#oneshot #spsc #async #sync #channel


Oneshot spsc channel with lock-free non-blocking send and a receiver supporting both thread blocking receive operations as well as Future based async polling

3 releases

0.1.2 Aug 11, 2020
0.1.1 May 9, 2020
0.1.0 May 30, 2019

#153 in Concurrency

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Used in 3 crates


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Oneshot spsc channel. The sender's send method is non-blocking, lock- and wait-free[1]. The receiver supports both lock- and wait-free try_recv as well as indefinite and time limited thread blocking receive operations. The receiver also implements Future and supports asynchronously awaiting the message.

This is a oneshot channel implementation. Meaning each channel instance can only transport a single message. This has a few nice outcomes. One thing is that the implementation can be very efficient, utilizing the knowledge that there will only be one message. But more importantly, it allows the API to be expressed in such a way that certain edge cases that you don't want to care about when only sending a single message on a channel does not exist. For example. The sender can't be copied or cloned and the send method takes ownership and consumes the sender. So you are guaranteed, at the type level, that there can only be one message sent.


A very basic example to just show the API:

let (sender, receiver) = oneshot::channel();
thread::spawn(move || {
    sender.send("Hello from worker thread!");

let message = receiver.recv().expect("Worker thread does not want to talk :(");
println!("A message from a different thread: {}", message);

A slightly larger example showing communicating back work of different types during a long computation. The final result here could have been communicated back via the thread's JoinHandle. But those can't be waited on with a timeout. This is a quite artificial example, that mostly shows the API.

let (sender1, receiver1) = oneshot::channel();
let (sender2, receiver2) = oneshot::channel();

let thread = thread::spawn(move || {
    let data_processor = expensive_initialization();
    sender1.send(data_processor.summary()).expect("Main thread not waiting");
    sender2.send(data_processor.expensive_computation()).expect("Main thread not waiting");

let summary = receiver1.recv().expect("Worker thread died");
println!("Initialized data. Will crunch these numbers: {}", summary);

let result = loop {
    match receiver2.recv_timeout(Duration::from_secs(1)) {
        Ok(result) => break result,
        Err(oneshot::RecvTimeoutError::Timeout) => println!("Still working..."),
        Err(oneshot::RecvTimeoutError::Disconnected) => panic!("Worker thread died"),
println!("Done computing. Results: {:?}", result);
thread.join().expect("Worker thread panicked");

Sync vs async

The main motivation for writing this library was that there were no (known to me) channel implementations allowing you to seamlessly send messages between a normal thread and an async task, or the other way around. If message passing is the way you are communicating, of course that should work smoothly between the sync and async parts of the program!

This library achieves that by having an almost[1] wait-free send operation that can safely be used in both sync threads and async tasks. The receiver has both thread blocking receive methods for synchronous usage, and implements Future for asynchronous usage.

The receiving endpoint of this channel implements Rust's Future trait and can be waited on in an asynchronous task. This implementation is completely executor/runtime agnostic. It should be possible to use this library with any executor.


[1]: See documentation on [Sender::send] for situations where it might not be fully wait-free.

Implementation correctness

This library uses a lot of unsafe Rust in order to be fast and efficient. I am of the opinion that Rust code should avoid unsafe, except for low level primitives where the performance gains can be large and therefore justified. Or FFI where unsafe Rust is needed. I classify this as a low level primitive.

The test suite and CI for this project uses various ways to try to find potential bugs. First of all, the tests are executed under valgrind in order to try and detect invalid allocations. Secondly the tests are ran an extra time with some sleeps injected in the code in order to try and trigger different execution paths. Lastly, most tests are also executed a third time with loom. Loom is a tool for testing concurrent Rust code, trying all possible thread sheduling outcomes. It also tracks every memory allocation and free in order to detect invalid usage, kind of like valgrind.

Atomic ordering

The library currently uses sequential consistency for all atomic operations. This is to be somewhat conservative for now. If you understand atomic memory orderings really well, please feel free to suggest possible relaxations, I know there are many. Just motivate them well.

My message passing frustrations and dreams

Message passing is a very common and good way of synchronization in a concurrent program. But using it in Rust is far from smooth at the moment. Let me explain my ideal message passing library before coming to the problems:

  • Have dedicated channel primitives for all the common channel types:
    • Oneshot spsc (this is what this crate implements)
    • Rendezvous spsc and mpmc
    • Bounded mpmc
    • Unbounded mpmc
    • Broadcast mpmc (every consumer see every message)
  • All the send and receive methods that can't be completed in a lock-free manner should have both thread blocking and async versions of themselves. The async version should be executor agnostic, not depend on any one executor and work on all of them.
  • All channels should seamlessly and ergonomically allow sending messages between two threads, between two async tasks and in both directions between a thread and task.
  • Be a dedicated message passing crate with as few dependencies as possible. Many of the current channel types are embedded in larger crates or async runtime crates, making the barrier for depending on them larger.

Where it makes sense from an API or implementation standpoint, the mpmc channels could also come with dedicated mpsc and spmc versions. If it allows the API to more exactly express the type's functionality and/or if the implementation can be made noticeably more efficient.

None of the existing channels that I have found satisfy all the above conditions. The main thing that is missing is seamless interoperability between the sync and async worlds. All channels bundled up with async runtimes (tokio, async-std and futures) does not allow thread blocking send or receive calls. And the standard library and for example crossbeam-channel does not implement Future at all, so no async support.


MIT OR Apache-2.0