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Summary

I propose altering the Send trait as proposed by RFC #17 as follows:

  • Remove the implicit 'static bound from Send.
  • Make &T Send if and only if T is Sync.

    impl<'a, T> !Send for &'a T {}
    
    unsafe impl<'a, T> Send for &'a T where T: Sync + 'a {}
  • Evaluate each Send bound currently in libstd and either leave it as-is, add an explicit 'static bound, or bound it with another lifetime parameter.

Motivation

Currently, Rust has two types that deal with concurrency: Sync and Send

If T is Sync, then &T is threadsafe (that is, can cross task boundaries without data races). This is always true of any type with simple inherited mutability, and it is also true of types with interior mutability that perform explicit synchronization (e.g. Mutex and Arc). By fiat, in safe code all static items require a Sync bound. Sync is most interesting as the proposed bound for closures in a fork-join concurrency model, where the thread running the closure can be guaranteed to terminate before some lifetime 'a, and as one of the required bounds for Arc.

If T is Send, then T is threadsafe to send between tasks. At an initial glance, this type is harder to define. Send currently requires a 'static bound, which excludes types with non-'static references, and there are a few types (notably, Rc and local_data::Ref) that opt out of Send. All static items other than those that are Sync but not Send (in the stdlib this is just local_data::Ref and its derivatives) are Send. Send is most interesting as a required bound for Mutex, channels, spawn(), and other concurrent types and functions.

This RFC is mostly motivated by the challenges of writing a safe interface for fork-join concurrency in current Rust. Specifically:

  • It is not clear what it means for a type to be Sync but not Send. Currently there is nothing in the type system preventing these types from being instantiated. In a fork-join model with a bounded, non-'static lifetime 'a for worker tasks, using a Sync + 'a bound on a closure is the intended way to make sure the operation is safe to run in another thread in parallel with the main thread. But there is no way of preventing the main and worker tasks from concurrently accessing an item that is Sync + NoSend.
  • Because Send has a 'static bound, most concurrency constructs cannot be used if they have any non-static references in them, even in a thread with a bounded lifetime. It seems like there should be a way to extend Send to shorter lifetimes. But naively removing the 'static bound causes memory unsafety in existing APIs like Mutex.

Detailed Design

Proposal

Extend the current meaning of Send in a (mostly) backwards-compatible way that retains memory-safety, but allows for existing concurrent types like Arc and Mutex to be used across non-'static boundaries. Use Send with a bounded lifetime instead of Sync for fork-join concurrency.

The first proposed change is to remove the 'static bound from Send. Without doing this, we would have to write brand new types for fork-join libraries that took Sync bounds but were otherwise identical to the existing implementations. For example, we cannot create a Mutex<Vec<&'a mut uint>> as long as Mutex requires a 'static bound. By itself, though, this causes unsafety. For example, a Mutex<&'a Cell<bool>> does not necessarily actually lock the data in the Cell:

let cell = Cell:new(true);
let ref_ = &cell;
let mutex = Mutex::new(&cell);
ref_.set(false); // Modifying the cell without locking the Mutex.

This leads us to our second refinement. We add the rule that &T is Send if and only if T is Sync--in other words, we disallow Sending shared references with a non-threadsafe interior. We do, however, still allow &mut T where T is Send, even if it is not Sync. This is safe because &mut T linearizes access--the only way to access the the original data is through the unique reference, so it is safe to send to other threads. Similarly, we allow &T where T is Sync, even if it is not Send, since by the definition of Sync &T is already known to be threadsafe.

Note that this definition of Send is identical to the old definition of Send when restricted to 'static lifetimes in safe code. Since static mut items are not accessible in safe code, and it is not possible to create a safe &'static mut outside of such an item, we know that if T: Send + 'static, it either has only &'static references, or has no references at all. Since 'static references can only be created in static items and literals in safe code, and all static items (and literals) are Sync, we know that any such references are Sync. Thus, our new rule that T must be Sync for &'static T to be Send does not actually remove Send from any existing types. And since T has no &'static mut references, unless any were created in unsafe code, we also know that our rule allowing &'static mut T did not add Send to any new types. We conclude that the second refinement is backwards compatible with the old behavior, provided that old interfaces are updated to require 'static bounds and they did not create unsafe 'static and 'static mut references. But unsafe types like these were already not guaranteed to be threadsafe by Rust's type system.

Another important note is that with this definition, Send will fulfill the proposed role of Sync in a fork-join concurrency library. At present, to use Sync in a fork-join library one must make the implicit assumption that if T is Sync, T is Send. One might be tempted to codify this by making Sync a subtype of Send. Unfortunately, this is not always the case, though it should be most of the time. A type can be created with &mut methods that are not thread safe, but no &-methods that are not thread safe. An example would be a version of Rc called RcMut. RcMut would have a clone_mut() method that took &mut self and no other clone() method. RcMut could be thread-safely shared provided that a &mut RcMut was not sent to another thread. As long as that invariant was upheld, RcMut could only be cloned in its original thread and could not be dropped while shared (hence, RcMut is Sync) but a mutable reference could not be thread-safely shared, nor could it be moved into another thread (hence, &mut RcMut is not Send, which means that RcMut is not Send). Because &T is Send if T is Sync (per the new definition), adding a Send bound will guarantee that only shared pointers of this type are moved between threads, so our new definition of Send preserves thread safety in the presence of such types.

Finally, we'd hunt through existing instances of Send in Rust libraries and replace them with sensible defaults. For example, the spawn() APIs should all have 'static bounds, preserving current behavior. I don't think this would be too difficult, but it may be that there are some edge cases here where it's tricky to determine what the right solution is.

More unusual types

We discussed whether a type with a destructor that manipulated thread-local data could be non-Send even though &mut T was. In general it could not, because you can call a destructor through &mut references (through swap or simply assigning a new value to *x where x: &mut T). It was noted that since &uniq T cannot be dropped, this suggests a role for such types.

Some unusual types proposed by arielb1 and myself to explain why T: Send does not mean &mut T is threadsafe, and T: Sync does not imply T: Send. The first type is a bottom type, the second takes self by value (so RcMainTask is not Send but &mut RcMainTask is Send).

Comments from arielb1:

Observe that RcMainTask::main_clone would be unsafe outside the main task.

&mut Xyz and &mut RcMainTask are perfectly fine Send types. However, Xyz is a bottom (can be used to violate memory safety), and RcMainTask is not Send.

#![feature(tuple_indexing)]
use std::rc::Rc;
use std::mem;
use std::kinds::marker;

// Invariant: &mut Xyz always points to a valid C xyz.
// Xyz rvalues don't exist.

// These leak. I *could* wrap a box or arena, but that would
// complicate things.

extern "C" {
    // struct Xyz;
    fn xyz_create() -> *mut Xyz;
    fn xyz_play(s: *mut Xyz);
}

pub struct Xyz(marker::NoCopy);

impl Xyz {
    pub fn new() -> &'static mut Xyz {
        unsafe {
            let x = xyz_create();
            mem::transmute(x)
        }
    }

    pub fn play(&mut self) {
        unsafe { xyz_play(mem::transmute(self)) }
    }
}

// Invariant: only the main task has RcMainTask values

pub struct RcMainTask<T>(Rc<T>);
impl<T> RcMainTask<T> {
    pub fn new(t: T) -> Option<RcMainTask<T>> {
        if on_main_task() {
            Some(RcMainTask(Rc::new(t)))
        } else { None }
    }

    pub fn main_clone(self) -> (RcMainTask<T>, RcMainTask<T>) {
        let new = RcMainTask(self.0.clone());
        (self, new)
    }
}

impl<T> Deref<T> for RcMainTask<T> {
    fn deref(&self) -> &T { &*self.0 }
}

//  - by Sharp

pub struct RcMut<T>(Rc<T>);
impl<T> RcMut<T> {
    pub fn new(t: T) -> RcMut<T> {
        RcMut(Rc::new(t))
    }

    pub fn mut_clone(&mut self) -> RcMut<T> {
        RcMut(self.0.clone())
    }
}

impl<T> Deref<T> for RcMut<T> {
    fn deref(&self) -> &T { &*self.0 }
}

// fn on_main_task() -> bool { false /* XXX: implement */ }
// fn main() {}

Drawbacks

Libraries get a bit more complicated to write, since you may have to write Send + 'static where previously you just wrote Send.

Alternatives

We could accept the status quo. This would mean that any existing Sync NoSend type like those described above would be unsafe (that is, it would not be possible to write a non-'static closure with the correct bounds to make it safe to use), and it would not be possible to write a type like Arc<T> for a T with a bounded lifetime, as well as other safe concurrency constructs for fork-join concurrency. I do not think this is a good alternative.

We could do as proposed above, but change Sync to be a subtype of Send. Things wouldn't be too different, but you wouldn't be able to write types like those discussed above. I am not sure that types like that are actually useful, but even if we did this I think you would usually want to use a Send bound anyway.

We could do as proposed above, but instead of changing Send, create a new type for this purpose. I suppose the advantage of this would be that user code currently using Send as a way to get a 'static bound would not break. However, I don't think it makes a lot of sense to keep the current Send type around if this is implemented, since the new type should be backwards compatible with it where it was being used semantically correctly.

Unresolved questions

  • Is the new scheme actually safe? I think it is, but I certainly haven't proved it.

  • Can this wait until after Rust 1.0, if implemented? I think it is backwards incompatible, but I believe it will also be much easier to implement once opt-in kinds are fully implemented.

  • Is this actually necessary? I've asserted that I think it's important to be able to do the same things in bounded-lifetime threads that you can in regular threads, but it may be that it isn't.

  • Are types that are Sync and NoSend actually useful?