The ending of 2011 brought new releases of together the C and C++ standards for the first time, with C11 niggling in just before Christmas.
One of the more important characteristics added to both principles: atomic operations.
Both the C11 and C++11 requirements contain a new set of atomic types and actions. They're designed to have interoperable semantics, except they don't share fairly the same syntax.
Older versions of C and C++ had no prop up for atomic operations at all. If you're by means of a GCC-compatible compiler, for example ICC or Clang, you may have happen upon the _sync_* family of built-in functions, which give some support. These functions were at first designed for Itanium, so they map quite personally to other operations that are recognizable to Itanium users. Everybody had to use inline (or out-of-line) assembly code for each architecture, or (much more expensive) calls to library functions.
Atomic operations characteristically perform a read-modify-write series on a memory address. For instance, an atomic increment loads a value, increments it, and stores the result in such a manner that no other thread can adapt the value in the middle. If you have two threads performing an atomic increase on the same value a thousand times, the consequence will be two thousand times greater than the initial value, irrespective of how these threads run. If they used a non-atomic increment, it would be possible for both to read the value, augmentation their copy (in a register) and then to accumulate the result, so the apparent result is a single increment, rather than two.
Why should you care concerning atomics?
Because they're frequently very important for getting good act out of multithreaded code. Regard as the trivial instance of a monotonically incrementing counter.
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