Synchronizing without locks is inherently expensive

Hagit Attiya, Danny Hendler, Rachid Guerraoui, Petr Kouznetsov

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference contributionpeer-review

4 Scopus citations


It has been considered bon ton to blame locks for their fragility, especially since researchers identified obstruction-freedom: a progress condition that precludes locking while being weak enough to raise the hope for good performance. This paper attenuates this hope by establishing lower bounds on the complexity of obstruction-free implementations in contention-free executions: those where obstruction-freedom was precisely claimed to be effective. Through our lower bounds, we argue for an inherent cost of concurrent computing without locks. We first prove that obstruction-free implementations of a large class of objects, using only overwriting or trivial primitives in contention-free executions, have Ω(n) space complexity and Ω(log2 n) (obstruction-free) step complexity. These bounds apply to implementations of many popular objects, including variants of fetch&add, counter, compare&swap, and LL/SC. When arbitrary primitives can be applied in contention-free executions, we show that, in any implementation of binary consensus, or any perturbable object, the number of distinct base objects accessed and memory stalls incurred by some process in a contention free execution is Ω(√n). All these results hold regardless of the behavior of processes after they become aware of contention. We also prove that, in any obstruction-free implementation of a perturbable object in which processes are not allowed to fail their operations, the number of memory stalls incurred by some process that is unaware of contention is Ω(n).

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationProceedings of the 25th Annual ACM Symposium on Principles of Distributed Computing 2006
PublisherAssociation for Computing Machinery
Number of pages8
ISBN (Print)1595933840, 9781595933843
StatePublished - 1 Jan 2006
Externally publishedYes
Event25th Annual ACM Symposium on Principles of Distributed Computing 2006 - Denver, CO, United States
Duration: 23 Jul 200626 Jul 2006

Publication series

NameProceedings of the Annual ACM Symposium on Principles of Distributed Computing


Conference25th Annual ACM Symposium on Principles of Distributed Computing 2006
Country/TerritoryUnited States
CityDenver, CO


  • Lock-free implementations
  • Lower bound
  • Memory contention
  • Obstruction-freedom
  • Perturbable objects
  • Step contention

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Software
  • Hardware and Architecture
  • Computer Networks and Communications


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