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Fibers
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FIB E R IS a lot like a thread in that it represents some in-progress work
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inside a process The difference is that a fiber enjoys lightweight, coop erative scheduling and builds directly on top of the existing Windows sup port for preemptive scheduling Due to their lightweight nature, careful use of fibers can sometimes yield more efficient scheduling, particularly for large amounts of work that frequently blocks And because fibers are sched uled cooperatively, user-mode code is given more control over scheduling decisions Fibers are particularly interesting for the future because they are the only mechanism on Windows to allow cooperative scheduling of large amounts of work The thread pools come close, but still rely heavily on pre emption Cooperative, lightweight scheduling is generally something that
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a massively parallel ecosystem full of software that can block will need It's unclear whether fibers will be part of that future, but even if they aren't, they make for an interesting case study Before going further, I will note that fibers are not currently accessible to managed code developers Bringing fiber support to managed code was attempted during the development of the CLR 20, but this support was removed just prior to shipping the final release It is still unclear whether a future CLR will support fibers, but as of the NET Framework 35 the answer is still no Thus, this chapter will only be of interest if you're writing native code, are interested in the breadth of what Windows offers, and / or
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C h a pter 9 : Fi bers
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want to keep an eye on the future You should not feel bad about skipping to the next chapter if you're more interested in what is necessary for con current programming on Windows today
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An Overview of Fibers
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Each fiber executes in the context of a single OS thread at any given time, and similarly any OS thread may actively run only one fiber at a time Any given thread can run many different fibers during its lifetime Moreover, while a fiber can only execute on a single thread at any point in time, it may migrate between many threads during its lifetime In fact, fibers don't "execute" per se: a thread assumes the identity of a particular fiber for a period of time and executes its code just as a thread always executes code This architecture allows you to have many more fibers in the system than threads, resulting in far less resource overhead and pressure on the preemptive thread scheduler than if you simply created the equivalent number of threads The kernel doesn't make any decisions about assigning fibers to threads or changing the fiber that is actively executing on a particular thread This task is left to user-mode code In fact, the kernel knows absolutely nothing about fibers; they are implemented entirely in user-mode Win32 The impli cation of this is that the code that runs on a fiber is responsible for deciding when to voluntarily relinquish its execution privilege so that another fiber can run Typically, the component that makes this decision is referred to as a user-mode scheduler (VMS) The term "scheduler" is used loosely This com ponent can range in complexity from a l O-line function that finds a fiber's handle from some known location and calls the appropriate fiber APIs to a full blown multi thousand-line subsystem In other words, this scheduler doesn't necessarily require many of the traditional things that thread sched ulers must implement-priority, fairness and so on-though it can Much like a thread, each fiber owns a set of execution state so that it can run on the hardware: a user-mode stack; a context (which includes processor register state saved at the time a fiber gets switched out); an exception chain; and, in Windows Server 2003, Vista, and subsequent OSs, fiber-local storage (FLS), which provides a similar capability to thread local storage (TLS) All of
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