Acquire and release sound like bass fishing terms, but they also apply to memory models

Raymond Chen


Many of the normal interlocked operations
come with variants called
InterlockedXxxAcquire and InterlockedXxxRelease.
What do the terms Acquire and
Release mean here?

They have to do with the memory model and how aggressively
the CPU can reorder operations around it.

An operation with acquire semantics is one which does not
permit subsequent memory operations to be advanced before it.
an operation with release semantics is one which does not
permit preceding memory operations to be delayed past it.
(This is pretty much the same thing that

MSDN says on the subject of Acquire and Release Semantics

Consider the following code fragment:

int adjustment = CalculateAdjustment();
while (InterlockedCompareExchangeAcquire(&lock, 1, 0) != 0)
{ /* spin lock */ }
for (Node *node = ListHead; node; node = node->Next)
node->value += adjustment;
InterlockedExchangeRelease(&lock, 0);

Applying Acquire semantics to the first operation
operation ensures that the operations on the linked list
are performed
only after the lock variable
has been updated.
This is obviously desired here, since the purpose of the
updating the lock variable is ensure that
no other threads are updating the list while we’re walking it.
Only after we have successfully set the lock to 1
is it safe to read from ListHead.
On the other hand,
the Acquire operation imposes no constraints upon when
the store to the adjustment variable can be
completed to memory.
(Of course, there may very well be
other constraints on the adjustment
but the Acquire does not add any new constraints.)

Conversely, Release semantics for an interlocked
operation prevent pending memory operations from being delayed
past the operation.
In our example, this means that the stores to
node->value must all complete
before the interlocked variable’s value changes
back to zero.
This is also desired, because the purpose of the lock
is to control access to the linked list.
If we had completed the stores after the lock was released,
then somebody else could have snuck in, taken the lock,
and, say, deleted an entry from the linked list.
And then when our pending writes completed, they would end up
writing to memory that has been freed. Oops.

The easy way to remember the difference between Acquire
and Release
is that Acquire is typically used when you are acquiring a resource
(in this case, taking a lock),
Release is typically used when you are releasing the resource.


the MSDN article on acquire and release semantics
already notes,
the plain versions of the interlocked functions impose both acquire
and release semantics.

Bonus reading:
Kang Su

how VC2005 converts volatile memory accesses
into acquires and releases

[Raymond is currently away; this message was pre-recorded.]

Raymond Chen
Raymond Chen

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