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C# Interlocked Examples

Interlocked helps with threaded programs. It safely changes the value of a shared variable from multiple threads. This is possible with the lock statement. But you can instead use the Interlocked type for simpler and faster code.

Lock Statement

Interlocked.Add. When using Interlocked, forget all you know about addition, subtraction and assignment operators. Instead, you will use the Add, Increment, Decrement, Exchange and CompareExchange methods.

Tip: These change the operations to be atomic. This means no operations can be performed on the value during the call.

Next: This example familiarizes us with the syntax of Interlocked and Interlocked.Add.

C# program that uses Interlocked.Add

using System;
using System.Threading;

class Program
{
    static int _value;

    static void Main()
    {
	Thread thread1 = new Thread(new ThreadStart(A));
	Thread thread2 = new Thread(new ThreadStart(A));
	thread1.Start();
	thread2.Start();
	thread1.Join();
	thread2.Join();
	Console.WriteLine(Program._value);
    }

    static void A()
    {
	// Add one.
	Interlocked.Add(ref Program._value, 1);
    }
}

Output

2

When running this program, there is no chance that thread 1 or thread 2 will read the value of the field before the other thread has written to it. Next we describe what could happen without Interlocked.

Info: Both threads read the value, then both change it afterwards. The result would be 1 not 2 and the programmer would be confused.

Thread Join MethodThreadStartParameterizedThreadStart

Increment, Decrement. Continuing on, the Interlocked type offers the Increment and Decrement methods as well. These methods are much the same as Add, but they use the value of 1 as an implicit argument.

C# program that uses Interlocked.Increment and Decrement

using System;
using System.Threading;

class Program
{
    static int _value;

    static void Main()
    {
	Thread thread1 = new Thread(new ThreadStart(A));
	Thread thread2 = new Thread(new ThreadStart(A));
	thread1.Start();
	thread2.Start();
	thread1.Join();
	thread2.Join();
	Console.WriteLine(Program._value);
    }

    static void A()
    {
	// Add one then subtract two.
	Interlocked.Increment(ref Program._value);
	Interlocked.Decrement(ref Program._value);
	Interlocked.Decrement(ref Program._value);
    }
}

Output

-2


Exchange. This example is more interesting. We see first how the Interlocked.Exchange method works. Exchange is essentially an assignment: the value we pass to it is changed to the argument.

CompareExchange is used—this encodes both a conditional and an assignment in the same statement. If the value equals the second argument, it is changed to the third argument. The original value is then returned.

C# program that uses Interlocked

using System;
using System.Threading;

class Program
{
    static long _value1;

    static void Main()
    {
	Thread thread1 = new Thread(new ThreadStart(A));
	thread1.Start();
	thread1.Join();

	// Written [2]
	Console.WriteLine(Interlocked.Read(ref Program._value1));
    }

    static void A()
    {
	// Replace value with 10.
	Interlocked.Exchange(ref Program._value1, 10);

	// CompareExchange: if 10, change to 20.
	long result = Interlocked.CompareExchange(ref Program._value1, 20, 10);

	// Returns original value from CompareExchange [1]
	Console.WriteLine(result);
    }
}

Output

10
20


Performance. While calling Interlocked methods seems simpler in programs, does it actually perform faster than a lock? We test a lock before an integer increment in the first loop. Then we test a call to Interlocked.Increment in the second loop.

C# program that tests Interlocked performance

using System;
using System.Diagnostics;
using System.Threading;

class Program
{
    static object _locker = new object();
    static int _test;
    const int _max = 10000000;
    static void Main()
    {
	var s1 = Stopwatch.StartNew();
	for (int i = 0; i < _max; i++)
	{
	    lock (_locker)
	    {
		_test++;
	    }
	}
	s1.Stop();
	var s2 = Stopwatch.StartNew();
	for (int i = 0; i < _max; i++)
	{
	    Interlocked.Increment(ref _test);
	}
	s2.Stop();
	Console.WriteLine(_test);
	Console.WriteLine(((double)(s1.Elapsed.TotalMilliseconds * 1000000) /
	    _max).ToString("0.00 ns"));
	Console.WriteLine(((double)(s2.Elapsed.TotalMilliseconds * 1000000) /
	    _max).ToString("0.00 ns"));
	Console.Read();
    }
}

Result

20000000
40.02 ns
 6.40 ns [Interlocked.Increment]

The result is correct because the value printed is equal to the total number of increment operations. Interlocked.Increment was several times faster, requiring only 6 nanoseconds versus 40 nanoseconds for the lock construct.


Summary. Once you get past the awkward syntax of the Interlocked methods, they can make writing multithreaded C# programs easier. You can avoid locking on certain values. This results in fewer lines of code.

And: It even provides a performance boost when only a value type is being accessed.