std::async() in an Executors World

Published Proposal,

Mark Hoemmen (Sandia National Laboratories)
ISO JTC1/SC22/WG21: Programming Language C++


We show an evolutionary path for code written to std::async() to leverage Executors

1. Background

C++11 introduced async() along with several other basic concurrency primitives. Many regard async() as fundamentally broken [n3637] and in need of deprecation [n3777]. Following much discussion and a passionate plea [n3780], the effort to deprecate async() prior to an executors-based replacement was abandoned. The guidance from SG1 to the authors of the various Executors proposals, since at least the 2014 Urbana-Champaign SG1 discussion of [n4242] (see: [SG1-Mins-n4242]), has been that any Executors proposal must clearly address the deficiencies of async().

At the Fall 2017 Albuquerque meeting, a companion paper [p0737] to the Executors proposal was presented that more fully defines the notion of an execution_context. The paper includes a proposal for a formal definition of an "executor for async()" and its supporting library machinery. This offers an evolutionary path away from the undesirable, but possibly widely used at this point, semantics of the current async().

At the Winter 2018 Jacksonville meeting, there was clear direction to the authors of the Executors proposal [p0443] to provide library usage examples (see: [LEWG-Mins-p0443]). This paper intends to address this request by drawing on [p0737] as it specifically relates to async().

The current wording on the behavior of std::async is as follows -

— If launch::async is set in policy, calls INVOKE(DECAY_COPY(std::forward<F>(f)), DECAY_COPY(std::forward<Args>(args))...) (23.14.3, as if in a new thread of execution represented by a thread object with the calls to DECAY_COPY being evaluated in the thread that called async. Any return value is stored as the result in the shared state. Any exception propagated from the execution of INVOKE(DECAY_COPY(std::forward<F>(f)), DECAY_COPY(std::forward<Args>(args))...) is stored as the exceptional result in the shared state. The thread object is stored in the shared state and affects the behavior of any asynchronous return objects that reference that state.

— If launch::deferred is set in policy, stores DECAY_COPY(std::forward<F>(f)) and DECAY_COPY(std::forward<Args>(args))...) in the shared state. These copies of f and args constitute a deferred function. Invocation of the deferred function evaluates INVOKE(std::move(g), std::move(xyz)) where g is the stored value of DECAY_COPY(std::forward<F>(f)) and xyz is the stored copy of DECAY_COPY(std::forward<Args>(args))...). Any return value is stored as the result in the shared state. Any exception propagated from the execution of the deferred function is stored as the exceptional result in the shared state. The shared state is not made ready until the function has completed. The first call to a non-timed waiting function (33.6.5) on an asynchronous return object referring to this shared state shall invoke the deferred function in the thread that called the waiting function. Once evaluation of INVOKE(std::move(g), std::move(xyz)) begins, the function is no longer considered deferred. [ Note: If this policy is specified together with other policies, such as when using a policy value of launch::async | launch::deferred, implementations should defer invocation or the selection of the policy when no more concurrency can be effectively exploited. — end note ]

— If no value is set in the launch policy, or a value is set that is neither specified in this document nor by the implementation, the behavior is undefined.

The language run-time currently provides hidden executor types which fulfills the requirements of these launch policies. In particular, a launch policy of launch::async requires that the run-time provide a new single thread executor to evaluate the supplied Callable. The policy for launch::deferred most resembles the concept of an inline executor, which only evaluates the supplied Callable when the returned std::future is awaited.

[p0737] seeks the formal introduction of an execution context concept, which [p0443] currently leaves unspecified. [p0737] defines the ExecutionContext as follows -

A concurrency and parallelism execution context manages a set of execution agents on a set of execution resources of a given execution architecture.

These execution agents execute work, implemented by a callable, that is submitted to the execution context by an executor.

One or more types of executors may submit work to the same execution context. Work submitted to an execution context is incomplete until (1) it is invoked and exits execution by return or exception or (2) its submission for execution is canceled.

Note: The execution context terminology used here and in the Networking TS [n4656] deviate from the traditional context of execution usage that refers to the state of a single executing callable; e.g., program counter, registers, stack frame.

This ExecutionContext concept is specified as follows -

class ExecutionContext /* exposition only */ {

  template <typename ExecutionContextProperty>
    /* exposition only */ detail::query_t< ExecutionContext , ExecutionContextProperty >
  query(ExecutionContextProperty p) const ;


  // Not copyable or moveable
  ExecutionContext( ExecutionContext const & ) = delete ;
  ExecutionContext( ExecutionContext && ) = delete ;
  ExecutionContext & operator = ( ExecutionContext const & ) = delete ;
  ExecutionContext & operator = ( ExecutionContext && ) = delete ;

  // Execution resource
  using execution_resource_t = /* implementation defined */ ;

  execution_resource_t const & execution_resource() const noexcept ;

  // Executor generator
  template< class ... ExecutorProperties >
    /* exposition only */ detail::executor_t< ExecutionContext , ExecutorProperties... >
  executor( ExecutorProperties... );

  // Waiting functions:
  void wait();
  template< class Clock , class Duration >
  bool wait_until( chrono::time_point<Clock,Duration> const & );
  template< class Rep , class Period >
  bool wait_for( chrono::duration<Rep,Period> const & );

bool operator == ( ExecutionContext const & , ExecutionContext const & );
bool operator != ( ExecutionContext const & , ExecutionContext const & );

// Execution context properties:

constexpr struct reject_on_destruction_t {} reject_on_destruction;
constexpr struct abandon_on_destruction_t {} abandon_on_destruction;
constexpr struct abort_on_destruction_t {} abort_on_destruction;
constexpr struct wait_on_destruction_t {} wait_on_destruction;

2. An Execution Context for async()

[p0737] Proposes that there exists in the underlying runtime, a hidden execution context, into which 33.6.9 Function template async launches asynchronous work, and proposes that this execution context be exposed along with the hidden executors fulfilling std::async launch policies. Exposing this execution context and these executor types enables current use of std::async to be transliterated to the executor model as follows.

// Equivalent without- and with-executor async statements without launch policy

auto f = std::async( []{ std::cout << "anonymous way\n"} );
auto f = std::async( std::async_execution_context.executor() , []{ std::cout << "executor way\n"} );

// Equivalent without- and with-executor async statements with launch policy

auto f = std::async( std::launch::deferred , []{ std::cout << "anonymous way\n"} );
auto f = std::async( std::async_execution_context.executor( std::launch::deferred ) , []{ std::cout << "executor way\n"} );

Asynchronous execution behavior is unchanged following such a well-defined transliteration. The use of std::async is now prepared, at the developers' discretion, to replace the leading executor argument with a different executor.

3. Proposed wording for Standard Async Execution Context and Executor

The proposed wording is extracted from [p0737] with modifications for a minimal proposal and to align with executors proposal [p0443].

namespace std {
namespace experimental {
inline namespace executors_v1 {
namespace execution {

  namespace launch {
    struct async_t {
      static constexpr bool is_requirable = true;
      static constexpr bool is_preferable = true;

    struct deferred_t {
      static constexpr bool is_requirable = true;
      static constexpr bool is_preferable = true;

    constexpr async_t async; // executor property
    constexpr deferred_t deferred; // executor property
  } // namespace launch

  class async_executor_t ; // implementation defined

  class async_execution_context_t {

    // Not copyable or moveable
    async_execution_context_t( async_execution_context_t const & ) = delete ;
    async_execution_context_t( async_execution_context_t && ) = delete ;
    async_execution_context_t & operator = ( async_execution_context_t const & ) = delete ;
    async_execution_context_t & operator = ( async_execution_context_t && ) = delete ;

    // Executor generator
    template<class ... ExecutorProperties>
      /* exposition only */ detail::executor_t< ExecutionContext , ExecutorProperties... >
    executor( ExecutorProperties ... p );

    // Execution resource - deferred
    // Waiting - deferred

  // Execution context into which std::async launches work
  extern async_execution_context_t async_execution_context;

} // namespace execution
} // inline namespace executors_v1
} // namespace experimental
} // namespace std

namespace std {
  template<class Function , class ... Args>
  async( std::experimental::execution::async_executor_t exec , Function && f , Args && ... args);
} // namespace std

Executor properties isomorphic with std::launch launch policies of the same name.

class async_executor_t;

An implementation-defined type satisfying TwoWayExecutor requirements [p0443].

class async_execution_context_t;

An implementation-defined type partially satisfying execution context requirements [p0737]. Specification of execution context properties, construction, destruction, and wait functionality is deferred.

template< class ... ExecutorProperties >
  /* exposition only */ detail::executor_t< ExecutionContext , ExecutorProperties... >
async_execution_context_t::executor( ExecutorProperties ... p );

Returns: A executor with *this execution context and execution properties p. If p is empty, is std::experimental::execution::launch::async, or is std::experimental::execution::launch::deferred the executor type is async_executor_t.

extern async_execution_context_t async_execution_context;

Global execution context object enabling the equivalent invocation of callables through the with-async_executor_t std::async and without-executor std::async. Guaranteed to be initialized during or before the first use.

template< class Function , class ... Args >
async( async_executor_t exec , Function && f , Args && ... args );

Effects: If exec has an std::experimental::execution::launch property then equivalent to invoking std::async( policy , f , args... ); with policy of the same name; otherwise equivalent to invoking std::async( f , args... ); Equivalency is symmetric with respect to the current, non-executor std::async functions.

4. Transliteration of async()

With this proposal, transliteration of current std::async usage to the executor model is as follows.

// Equivalent without- and with-executor async statements without launch policy

auto f = std::async( []{ std::cout << "anonymous way\n"} );
auto f = std::async( std::experimental::execution::async_execution_context.executor() , []{ std::cout << "executor way\n"} );

// Equivalent without- and with-executor async statements with launch policy

auto f = std::async( std::launch::deferred , []{ std::cout << "anonymous way\n"} );
auto f = std::async( std::experimental::execution::async_execution_context.executor( std::experimental::execution::launch::deferred ) , []{ std::cout << "executor way\n"} );

5. Open Questions

  1. [p0737] does not propose a mechanism to migrate the executor aware std::async template from std::experimental::execute::async_executor_t to other executors types.

  2. 33.6.2 currently specifies std::launch::async and std::launch::deferred as:

    enum class launch : unspecified {
      async = unspecified ,
      deferred = unspecified ,

    33.6.2 further constrains std::launch to be a bitmask with the following note - [ Note: Implementations can provide bitmasks to specify restrictions on task interaction by functions launched by async() applicable to a corresponding subset of available launch policies. Implementations can extend the behavior of the first overload of async() by adding their extensions to the launch policy under the “as if” rule. -- end note]

    In order to preserve backward compatibility with existing usage of std::launch this would imply that the std::experimental::execute::launch property types would also need to behave as-if they were a bitmask. This implies that std::experimental::execution::launch::async | std::experimental::execution::launch::deferred return another viable property type that represents the union of these two launch properties. Another option is for [p0443] to be revised to allow executor properties to be implemented as enum class or constexpr values potentially of the same type.

  3. [n4406] and [p0761] suggest a .on() member taking an executor to allow parallel algorithm launch policies to compose with executors. Do the policies of std::launch differ enough, conceptually, from the launch policies specified in 23.19.2 to warrant a different mechanism for composition with executors?


Informative References

Minutes of LEWG discussion of [p0443] at 2018 Jacksonville WG21 meeting.
Herb Sutter; Chandler Carruth; Niklas Gustafsson. async and ~future (Revision 3). April 17, 2013. URL: https://wg21.link/n3637
Herb Sutter. Wording for deprecating async. September 23, 2013. URL: https://wg21.link/n3777
Nicolai Josuttis. Why Deprecating async() is the Worst of all Options. September 26, 2013. URL: https://wg21.link/n3780
Chris Kohlhoff <chris@kohlhoff.com>. Executors and Asynchronous Operations. October 13, 2014. URL: https://wg21.link/n4242
Jared Hoberock; Michael Garland; Olivier Girioux. Parallel Algorithms Need Executors. April 10, 2015. URL: https://wg21.link/n4406
Working Draft, C++ Extensions for Networking. 2017-03-17. URL: https://wg21.link/n4656
Jared Hoberock; et al. A Unified Executors Proposal for C++. February 12, 2018. URL: https://wg21.link/p0443
H. Carter Edwards; et al. Execution Context of Execution Agents. URL: https://wg21.link/p0737
Jared Hoberock; et al. Executors Design Document. February 12, 2018. URL: https://wg21.link/p0761
Minutes of SG1 discussion of [n4242] at 2014 Urbana-Champaign WG21 meeting.