C360 Lecture notes -- Dining Philosophers

  • Jim Plank, with additions by Rich Wolski
  • CS360
  • Directory: /home/plank/cs360/notes/Dphil
  • Lecture notes: http://www.cs.utk.edu/~plank/plank/classes/cs360/360/notes/Dphil/lecture.html
  • I have no idea when I wrote this lecture -- probably the late 1990's.
  • Latest modification: Thu Apr 17 11:39:58 EDT 2014

    Dining Philosophers

    (This lecture was originally developed for an Operating Systems class, so when you see references to books and labs, they are for that old class. When I talk about "The Book", I'm talking about Operating Systems Concepts by Silberschatz & Galvin, probably one of those middle editions like 7. You don't need to own the book to understand the lecture.)

    The dining philosophers problem is a ``classical'' synchronization problem. Taken at face value, it is a pretty meaningless problem, but it is typical of many synchronization problems that you will see when allocating resources in operating systems.

    The book (again, chapter 6) has an excellent description of dining philosophers. I'll be a little more sketchy.

    The problem is defined as follows: There are 5 philosophers sitting at a round table. Between each adjacent pair of philosophers is a chopstick. In other words, there are five chopsticks. Each philosopher does two things: think and eat. The philosopher thinks for a while, and then stops thinking and becomes hungry. When the philosopher becomes hungry, he/she cannot eat until he/she owns the chopsticks to his/her left and right. When the philosopher is done eating he/she puts down the chopsticks and begins thinking again.

    Of course, the definition of this problem always leads me to ask a few questions:

    1. If these philosophers are so smart, shouldn't they be worried about communicable diseases?
    2. Why chopsticks? For some reason I envision philosophers liking soup.
    3. Evidently conversing isn't in here -- why do they need to be at the same table? I'm not sure if I'd enjoy having a philosopher philosophize while I'm eating. But then again, I'm not a philosopher.
    4. Shouldn't bathing be in the equation somewhere?

    The challenge in the dining philosophers problem is to design a protocol so that the philosophers do not deadlock (i.e. every philosopher has a chopstick), and so that no philosopher starves (i.e. when a philosopher is hungry, he/she eventually gets the chopsticks). Additionally, our protocol should try to be as efficient as possible -- in other words, we should try to minimize the time that philosophers spent waiting to eat.

    (In case you're bored, here is that last paragraph in the inimitable words of professor Wolski: ``Since these are either unwashed, stubborn and deeply committed philosophers or unwashed, clueless, and basically helpless philosophers, there is a possibility for deadlock. In particular, if all philosophers simultaneously grab the chopstick on their left and then reach for the chopstick on their right (waiting until one is available) before eating, they will all starve. The challenge in the dining philosophers problem is to design a protocol so that the philosophers do not deadlock (i.e. the entire set of philosophers does not stop and wait indefinitely), and so that no philosopher starves (i.e. every philosopher eventually gets his/her hands on a pair of chopsticks).'')

    Dining Philosophers Testbed with pthreads

    What I've done is hack up a general driver for the dining philosophers problem using pthreads, and then implemented several "solutions". You should go through this since your programs in lab 2 will be structured in this same manner.

    The driver is in dphil_skeleton.c (here's dphil.h too). It works as follows. First it calls initialize_v(), which is a procedure that is undefined. It expects a (void *) in return. This pointer will be passed to all procedures as part of the Phil_struct struct, and the user should initialize it however he/she likes.

    Next, the driver does a few other things, and finally forks off the philosopher threads (the total number of philosophers is a command line argument). After doing so, the main thread sleeps for ten seconds, and prints out information about how long each philosopher has been blocked, waiting to eat. This is so that you can make some assessment of how good the protocols are at letting philosophers eat.

    Now, the philosophers basically go through the following steps.

    while(1) {
      think for a random number of seconds
      eat for a random number of seconds
    p is the philosopher's Phil_struct. The pickup() call is timed and this time is added to the total blocked time for each thread.

    Each solution to this problem must implement initialize_v(), pickup() and putdown() to manage the chopsticks. Pickup() and putdown() should be written so that no philosopher starves (i.e. wants to eat, but never gets a chopstick), and so that deadlock doesn't occur (a subset of the above, because it would mean that all philosophers starve...) It should also attempt to try to minimize the amount of time that the philosopher's spend waiting for chopsticks.

    Solutions to the dining philosophers

    I have written up 8 "solutions" to this problem. You can copy all the .c files and the makefile to your own directory and try them out. The program will expect two arguments: The total number of philosophers, and the maximum number of seconds that a philosopher can eat or think at a time.

    Here are descriptions of the solution programs:

    Solution #1 -- No solution

    dphil_1.c implements all these procedures with null. In other words, they do nothing. As you'll notice, it allows two philosophers to have the same chopstick, so it fails as a solution to the problem. For example, here's a sample run:
    UNIX> dphil_1 5 10
      0 Total blocktime:     0 :     0     0     0     0     0
      0 Philosopher 0 thinking for 2 seconds
      0 Philosopher 1 thinking for 7 seconds
      0 Philosopher 2 thinking for 3 seconds
      0 Philosopher 3 thinking for 5 seconds
      0 Philosopher 4 thinking for 8 seconds
      3 Philosopher 0 no longer thinking -- calling pickup()
      4 Philosopher 0 eating for 5 seconds
      5 Philosopher 2 no longer thinking -- calling pickup()
      5 Philosopher 2 eating for 10 seconds
      9 Philosopher 3 no longer thinking -- calling pickup()
      9 Philosopher 3 eating for 7 seconds
    Right here is where you see that the solution fails -- philosophers 2 and 3 cannot both be eating at the same time.

    I include this as a solution because it shows how you link everything up with dphil_skeleton.c. In lab 2, the problems both have skeletons like dphil_skeleton.c and null solutions like dphil_1.c, just to show you how to link things together.

    Solution #2 -- A mutex for each chopstick

    dphil_2.c implements the procedures by having each chopstick be a monitor (mutex), and each philosopher will attempt to pick up the chopstick on his left first, then right, then eat, then put down the right one, and then put down the left one.

    This is prone to deadlock, although on this system you really won't ever see it because of the granularity of timeslicing between threads. The only time that this solution is a problem is if a philosopher's thread gets preempted between picking up the first and the second mutex. That doesn't really ever happen here, so it looks like it works just fine.

    dp_2_out.txt, you'll see the output of running dphil_2 5 10 for 2100 seconds. There's no deadlock, but as you'll see later, the threads spend more time blocked than they should. I'll let you think about why. Here is the last line of the file:

    2100 Total blocktime:  5165 :  1026  1041  1047  1042  1009

    Solution #3 -- Showing how you get deadlock with solution #2

    dphil_3.c is the same as dphil_2.c, but it puts a 1-second delay between picking up chopstick one and chopstick 2. You get deadlock instantly as all the philosophers try to pick up their chopsticks at once:
    UNIX> dphil_3 5 3
      0 Total blocktime:     0 :     0     0     0     0     0 
      0 Philosopher 0 thinking for 3 seconds
      0 Philosopher 1 thinking for 1 second
      0 Philosopher 2 thinking for 1 second
      0 Philosopher 3 thinking for 1 second
      0 Philosopher 4 thinking for 2 seconds
      1 Philosopher 3 no longer thinking -- calling pickup()
      1 Philosopher 2 no longer thinking -- calling pickup()
      1 Philosopher 1 no longer thinking -- calling pickup()
      2 Philosopher 4 no longer thinking -- calling pickup()
      3 Philosopher 0 no longer thinking -- calling pickup()
     10 Total blocktime:    42 :     7     9     9     9     8 
     20 Total blocktime:    92 :    17    19    19    19    18 

    Solution #4 -- An asymmetrical solution

    dphil_4.c is the same as dphil_2.c, only odd philosophers start left-hand first, and even philosophers start right-hand first. This does not deadlock, even if you put a delay in between picking up chopsticks one and two.

    There are two problems with this solution. The first is minor. This solution can exhibit starvation depending on how the thread system is implemented. For example, suppose philosopher A is waiting for a chopstick. Eventually, the owner of the chopstick (philosopher B) will eat and put the chopstick down, but there's no guarantee that philosopher A will get it if philosopher B wants to eat again before philosopher A's thread is rescheduled. Given our thread system and the randomness in the sleep() calls, that does not appear to be a problem, but it could well be on a different system with different parameters.

    The more major problem is that the philosophers are not equally weighted here. If you look at dp_4_out.txt, you'll see the output of running dphil_4 5 10 for 2100 seconds. The interesting thing here is the block-times. You'll note that philosopher #4 blocks for much less time than the rest. Why? The reason is kind of subtle. Suppose all the philosophers want to eat at the same time. Philosophers 0 and 1 will have to fight for their first chopstick, as will philosophers 2 and 3. However, philosopher 4 will always get his first chopstick. This phenomenon (which is really more complex than that, but that's the basis of it) gives philosopher 4 an advantage over the others, meaning he eats more. Thus, if you are looking to give all the philosophers equal weight, you can't use this solution.

    2100 Total blocktime:  3184 :   753   688   642   580   521

    Solution #5 -- The book's solution

    In section 6.7, the book gives a solution to the dining philosopher's problem. This solution gives a deadlock-free way to solve the dining philosophers problem without giving philosopher #4 such an advantage.

    The basic premise behind the solution is this: When a philosopher wants to eat, he/she checks both chopsticks. If they are free, then he/she eats. Otherwise, he/she waits on a condition variable. Whenever a philosopher finishes eating, he/she checks to see if his neighbors want to eat and are waiting. If so, then he/she calls signal on their condition variables so that they can recheck the chopsticks and eat if possible.

    This is coded up in dphil_5.c. You'll note that we don't keep track of the chopsticks explicitly. Instead, we keep track of the philosophers' states.

    A problem with this solution is starvation. For example, trace through dp_5_starve.txt. As you see, after a few seconds, philosophers 0 and 2 get to eat, then 1 and 3, and then 0 and 2 again and so on. Philosopher 4 never gets to eat, because there is never a time when 0 and 3 are both not eating.

    In an example with a higher sleep time (dp_5_out.txt), starvation is not a problem, and you'll see that all the threads block for roughly the same amount. Moreover, the total blocking time is similar to dphil_4. Thus, this is a decent solution. It's only problem is that you can get starvation in certain pathological cases.

    2100 Total blocktime:  3127 :   577   630   601   709   610

    In dphil_5_book.c, I've coded up the book's solution exactly. I think my solution is more readable. If you want some threads practice, make sure you understand how they are functionally equivalent.

    Solution #6 -- Preventing starvation

    So, in order to prevent starvation you either need:

    Solution #6 dphil_6.c implements this. When a philosopher calls pickup(), if the queue is empty, the chopsticks are checked, and if they are in use, the philosopher is put on the queue. If they are not in use, the philosopher is allowed to eat, and pickup() returns. Note how this checking must be performed in a monitor. When putdown() is called, the chopsticks are released, and then test_queue() is called, which checks the head of the queue to see if the philosopher there can eat. If so, that philosopher is unblocked, and then he/she can eat.

    Try the program out to see that it works. Moreover, note that there are times when a philosopher can call pickup() and the sticks can be available, but the philosopher blocks. This is because the queue isn't empty. Thus, the solution may not allow philosophers to eat as much as they would like, but it does prevent starvation. Think about ways that you could prevent starvation, but also allow less blocking time for philosophers.

    dp_6_out.txt shows the output of dphil6 5. Note how the total block time here is much higher than dphil_4 and dphil_5. This is because a philosopher might block even though the chopsticks are free, because another philosopher is hungry and on the queue.

    2100 Total blocktime:  4441 :   884   887   912   857   901

    Solution #7 -- A better try?

    dphil_7.c makes a better try. Instead of implementing a global queue, this program has each philosopher ``take a number'' (like at the deli) when he is hungry. Then if a philosopher is hungry and so are his neighbors, he only eats if he has the lowest number. You'll note that this prevents starvation, and the hope is that it works better than solution #6.

    So, take a look at dp_7_out.txt.

     2091 Total blocktime:  4231 :   823   848   879   876   805
    The surprising thing here is that the performance is really not much different between dphil_7 and dphil_6. Why? The answer is quite subtle. If there are 5 philosophers, on the average two will be eating and three will be waiting to eat. A philosopher (any one of the five) after recovering from a deep thought, will find two philosophers eating and two waiting to eat. In the single-queue case (dphil_6) the nourishment-deprived philosopher will have to wait until the two ahead of him/her are make it through the queue. In the "deli ticket" case (dphil_7) the hungry philosopher is also waiting on two that are eating -- the one on his/her right and left. So for the case of 5 philosophers, dphil_6 and dphil_7 exhibit more or less the same performance. In fact, we can quantify it -- there are 10 cases where dphil_7 lets a philosopher eat and dphil_6 does not: These are responsible for the slight difference in dphil_6 and dphil_7's performance.

    If, however, you increase the number of philosophers to, say, 15, the difference between the two becomes much more drastic. Try running dphil_6 15 10 and dphil_7 15 10 each for a while iterations and compare the total blocked time. Here, waiting philosophers using the dphil_6 algorithm have many more than two in the queue before them, and thus block for a long time. You can see the difference in the performance.

     Dphil_6: 2091 Total blocktime: 19075 :  ...

     Dphil_7: 2100 Total blocktime: 12119 :   ...  

    Solution #8 -- The best try

    So, our anti-aging solutions were bad -- they made the philosophers block way too much. Another thing that we can do is mix solutions 5 and 7. In other words, do solution 5, but have pickup() check to see if a neighboring philosopher has been blocked on pickup() for a long time. If so, then it should block and let that philosopher eat.

    The solution is in dphil_8.c. This looks a lot like dphil_7, but if the chopsticks are available, then it will take them unless one of its neighbors has been waiting for ms*5 or more seconds.

    If you call dphil_8 5 1, you'll see that it does not starve any one philosopher as dphil_5 5 1 does. Moreover, if you call dphil_8 5 10, you'll see that its performance overall is good, like dphil_4 and dphil_5, not bad like dphil_7. (The output is in dp_8_out.txt.)

    2100 Total blocktime:  2859 :   575   602   538   595   549

    Summary of the data

    So, to compare -- here are all of the dphil_x, for x from 2 to 8, compared by their total blocking time divided by their total execution time:

    And, for each dphil_x, here is a breakdown of how each philosopher performed, relative to the total blocking time:

    So, what are the lessons?