Chapter 4: Threads

Threads, like processes, are a mechanism to allow a program to do more than one thing at a time. As with processes, threads appear to run concurrently; the Linux kernel schedules them asynchronously, interrupting each thread from time to time to give others a chance to execute.

Conceptually, a thread exists within a process. Threads are a finer-grained unit of execution than processes. When you invoke a program, Linux creates a new process and in that process creates a single thread, which runs the program sequentially. That thread can create additional threads; all these threads run the same program in the same process, but each thread may be executing a different part of the program at any given time.

We've seen how a program can fork a child process. The child process is initially running its parent's program, with its parent's virtual memory, file descriptors, and so on copied. The child process can modify its memory, close file descriptors, and the like without affecting its parent, and vice versa. When a program creates another thread, though, nothing is copied. The creating and the created thread share the same memory space, file descriptors, and other system resources as the original. If one thread changes the value of a variable, for instance, the other thread subsequently will see the modified value. Similarly, if one thread closes a file descriptor, other threads may not read from or write to that file descriptor. Because a process and all its threads can be executing only one program at a time, if any thread inside a process calls one of the exec functions, all the other threads are ended (the new program may, of course, create new threads).

GNU/Linux implements the POSIX standard thread API (known as pthreads). All thread functions and data types are declared in the header file <pthread.h>. The pthread functions are not included in the standard C library. Instead, they are in libpthread, so you should add -lpthread to the command line when you link your program.

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