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Date: Thu, 27 Dec 2007 07:38:25 +0000

From: John Bartholomew
Subject: [SDL] SDL Semaphore implementation broken on Windows?

Over the past couple of days, I've been battling with SDL, SDL_Mixer and SMPEG to try to find an audio hang bug.  I believe I've found the problem, which I think is a race condition inside SDL's semaphore implementation (at least the Windows implementation).  The semaphore code uses Windows' built in semaphore functions, but it also maintains a separate count value.  This count value is updated with bare increment and decrement operations in SemPost and SemWaitTimeout - no locking primitives to protect them.

In tracking down the apparent audio bug, I found that at some point a semaphore's count value was being decremented to -1, which is clearly not a valid value for it to take.

I'm still not certain exactly what sequence of operations is occuring for this to happen, but I believe that overall it's a race condition between a thread calling SemPost (which increments the count) and the thread on the other end calling SemWait (which decrements it).

I will try to make a test case to verify this, but I'm not sure if I'll be able to   (threading errors being difficult to reproduce even in the best    circumstances).

However, assuming this is the cause of my problems, there is a very
simple fix:
Windows provides InterlockedIncrement() and InterlockedDecrement()
functions to perform increments and decrements which are guaranteed to be atomic.  So the fix is in thread/win32/SDL_syssem.c: replace occurrences of --sem->count with InterlockedDecrement(&sem->count); and replace occurrences of ++sem->count with InterlockedIncrement(&sem->count);

This is using SDL v1.2.12, built with VC++ 2008 Express, running on a
Core 2 duo processor.
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slouken committed Feb 17, 2009
1 parent 854f5a4 commit 1f235488535940a1279789a8993fc114d2ea0568
Showing with 3 additions and 3 deletions.
  1. +3 −3 src/thread/win32/SDL_syssem.c
@@ -109,7 +109,7 @@ SDL_SemWaitTimeout(SDL_sem * sem, Uint32 timeout)
switch (WaitForSingleObject(sem->id, dwMilliseconds)) {
retval = 0;
@@ -158,13 +158,13 @@ SDL_SemPost(SDL_sem * sem)
* immediately get destroyed by another thread which
* is waiting for this semaphore.
#if defined(_WIN32_WCE) && (_WIN32_WCE < 300)
if (ReleaseSemaphoreCE(sem->id, 1, NULL) == FALSE) {
if (ReleaseSemaphore(sem->id, 1, NULL) == FALSE) {
--sem->count; /* restore */
InterlockedDecrement(&sem->count); /* restore */
SDL_SetError("ReleaseSemaphore() failed");
return -1;

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