Haskell for multicores

From HaskellWiki
Revision as of 21:47, 5 September 2008 by Gwern (talk | contribs) (Thread primitives: cpedit)

Jump to: navigation, search

GHC Haskell comes with a large set of libraries and tools for building programs that exploit multicore architectures.

This site attempts to document all our available information on exploiting such hardware with Haskell.

Throughout, we focus on exploiting shared-memory SMP systems, with aim of lowering absolute wall clock times. The machines we target are typical 2x to 32x desktop multicore machine, on which vanilla GHC will run.


To get an idea of what we aim to do -- reduce running times by exploiting more cores -- here's a naive "hello, world" of parallel programs: parallel, naive fib. It simply tells us whether or not the SMP runtime is working:

    import Control.Parallel
    import Control.Monad
    import Text.Printf

    cutoff = 35

    fib' :: Int -> Integer
    fib' 0 = 0
    fib' 1 = 1
    fib' n = fib' (n-1) + fib' (n-2)

    fib :: Int -> Integer
    fib n | n < cutoff = fib' n
          | otherwise  = r `par` (l `pseq` l + r)
        l = fib (n-1)
        r = fib (n-2)

    main = forM_ [0..45] $ \i ->
                printf "n=%d => %d\n" i (fib i)

We compile it with the `-threaded` flag:

   $ ghc -O2 -threaded --make fib.hs
   [1 of 1] Compiling Main             ( fib.hs, fib.o )
   Linking fib ...

And run it with:

   +RTS -Nx

where 'x' is the number of cores you have (or a slightly higher value). Here, on a quad core linux system:

   ./fib +RTS -N4  76.81s user 0.75s system 351% cpu 22.059 total

So we were able to use 3.5/4 of the available cpu time. And this is typical, most problems aren't easily scalable, and we must trade off work on more cores, for more overhead with communication.


Further reading

Thread primitives

Control.Concurrent Control.Concurrent

  • forkIO

For explicit concurrency and/or parallelism, Haskell implementations have a light-weight thread system that schedules logical threads on the available operating system threads. These light and cheap threads can be created with forkIO. (We won't discuss full OS threads which are created via forkOS, as they have significantly higher overhead and are only useful in a few situations like in FFIs.)

    forkIO :: IO () -> IO ThreadId

Lets take a simple Haskell application that hashes two files and prints the result:

    import Data.Digest.Pure.MD5 (md5)
    import qualified Data.ByteString.Lazy as L
    import System.Environment (getArgs)

    main = do
        [fileA, fileB] <- getArgs
        hashAndPrint fileA
        hashAndPrint fileB

    hashAndPrint f = L.readFile f >>= return . md5 >>= \h -> putStrLn (f ++ ": " ++ show h)

This is a straight forward solution that hashs the files one at a time printing the resulting hash to the screen. What if we wanted to use more than one processor to hash the files in parallel?

One solution is to start a new thread, hash in parallel, and print the answers as they are computed:

    import Control.Concurrent (forkIO)
    import Data.Digest.Pure.MD5 (md5)
    import qualified Data.ByteString.Lazy as L
    import System.Environment (getArgs)

    main = do
        [fileA,fileB] <- getArgs
        forkIO $ hashAndPrint fileA
        hashAndPrint fileB

    hashAndPrint f = L.readFile f >>= return . md5 >>= \h -> putStrLn (f ++ ": " ++ show h)

Now we have a rough program with great performance boost - which is expected given the trivially parallel computation.

But wait! You say there is a bug? Two, actually. One is that if the main thread is finished hashing fileB first, the program will exit before the child thread is done with fileA. The second is a potential for garbled output due to two threads writing to stdout. Both these problems can be solved using some inter-thread communication - we'll pick this example up in the MVar section.

Further reading

Synchronisation with locks


  • MVar

Previously in the forkIO example we developed a program to hash two files in parallel and ended with a couple small bugs because the program terminated prematurely (the main thread would exit when done). A second issue was that threads can conflict with each others use of stdout.

Locking mutable variables (MVars) can be used to great effect not only for communicating values (such as the resulting string for a single function to print) but it is also common for programmers to use their locking features as a signaling mechanism.

MVars are a polymorphic mutable variables that might or might not contain a value at any given time. This example will only use the following three functions:

    newEmptyMVar :: IO (MVar a)
    takeMVar :: MVar a -> IO a
    putMVar :: MVar a -> a -> IO ()

While they are fairly self-explanitory it should be noted that takeMVar will block until the MVar is non-empty and putMVar will block until the current MVar is empty. Taking an MVar will leave the MVar empty when returning the value.

Lets now generalize our forkIO program to operate on any number of files, block until the hashing is complete, and print all the results from just one thread so no stdout garbling occurs.

    import Data.Digest.Pure.MD5
    import qualified Data.ByteString.Lazy as L
    import System.Environment
    import Control.Concurrent

    main = do
        files <- getArgs
        str <- newEmptyMVar
        mapM_ (forkIO . hashAndPrint str) files
        printNrResults (length files) str

        printNrResults 0 _ = return ()
        printNrResults i var = do
            s <- takeMVar var
            putStrLn s
            printNrResults (i - 1) var

    hashAndPrint str f = do
        bs <- L.readFile f
        putMVar str (f ++ ": " ++ show (md5 bs))

We define a new variable, str, as an empty MVar. Throughout the hashing we use putMVar to report the results - this function blocks when the MVar is already full so no hashes should get dropped on account of the mutable memory. Similarly, printNrResults uses the takeMVar function which will block until the MVar is full - or once the next file is done being hashed in this case.

The main thread intelligently knows str will be filled length files times so after printing the given number of hash results it exists, thus terminating the program.

Further reading

Message passing channels


  • Chan



Further reading

Lock-free synchronisation

Software Transactional Memory

  • STM


Further reading

Asynchronous messages


  • Async exceptions



Further reading

Parallelism strategies


  • Parallel, pure strategies


Further reading

Data parallel arrays

Data Parallel Arrays


Further reading

Foreign languages calls and concurrency

Non-blocking foreign calls in concurrent threads.

Profiling and measurement

   +RTS -sstderr

Further reading