A Promising Semantics for Relaxed-Memory Concurrency

Jeehoon Kang*, Chung-Kil Hur*, Ori Lahav**, Viktor Vafeiadis**, Derek Dreyer** 
Seoul National University & ** MPI-SWS

Despite many years of research, it has proven very difficult to develop a memory model for concurrent programming languages that adequately balances the conflicting desiderata of programmers, compilers, and hardware.  In this paper, we propose the first relaxed memory model that (1) accounts for a broad spectrum of features from the C++11 concurrency model, (2) is implementable, in the sense that it provably validates many standard compiler optimizations and reorderings, as well as standard compilation schemes to x86-TSO and Power, (3) justifies simple invariant-based reasoning, thus demonstrating the absence of bad “out-of-thin-air” behaviors, (4) supports “DRF” guarantees, ensuring that programmers who use sufficient synchronization need not understand the full complexities of relaxed-memory semantics, and (5) defines the semantics of racy programs without relying on undefined behaviors, which is a prerequisite for applicability to type-safe languages like Java.

The key novel idea behind our model is the notion of *promises*: a thread may promise to execute a write in the future, thus enabling other threads to read from that write out of order.  Crucially, to prevent out-of-thin-air behaviors, a promise step requires a thread-local certification that it will be possible to execute the promised write even in the absence of the promise.  To establish confidence in our model, we have formalized most of our key results in Coq.