How thread-safe is the Windows Runtime PropertySet object?

Raymond Chen


A customer was looking for a thread-safe collection type, and they found the Windows Runtime PropertySet object. Is this thing thread-safe?

Yes, the PropertySet object is thread-safe.

However, it still may not be what you want.

The PropertySet object is thread-safe in the sense that all of its operations are atomic. Concurrent usage from multiple threads will be consistent with some sequential order.

For example, if two threads both attempt to insert different values into the property set under the same key, it will be “last writer wins” with some choice of “last”. If one thread attempts to insert a value under a key at the same time another thread attempts to retrieve the value under that key, the reader will either get the old value or the new value, not some weird in-between value.

That said, the available operations on a Property­Set may not be sufficient for your desired concurrent usage.

Here’s what you can do with a Property­Set, or more generally, any IMap<K, V>

  • Obtain the number of items by requesting the Size property.
  • Empty the collection by calling Clear().
  • Check if a key is present by calling HasKey().
  • Look up the value associated with a key by calling Lookup().
  • Add or update an item by calling Insert. The return value tells you whether an existing item was replaced, or a new item was created.
  • Remove an item by calling Remove.

That’s it. In particular, you don’t have methods like GetOrCreate which atomically retrieves an existing value or manufactures one if it doesn’t exist yet. Or InsertIfNew which atomically creates a new value but doesn’t modify any existing one. If you need operations like those, then you’ll have to create them yourselves, and that means adding your own lock around the Property­Set.

At which point, maybe you realize the thread-safety of a Property­Set doesn’t buy you much, seeing as you’re going to need a lock anyway. You may as well use a std::map or some other more convenient associative container.

¹ These are the methods available at the ABI level. Language projections may synthesize other methods out of these methods, but if those other methods involve multiple calls, then atomicity is lost.

1 comment

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    Ian Boyd

    I really like how we boil down a class’s methods to the basic operations.

    In so many class libraries in so many languages there are higher level helper methods. And to help learn a class, it’s nice to get the simpler mental model of what is happening.