Jason Jason - 7 days ago 7
C Question

Why is a pthread mutex considered "slower" than a futex?

Why are POSIX mutexes considered heavier or slower than futexes? Where is the overhead coming from in the pthread mutex type? I've heard that pthread mutexes are based on futexes, and when uncontested, do not make any calls into the kernel. It seems then that a pthread mutex is merely a "wrapper" around a futex.

Is the overhead simply in the function-wrapper call and the need for the mutex function to "setup" the futex (i.e., basically the setup of the stack for the pthread mutex function call)? Or are there some extra memory barrier steps taking place with the pthread mutex?

Answer

Because they stay in userspace as much as possible, which means they require fewer system calls, which is inherently faster because the context switch between user and kernel mode is expensive.

I assume you're talking about kernel threads when you talk about POSIX threads. It's entirely possible to have an entirely userspace implementation of POSIX threads which require no system calls but have other issues of their own.

My understanding is that a futex is halfway between a kernel POSIX thread and a userspace POSIX thread.