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pthread_create() slowdown with concurrent sched_yield()

I suspect I may have discovered a corner-case performance bug in
Cygwin's pthread_create() implementation. The problem arises when a
call to pthread_create() is made concurrently with multiple pthreads
in the same process spinning on calls to sched_yield(). I've searched
the Cygwin mailing list archives, user guide, FAQ, and Google and not
found any mention of this particular misbehavior.

A minimal demo program is copied below and also available here:
The demo program is a narrowed-down version of test code used in the
GASNet communication system (http://gasnet.lbl.gov).

The test code calls pthread_create to spawn a user-controlled number
of threads, which then execute 1000 "spin barriers" - implemented by
spinning on in-memory flags and stalling with sched_yield(). The test
can also optionally insert a pthread_barrier_wait() across all threads
before the first spin barrier.

Here are some experimental results - these are full-process "real"
wall-clock timings (fastest over 5 runs) collected using the bash
'time' shell built-in. The systems are otherwise idle.  All code has
been compiled with the default 64-bit /usr/bin/gcc (compile line
appears as a comment in the test), but the results are similar with

          8-core Win7-Cygwin/64 2.6.0     8-core Linux/64 3.13.0 (Ubuntu)
             i7-4800MQ @ 2.70GHz             Xeon E5420 @ 2.50GHz
          4 core x 2-way hyperthread       2 socket x 4 cores/socket
thread    create-vs-    create-vs-         create-vs-    create-vs-
count    spin/yield    pthread_barrier    spin/yield    pthread_barrier
------  ------------  ----------------   ------------- -----------------
1         0m 0.000s       0m0.000s          0m0.001s       0m0.001s
2         0m 0.000s       0m0.000s          0m0.002s       0m0.002s
4         0m 0.000s       0m0.000s          0m0.002s       0m0.003s
8         0m 0.000s       0m0.016s          0m0.003s       0m0.006s
16        0m10.717s       0m0.000s          0m0.013s       0m0.012s
32        2m23.988s       0m0.016s          0m0.018s       0m0.024s
64       12m40.002s       0m0.016s          0m0.038s       0m0.046s
128     >20m*             0m0.016s          0m0.063s       0m0.067s
256     >20m*             0m0.047s          0m0.290s       0m0.631s
(*) = killed after >20m of wall time (>2.5 hours of cpu time)

When the number of pthreads start to exceed the physical core count,
Cygwin's pthread_create() starts taking exponentially longer to return
when it is competing with concurrent calls to sched_yield(). During
the long pauses, windows Task Manager shows the process consuming 100%
CPU on all cores and it becomes unresponsive to SIGINT. The observed
behavior seems to suggest that Cygwin's pthread creation operation
(and/or the newly spawned thread) is not being scheduled, despite
every OTHER application thread spamming calls to sched_yield().

If the other threads competing with pthread_create() are instead
stalled in a pthread_barrier_wait(), the problem goes away entirely
(ie by adding a semantically unnecessary pthread_barrier_wait(), the
worst-case performance gets over 75,000x better). The test results
demonstrate that the spin barriers themselves run quite fast, but
pthread_create() runs very slowly when other unrelated threads are
executing sched_yield(). Note that inserting pthread_barrier_wait() to
stall every thread in the process during a pthread_create() is not
always a practical solution in a real program, where the thread
creation behavior may be less regular than shown in this example.

Also shown are performance results for the same test on a Linux system
with somewhat comparable hardware (the CPU running Linux is 5 years
older on Intel's product calendar). The Linux system does NOT
demonstrate the problem. Similar code has run on several other POSIX
OS's (including OSX, FreeBSD, NetBSD, Solaris), in a wide variety of
architectural configurations -- all without problems.

This pthread_create() performance problem has been reproduced with
similar results on four different windows machines (including laptops
and servers), running all combinations of the following Cygwin
  Windows 7/64 Cygwin {32,64} {2.7,2.6,2.0}
  Windows 10/64 Cygwin 64 2.7

I realize this may represent a parallelism pattern that cannot be
supported efficiently on Cygwin (and we've internally found an
app-specific workaround not represented here), but I thought it
responsible to report the performance issue anyhow.

Thanks for your consideration.

-Dan Bonachea


// pthread-spawn.c test, by Dan Bonachea
// compile with a command like:
//   gcc -std=c99 -D_REENTRANT -D_GNU_SOURCE pthread-spawn.c -o
pthread-spawn -lpthread
// usage:
//   pthread-spawn <initialbarrier> <numthreads> <numiters>

#include <pthread.h>
#include <sched.h>
#include <stdio.h>
#include <stdlib.h>

int numthreads=256;
int numiters=1000;
int initialbarrier = 0;

pthread_barrier_t pthbarrier;

volatile int *spinbarrier;

void *thread_start(void *p) {
  volatile int *myspin = p;

  if (initialbarrier) {
    int ret = pthread_barrier_wait(&pthbarrier);
    if (ret && ret != PTHREAD_BARRIER_SERIAL_THREAD)

  if (myspin == &spinbarrier[numthreads-1]) { // last thread
    printf("Running %d spin barriers...\n",numiters);

  for (int iter=1; iter <= numiters; iter++) { // execute numiters spin barriers

    if (myspin == spinbarrier) { // master thread

      for (int th = 1; th < numthreads; th++) { // wait for each slave
        while (spinbarrier[th] != iter) {
          if (sched_yield()) perror("sched_yield"); // yield
      *spinbarrier = iter; // broadcast

    } else { // slave threads

      *myspin = iter; // signal
      while (*spinbarrier != iter) { // wait for master broadcast
        if (sched_yield()) perror("sched_yield"); // yield


  return 0;

int main(int argc, char **argv) {

  // parse args
  if (argc > 1) initialbarrier = atoi(argv[1]);
  if (argc > 2) numthreads = atoi(argv[2]);
  if (argc > 3) numiters = atoi(argv[3]);

  // init data structures
  pthread_t *th = malloc(sizeof(pthread_t)*numthreads);
  spinbarrier = calloc(sizeof(int),numthreads);
  if (pthread_barrier_init(&pthbarrier, NULL, numthreads))

  printf("Creating %d threads%s...\n",numthreads,
         (initialbarrier?", with initial
  for (int i=0; i < numthreads; i++) {
    if (pthread_create(&th[i], NULL, thread_start, (void
*)&spinbarrier[i])) perror("pthread_create");
  printf("Creation complete!\n"); fflush(stdout);

  for (int i=0; i < numthreads; i++) {
    void *ret;
    if (pthread_join(th[i], &ret)) perror("pthread_join");


  return 0;

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