Hardware Lock Elision Overview


Hardware Lock Elision (HLE) intrinsic functions apply to C/C++ applications for Windows* only.

Hardware Lock Elision (HLE) provides a legacy compatible instruction set interface for transactional execution. HLE provides two new instruction prefix hints: XACQUIRE and XRELEASE.

The programmer uses the XACQUIRE prefix in front of the instruction that is used to acquire the lock that is protecting the critical section. The processor treats the indication as a hint to elide the write associated with the lock acquire operation. Even though the lock acquire has an associated write operation to the lock, the processor does not add the address of the lock to the transactional region’s write-set nor does it issue any write requests to the lock. Instead, the address of the lock is added to the read-set and the logical processor enters transactional execution. If the lock was available before the XACQUIRE prefixed instruction, all other processors will continue to see it as available afterwards. Since the transactionally executing logical processor neither added the address of the lock to its write-set, nor performed externally visible write operations to it, other logical processors can read the lock without causing a data conflict. This allows other logical processors to enter and concurrently execute the lock-protected section. The processor automatically detects data conflicts that occur during the transactional execution and will perform a transactional abort if necessary.

The hardware ensures program order of operations on the lock, even though the eliding processor did not perform external write operations to the lock. If the eliding processor itself reads the value of the lock in the critical section, it will appear as if the processor had acquired the lock (the read will return the non-elided value). This behavior makes an HLE execution functionally equivalent to an execution without the HLE prefixes.

The programmer uses the XRELEASE prefix in front of the instruction that is used to release the lock protecting the critical section. This involves a write to the lock. If the instruction is restoring the value of the lock to the value it had prior to the XACQUIRE prefixed lock-acquire operation on the same lock, the processor elides the external write request associated with the release of the lock and does not add the address of the lock to the write-set. The processor then attempts to commit the transactional execution.

If multiple threads execute critical sections protected by the same lock, but they do not perform conflicting data operations, the threads can execute concurrently and without serialization. Even though the software uses lock acquisition operations on a common lock, the hardware recognizes this, elides the lock, and executes the critical sections on the two threads without requiring any communication through the lock — if such communication was dynamically unnecessary.

If the processor is unable to execute the region transactionally, it will execute the region non-transactionally and without elision. HLE-enabled software has the same forward progress guarantees as the underlying non-HLE lock-based execution. For successful HLE execution, the lock and the critical section code must follow certain guidelines. These guidelines only affect performance; not following these guidelines will not cause functional failure.

Hardware without HLE support will ignore the XACQUIRE and XRELEASE prefix hints and will not perform any elision. These prefixes correspond to the REPNE/REPE IA-32 architecture prefixes ignored on the instructions where XACQUIRE and XRELEASE are valid. Importantly, HLE is compatible with the existing lock-based programming model. Improper use of hints will not cause functional bugs though it may expose latent bugs already in the code.

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