Thread

Threads are the Ruby implementation for a concurrent programming model.

Programs that require multiple threads of execution are a perfect candidate for Ruby’s Thread class.

For example, we can create a new thread separate from the main thread’s execution using ::new.

thr = Thread.new { puts "Whats the big deal" }

Then we are able to pause the execution of the main thread and allow our new thread to finish, using #join:

thr.join #=> "Whats the big deal"

If we don’t call thr.join before the main thread terminates, then all other threads including thr will be killed.

Alternatively, you can use an array for handling multiple threads at once, like in the following example:

threads = []
threads << Thread.new { puts "Whats the big deal" }
threads << Thread.new { 3.times { puts "Threads are fun!" } }

After creating a few threads we wait for them all to finish consecutively.

threads.each { |thr| thr.join }

Thread initialization

In order to create new threads, Ruby provides ::new, ::start, and ::fork. A block must be provided with each of these methods, otherwise a ThreadError will be raised.

When subclassing the Thread class, the initialize method of your subclass will be ignored by ::start and ::fork. Otherwise, be sure to call super in your initialize method.

Thread termination

For terminating threads, Ruby provides a variety of ways to do this.

The class method ::kill, is meant to exit a given thread:

thr = Thread.new { ... }
Thread.kill(thr) # sends exit() to thr

Alternatively, you can use the instance method #exit, or any of its aliases #kill or #terminate.

thr.exit

Thread status

Ruby provides a few instance methods for querying the state of a given thread. To get a string with the current thread’s state use #status

thr = Thread.new { sleep }
thr.status # => "sleep"
thr.exit
thr.status # => false

You can also use #alive? to tell if the thread is running or sleeping, and #stop? if the thread is dead or sleeping.

Thread variables and scope

Since threads are created with blocks, the same rules apply to other Ruby blocks for variable scope. Any local variables created within this block are accessible to only this thread.

Fiber-local vs. Thread-local

Each fiber has its own bucket for Thread#[] storage. When you set a new fiber-local it is only accessible within this Fiber. To illustrate:

Thread.new {
  Thread.current[:foo] = "bar"
  Fiber.new {
    p Thread.current[:foo] # => nil
  }.resume
}.join

This example uses #[] for getting and #[]= for setting fiber-locals, you can also use #keys to list the fiber-locals for a given thread and #key? to check if a fiber-local exists.

When it comes to thread-locals, they are accessible within the entire scope of the thread. Given the following example:

Thread.new{
  Thread.current.thread_variable_set(:foo, 1)
  p Thread.current.thread_variable_get(:foo) # => 1
  Fiber.new{
    Thread.current.thread_variable_set(:foo, 2)
    p Thread.current.thread_variable_get(:foo) # => 2
  }.resume
  p Thread.current.thread_variable_get(:foo)   # => 2
}.join

You can see that the thread-local :foo carried over into the fiber and was changed to 2 by the end of the thread.

This example makes use of #thread_variable_set to create new thread-locals, and #thread_variable_get to reference them.

There is also #thread_variables to list all thread-locals, and #thread_variable? to check if a given thread-local exists.

Exception handling

Any thread can raise an exception using the #raise instance method, which operates similarly to Kernel#raise.

However, it’s important to note that an exception that occurs in any thread except the main thread depends on #abort_on_exception. This option is false by default, meaning that any unhandled exception will cause the thread to terminate silently when waited on by either #join or #value. You can change this default by either #abort_on_exception= true or setting $DEBUG to true.

With the addition of the class method ::handle_interrupt, you can now handle exceptions asynchronously with threads.

Scheduling

Ruby provides a few ways to support scheduling threads in your program.

The first way is by using the class method ::stop, to put the current running thread to sleep and schedule the execution of another thread.

Once a thread is asleep, you can use the instance method #wakeup to mark your thread as eligible for scheduling.

You can also try ::pass, which attempts to pass execution to another thread but is dependent on the OS whether a running thread will switch or not. The same goes for #priority, which lets you hint to the thread scheduler which threads you want to take precedence when passing execution. This method is also dependent on the OS and may be ignored on some platforms.

Thread Reference

ThreadGroup

ThreadGroup provides a means of keeping track of a number of threads as a group.

A given Thread object can only belong to one ThreadGroup at a time; adding a thread to a new group will remove it from any previous group.

Newly created threads belong to the same group as the thread from which they were created.

ThreadGroup Reference

Mutex

Mutex implements a simple semaphore that can be used to coordinate access to shared data from multiple concurrent threads.

Example:

semaphore = Mutex.new

a = Thread.new {
  semaphore.synchronize {
    # access shared resource
  }
}

b = Thread.new {
  semaphore.synchronize {
    # access shared resource
  }
}

Mutex Reference

ConditionVariable

ConditionVariable objects augment class Mutex. Using condition variables, it is possible to suspend while in the middle of a critical section until a resource becomes available.

Example:

mutex = Mutex.new
resource = ConditionVariable.new

a = Thread.new {
   mutex.synchronize {
     # Thread 'a' now needs the resource
     resource.wait(mutex)
     # 'a' can now have the resource
   }
}

b = Thread.new {
   mutex.synchronize {
     # Thread 'b' has finished using the resource
     resource.signal
   }
}

ConditionVariable Reference

Queue

The Queue class implements multi-producer, multi-consumer queues. It is especially useful in threaded programming when information must be exchanged safely between multiple threads. The Queue class implements all the required locking semantics.

The class implements FIFO type of queue. In a FIFO queue, the first tasks added are the first retrieved.

Example:

queue = Queue.new

producer = Thread.new do
  5.times do |i|
     sleep rand(i) # simulate expense
     queue << i
     puts "#{i} produced"
  end
end

consumer = Thread.new do
  5.times do |i|
     value = queue.pop
     sleep rand(i/2) # simulate expense
     puts "consumed #{value}"
  end
end

consumer.join

Queue Reference

SizedQueue

This class represents queues of specified size capacity. The push operation may be blocked if the capacity is full.

See Queue for an example of how a SizedQueue works.

SizedQueue Reference