Evaluation of a better object container

During performance evaluation of our library, I asked myself a following question:

Which data structure has computational complexity of “insert at end” and “remove given element” operations no worse than a doubly-linked list, but with a smaller constant?

The point of that mental exercise was to come up with a persistent data structure that could replace doubly-linked list in object stores (right now a linked lists of every single user-allocated object) and undo logs.

One might ask why replace something that works fine, and has O(1) complexity of the operations we use. But once we count the number of memory stores necessary to remove (or insert) an entry from a doubly-linked list, the reason becomes apparent. And keep in mind that this data structure must be consistent across power failures. Our circular doubly-linked list implementation currently has ~2000 lines of code, while I realize that this might not be the best measure of complexity, but for a list? :) Things get complicated fast once you start thinking about persistence.

Back on topic. First thought I had was an array with a simple counter to get next index at which to store the element. That index would be then embedded into the element (like how next/prev pointers are stored in linked-lists). Using an array also has the benefit of being much more CPU cache-friendly, which is especially important when dealing with hardware that has slower reads (compared to DRAM).

But there’s a one major drawback: a hard limit for number of objects. While our low-level persistent allocator does support reallocations, the cost of doing it in runtime would be too big (not to mention wasteful).

Next thought was to replace the array with a radix tree (with the same deal for indexes/keys). A shallow radix tree would probably work fine, but it’s pretty complex for something so simple.

And then I randomly stumbled on this. The gist of this paper is a vector that uses an array of arrays, where the sizes of each consecutive array form a geometric sequence with the common ratio of 2.

Both insert and remove operations to this vector have complexity of O(1) and a constant of 2 memory stores (update array element and set the embedded entry).

When doing all of this I also had an ulterior motive: I want our undo log and object stores containers to be lock-free. This would enable better scaling of atomic allocations and pmemobj_tx_commit. It would also play nicely with the idea of multi-threaded transactions.

But if you’ve read my previous post you know that there are no persistent and concurrent atomic operations available - which poses a significant challenge in implementing a lockfree data structure.

In implementation of the persistent lock-free vector I imposed one limitation: only push_back operation is supported. No inserts at the beginning or in the middle. This is all we need for the undo log and the object store. Here’s the important piece of code:

n = __sync_fetch_and_add(&v->next, 1); /* v->next is volatile! */
uint64_t tab;
uint64_t tab_idx;
vector_tab_from_idx(v, n, &tab, &tab_idx);

while (v->entries[tab] == 0) {
if (tab_idx == 0)
    pmalloc(&v->entries[tab], ...);

Initially the v->entries[] array is zeroed. An insert operation grabs a next index n in a thread-safe manner. The tab variable determines in which table the element will end-up in and the tab_idx indicates the position in that table. The thread which gets the tab_idx == 0 is the one which has to allocate the new table. All other threads that have tab_idx > 0 and found v->entries[tab] == 0 (the destination table not allocated) have to busy-wait for it to become allocated. Having the guarantee that elements are always appended at the end, we can be sure that those threads won’t wait endlessly.

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