the original process is resumed. In this way, multiple processes are part-way through execution at a single instant, but only one process is being executed at that instant.[ citation needed ]

In computing, time-sharing is the sharing of a computing resource among many users by means of multiprogramming and multi-tasking at the same time.

Concurrent computations may be executed in parallel, [2] [5] for example, by assigning each process to a separate processor or processor core, or distributing a computation across a network. In general, however, the languages, tools, and techniques for parallel programming might not be suitable for concurrent programming, and vice versa.[ citation needed ]

Distributed computing is a field of computer science that studies distributed systems. A distributed system is a system whose components are located on different networked computers, which communicate and coordinate their actions by passing messages to one another. The components interact with one another in order to achieve a common goal. Three significant characteristics of distributed systems are: concurrency of components, lack of a global clock, and independent failure of components. Examples of distributed systems vary from SOA-based systems to massively multiplayer online games to peer-to-peer applications.

The exact timing of when tasks in a concurrent system are executed depend on the scheduling, and tasks need not always be executed concurrently. For example, given two tasks, T1 and T2:[ citation needed ]

In the fields of databases and transaction processing, a schedule of a system is an abstract model to describe execution of transactions running in the system. Often it is a list of operations (actions) ordered by time, performed by a set of transactions that are executed together in the system. If the order in time between certain operations is not determined by the system, then a partial order is used. Examples of such operations are requesting a read operation, reading, writing, aborting, committing, requesting a lock, locking, etc. Not all transaction operation types should be included in a schedule, and typically only selected operation types are included, as needed to reason about and describe certain phenomena. Schedules and schedule properties are fundamental concepts in database concurrency control theory.

The word "sequential" is used as an antonym for both "concurrent" and "parallel"; when these are explicitly distinguished, concurrent/sequential and parallel/serial are used as opposing pairs. [6] A schedule in which tasks execute one at a time (serially, no parallelism), without interleaving (sequentially, no concurrency: no task begins until the prior task ends) is called a serial schedule. A set of tasks that can be scheduled serially is serializable , which simplifies concurrency control.[ citation needed ]

Coordinating access to shared resources

The main challenge in designing concurrent programs is concurrency control: ensuring the correct sequencing of the interactions or communications between different computational executions, and coordinating access to resources that are shared among executions. [5] Potential problems include race conditions, deadlocks, and resource starvation. For example, consider the following algorithm to make withdrawals from a checking account represented by the shared resource balance:

1 boolwithdraw(intwithdrawal)2 {3 if(balance>=withdrawal)4 {5 balance-=withdrawal;6 returntrue;7 }8 returnfalse;9 }

Suppose balance = 500, and two concurrent threads make the calls withdraw(300) and withdraw(350). If line 3 in both operations executes before line 5 both operations will find that balance >= withdrawal evaluates to true, and execution will proceed to subtracting the withdrawal amount. However, since both processes perform their withdrawals, the total amount withdrawn will end up being more than the original balance. These sorts of problems with shared resources benefit from the use of concurrency control, or non-blocking algorithms.


Concurrent computing has the following advantages:


There are several models of concurrent computing, which can be used to understand and analyze concurrent systems. These models include:


A number of different methods can be used to implement concurrent programs, such as implementing each computational execution as an operating system process, or implementing the computational processes as a set of threads within a single operating system process.

Interaction and communication

In some concurrent computing systems, communication between the concurrent components is hidden from the programmer (e.g., by using futures), while in others it must be handled explicitly. Explicit communication can be divided into two classes:

Shared memory communication
Concurrent components communicate by altering the contents of shared memory locations (exemplified by Java and C#). This style of concurrent programming usually needs the use of some form of locking (e.g., mutexes, semaphores, or monitors) to coordinate between threads. A program that properly implements any of these is said to be thread-safe.
Message passing communication
Concurrent components communicate by exchanging messages (exemplified by Scala, Erlang and occam). The exchange of messages may be carried out asynchronously, or may use a synchronous "rendezvous" style in which the sender blocks until the message is received. Asynchronous message passing may be reliable or unreliable (sometimes referred to as "send and pray"). Message-passing concurrency tends to be far easier to reason about than shared-memory concurrency, and is typically considered a more robust form of concurrent programming.[ citation needed ] A wide variety of mathematical theories to understand and analyze message-passing systems are available, including the actor model, and various process calculi. Message passing can be efficiently implemented via symmetric multiprocessing, with or without shared memory cache coherence.

Shared memory and message passing concurrency have different performance characteristics. Typically (although not always), the per-process memory overhead and task switching overhead is lower in a message passing system, but the overhead of message passing is greater than for a procedure call. These differences are often overwhelmed by other performance factors.


Concurrent computing developed out of earlier work on railroads and telegraphy, from the 19th and early 20th century, and some terms date to this period, such as semaphores. These arose to address the question of how to handle multiple trains on the same railroad system (avoiding collisions and maximizing efficiency) and how to handle multiple transmissions over a given set of wires (improving efficiency), such as via time-division multiplexing (1870s).

The academic study of concurrent algorithms started in the 1960s, with Dijkstra (1965) credited with being the first paper in this field, identifying and solving mutual exclusion. [7]


Concurrency is pervasive in computing, occurring from low-level hardware on a single chip to worldwide networks. Examples follow.

At the programming language level:

At the operating system level:

At the network level, networked systems are generally concurrent by their nature, as they consist of separate devices.

Languages supporting concurrent programming

Concurrent programming languages are programming languages that use language constructs for concurrency. These constructs may involve multi-threading, support for distributed computing, message passing, shared resources (including shared memory) or futures and promises. Such languages are sometimes described as concurrency-oriented languages or concurrency-oriented programming languages (COPL). [8]

Today, the most commonly used programming languages that have specific constructs for concurrency are Java and C#. Both of these languages fundamentally use a shared-memory concurrency model, with locking provided by monitors (although message-passing models can and have been implemented on top of the underlying shared-memory model). Of the languages that use a message-passing concurrency model, Erlang is probably the most widely used in industry at present.[ citation needed ]

Many concurrent programming languages have been developed more as research languages (e.g. Pict) rather than as languages for production use. However, languages such as Erlang, Limbo, and occam have seen industrial use at various times in the last 20 years. Languages in which concurrency plays an important role include:

Many other languages provide support for concurrency in the form of libraries, at levels roughly comparable with the above list.

See also


  1. This is discounting parallelism internal to a processor core, such as pipelining or vectorized instructions. A one-core, one-processor machine may be capable of some parallelism, such as with a coprocessor, but the processor alone is not.

Related Research Articles

Thread (computing) smallest sequence of programmed instructions that can be managed independently by a scheduler

In computer science, a thread of execution is the smallest sequence of programmed instructions that can be managed independently by a scheduler, which is typically a part of the operating system. The implementation of threads and processes differs between operating systems, but in most cases a thread is a component of a process. Multiple threads can exist within one process, executing concurrently and sharing resources such as memory, while different processes do not share these resources. In particular, the threads of a process share its executable code and the values of its dynamically allocated variables and non-thread-local global variables at any given time.

The actor model in computer science is a mathematical model of concurrent computation that treats "actors" as the universal primitives of concurrent computation. In response to a message that it receives, an actor can: make local decisions, create more actors, send more messages, and determine how to respond to the next message received. Actors may modify their own private state, but can only affect each other through messages.

Task (computing) computing term; execution path through address space

In computing, a task is a unit of execution or a unit of work. The term is ambiguous; precise alternative terms include process, light-weight process, thread, step, request, or query. In the adjacent diagram, there are queues of incoming work to do and outgoing completed work, and a thread pool of threads to perform this work. Either the work units themselves or the threads that perform the work can be referred to as "tasks", and these can be referred to respectively as requests/responses/threads, incoming tasks/completed tasks/threads, or requests/responses/tasks.

In computer science, future, promise, delay, and deferred refer to constructs used for synchronizing program execution in some concurrent programming languages. They describe an object that acts as a proxy for a result that is initially unknown, usually because the computation of its value is not yet complete.

In computing, a parallel programming model is an abstraction of parallel computer architecture, with which it is convenient to express algorithms and their composition in programs. The value of a programming model can be judged on its generality: how well a range of different problems can be expressed for a variety of different architectures, and its performance: how efficiently the compiled programs can execute. The implementation of a parallel programming model can take the form of a library invoked from a sequential language, as an extension to an existing language, or as an entirely new language.

Automatic parallelization, also auto parallelization, autoparallelization, or parallelization, the last one of which implies automation when used in context, refers to converting sequential code into multi-threaded or vectorized code in order to utilize multiple processors simultaneously in a shared-memory multiprocessor (SMP) machine. The goal of automatic parallelization is to relieve programmers from the hectic and error-prone manual parallelization process. Though the quality of automatic parallelization has improved in the past several decades, fully automatic parallelization of sequential programs by compilers remains a grand challenge due to its need for complex program analysis and the unknown factors during compilation.

In computer programming, explicit parallelism is the representation of concurrent computations by means of primitives in the form of special-purpose directives or function calls. Most parallel primitives are related to process synchronization, communication or task partitioning. As they seldom contribute to actually carry out the intended computation of the program, their computational cost is often considered as parallelization overhead.

The Actor model and process calculi share an interesting history and co-evolution.

In computer programming, green threads are threads that are scheduled by a runtime library or virtual machine (VM) instead of natively by the underlying operating system. Green threads emulate multithreaded environments without relying on any native OS capabilities, and they are managed in user space instead of kernel space, enabling them to work in environments that do not have native thread support.

Data parallelism

Data parallelism is parallelization across multiple processors in parallel computing environments. It focuses on distributing the data across different nodes, which operate on the data in parallel. It can be applied on regular data structures like arrays and matrices by working on each element in parallel. It contrasts to task parallelism as another form of parallelism.

Task parallelism is a form of parallelization of computer code across multiple processors in parallel computing environments. Task parallelism focuses on distributing tasks—concurrently performed by processes or threads—across different processors. In contrast to data parallelism which involves running the same task on different components of data, task parallelism is distinguished by running many different tasks at the same time on the same data. A common type of task parallelism is pipelining which consists of moving a single set of data through a series of separate tasks where each task can execute independently of the others.

ProActive Parallel Suite is an open-source software for enterprise workload orchestration, part of the OW2 community. A workflow model allows to define the set of executables and scripts written in any scripting language along with their dependencies, so ProActive Parallel Suite can schedule and orchestrate executions while optimising the use of computational resources.

Parallel Extensions

Parallel Extensions was the development name for a managed concurrency library developed by a collaboration between Microsoft Research and the CLR team at Microsoft. The library was released in version 4.0 of the .NET Framework. It is composed of two parts: Parallel LINQ (PLINQ) and Task Parallel Library (TPL). It also consists of a set of coordination data structures (CDS) – sets of data structures used to synchronize and co-ordinate the execution of concurrent tasks.

Join-patterns provides a way to write concurrent, parallel and distributed computer programs by message passing. Compared to the use of threads and locks, this is a high level programming model using communication constructs model to abstract the complexity of concurrent environment and to allow scalability. Its focus is on the execution of a chord between messages atomically consumed from a group of channels.

Fork–join model

In parallel computing, the fork–join model is a way of setting up and executing parallel programs, such that execution branches off in parallel at designated points in the program, to "join" (merge) at a subsequent point and resume sequential execution. Parallel sections may fork recursively until a certain task granularity is reached. Fork–join can be considered a parallel design pattern. It was formulated as early as 1963.


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Further reading