A hierarchical timer wheel, for implementing timed event queues
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Ratas - A hierarchical timer wheel

A timer queue which allows events to be scheduled for execution at some later point. Reasons you might want to use this implementation instead of some other are:

  • A single-file C++11 implementation with no external dependencies.
  • Optimized for high occupancy rates, on the assumption that the utilization of the timer queue is proportional to the utilization of the system as a whole. When a tradeoff needs to be made between efficiency of one operation at a low occupancy rate and another operation at a high rate, we choose the latter.
  • Tries to minimize the cost of event rescheduling or cancelation, on the assumption that a large percentage of events will never be triggered. The implementation avoids unnecessary work when an event is rescheduled, and provides a way for the user specify a range of acceptable execution times instead of just an exact one.
  • Facility for limiting the number of events to execute on a single invocation, to allow fine grained interleaving of timer processing and application logic.
  • An interface that at least the author finds convenient.

The exact implementation strategy is a hierarchical timer wheel. A timer wheel is effectively a ring buffer of linked lists of events, and a pointer to the ring buffer. As the time advances, the pointer moves forward, and any events in the ring buffer slots that the pointer passed will get executed.

A hierarchical timer wheel layers multiple timer wheels running at different resolutions on top of each other. When an event is scheduled so far in the future than it does not fit the innermost (core) wheel, it instead gets scheduled on one of the outer wheels. On each rotation of the inner wheel, one slot’s worth of events are promoted from the second wheel to the core. On each rotation of the second wheel, one slot’s worth of events is promoted from the third wheel to the second, and so on.


The basic usage is to create a single TimerWheel object and multiple TimerEvent or MemberTimerEvent objects. The events are scheduled for execution using TimerWheel::schedule() or TimerWheel::schedule_in_range(), or unscheduled using the event’s cancel() method. The callbacks of the TimerEvent objects will get triggered during call TimerWheel::advance(), once the time advances far enough.


An abstract class representing an event that can be scheduled to happen at some later time.


TimerEvents are automatically canceled on destruction.


Unschedule this event. It’s safe to cancel an event that is inactive.


Return true iff the event is currently scheduled for execution.


Return the absolute tick this event is scheduled to be executed on.


An event that takes the callback (of type CBType) to execute as a constructor parameter.

MemberTimerEvent<T, MFun>

An event that’s specialized with a (static) member function of class T, and a dynamic instance of T. Event execution causes an invocation of the member function on the instance.


A TimerWheel is the entity that TimerEvents can be scheduled on for execution (with schedule() or schedule_in_range()), and will eventually be executed once the time advances far enough with the advance() method.

TimerWheel::advance(Tick delta, size_t max_execute = ..., int level = 0)

Advance the TimerWheel by the specified number of ticks (delta), and execute any events scheduled for execution at or before that time. The number of events executed can be restricted using the max_execute parameter. If that limit is reached, the function will return false, and the excess events will be processed on a subsequent call.

  • It is safe to cancel or schedule events from within event callbacks.
  • During the execution of the callback the observable event tick will be the tick it was scheduled to run on; not the tick the clock will be advanced to.
  • Events will happen in order; all events scheduled for tick X will be executed before any event scheduled for tick X+1.

Delta should be non-0. The only exception is if the previous call to advance() returned false.

advance() should not be called from an event callback.

The level parameter is used to trigger timer advances on different levels of the hierarchy. It will generally not be useful to pass in any value other than the default 0.

TimerWheel::schedule(TimerEventInterface* event, Tick delta)

Schedule the event to be executed delta ticks from the current time. The delta must be non-0.

TimerWheel::schedule_in_range(TimerEventInterface* event, Tick start, Tick end)

Schedule the event to happen at some time between start and end ticks from the current time. The actual time will be determined by the TimerWheel to minimize rescheduling and promotion overhead. Both start and end must be non-0, and end must be greater than start.


Return the current tick value. Note that if the time increases by multiple ticks during a single call to advance(), during the execution of the event callback now() will return the tick that the event was scheduled to run on.

TimerWheel::ticks_to_next_event(Tick max = ..., int level = 0)

Return the number of ticks remaining until the next event will get executed. If the max parameter is passed, that will be the maximum tick value that gets returned. The max parameter’s value will also be returned if no events have been scheduled.

Will return 0 if the wheel still has unprocessed events from the previous call to advance().

The level parameter is used to trigger timer advances on different levels of the hierarchy. It will generally not be useful to pass in any value other than the default 0.


typedef std::function<void()> Callback;
TimerWheel timers;
int count = 0;
TimerEvent<Callback> timer([&count] () { ++count; });

timers.schedule(&timer, 5);
assert(count == 0);
assert(count == 1);

timers.schedule(&timer, 5);
assert(count == 1);

To tie events to specific member functions of an object instead of a callback function, use MemberTimerEvent instead of TimerEvent. For example:

class Test {
      Test() : inc_timer_(this) {
      void start(TimerWheel* timers) {
          timers->schedule(&inc_timer_, 10);
      void on_inc() {
      int count() { return count_; }
      MemberTimerEvent<Test, &Test::on_inc> inc_timer_;
      int count_ = 0;