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Standard Threads vs Weightless Threads

Recently I read Charming Python: Implementing Weightless Threads
(http://www-128.ibm.com/developerwork.../l-pythrd.html) by
David D.

I'm not an authority on threading architectures so I'd like to ask the
following:

1)What is the difference (in terms of performance, scalability,[insert
relevant metric here]) between microthreads and "system" threads?

2)If microthreads really are superior then why aren't they the standard
Python implementation (or at least within the standard library)? (where
my assumption is that they are not the standard implementation and are
not contained within the standard library).

ps. I fear that my questions and assumptions about threading may be
rather naive. If they are, it's because I haven't yet done any
significant research.

Aug 1 '05 #1
2 1394
yoda wrote:
1)What is the difference (in terms of performance, scalability,[insert
relevant metric here]) between microthreads and "system" threads?
System-level threads are relatively heavyweight. They come with a full
call stack, and they take up some level of kernel resources [generally
less than a process]. In exchange, they're scheduled by the OS, with
the primary benefit (on uniprocessor systems) that if one thread
executes a blocking task (like IO writes) another thread will receive
CPU attention.

The primary disadvantage is that they're scheduled by the CPU. This
leads to the concurrency nightmare, where the developer needs to keep
track of what blocks of code (and data) need locks to prevent deadlock
and race conditions.

2)If microthreads really are superior then why aren't they the standard
Python implementation (or at least within the standard library)? (where
my assumption is that they are not the standard implementation and are
not contained within the standard library).


Microthreads are very different; they're entirely internal to the Python
process, and they're not seen at all by the operating system.
Scheduling is done explicitly by the microthread implementation --
multitasking is not preemptive, as with system threads.

They're not in the standard library because implementing microthreads
has thus far required a very large rewrite of the CPython architecture
-- see Stackless Python.
Aug 1 '05 #2
Christopher Subich <sp****************@block.subich.spam.com> writes:
the primary benefit (on uniprocessor systems) that if one thread
executes a blocking task (like IO writes) another thread will receive
CPU attention.
On multiprocessor systems, of course, the benefit is that threads can
run on separate CPUs. This could possibly be addressed by transparently
running one OS thread for each CPU, each containing a set of light
weight threads, and I hear people are thinking about that for Erlang
(light weight processes language extravaganza).

In the meanwhile, you can of course solve this by running two separate
instances of your program that communicates with each other somehow.

Another benefit is that you can have more threads than the limit the OS
imposes on you, and they can also be made quite a bit less memory
consuming. Some language implementations manages to deal with hundreds
of thousands, and in some cases even millions, of threads this way.
They're not in the standard library because implementing microthreads
has thus far required a very large rewrite of the CPython architecture
-- see Stackless Python.


Ruby's built-in threading also work something like this (if I understand
Stackless Python correctly).

(http://www.rubycentral.com/book/tut_threads.html)

Personally, though, I think treating treating light weight threads as
separate processes (which can only pass messages in between each other,
but do not share scope in any way), like Erlang, seems to make dealing
with massive concurrency easier.

--
Björn Lindström <bk**@stp.lingfil.uu.se>
Student of computational linguistics, Uppsala University, Sweden
Aug 1 '05 #3

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