Thoughts on Priorities and Quanta Mark K. Gardner 10 Feb 2000 00:39 UTC

Hello all,

There are a couple of items concerning priorities and quanta that I
would like to see discussed. First, an admission of bias: I have been
thoroughly indoctrinated in the real-time community. Thus the comments
below deal with modifying the SRFI so that it does not prohibit the
construction of real-time systems programmed in Scheme.

1) Limiting the number of priority levels to 8 is a severe problem for
real-time systems. Mapping otherwise distinct priorities, which have
been established by fixed priority design guidelines, onto a limited
set causes a potential reduction in the number of tasks which can meet
their deadlines. The problem has been well studied and the consensus
is that 256 priorities are sufficient to virtually eliminate the
effect. Thus nearly all real-time operating systems have 256 priority

Is there any reason for limiting the number of priorities to 8? If
there is, I suggest that we make 8 the minimum number of priority
levels and add a function to obtain the maximum number of priority

2) While we are on the issue of priority, is 0 the minimum or maximum
priority level? It doesn't really matter to me which it is, but it
should be specified for code to be portable.

3) In general, (hard) real-time tasks do not time share. Thus there
needs to be another value added to the quantum domain specifying that
the thread is not to be preempted, i.e., it is to run until it blocks,
yields the processor, or terminates. As a by-product of defining this
special value, it is no longer necessary to precisely know how quanta
map onto real time. (Without the special value, a hard real-time task
would need to specify a quantum that is guaranteed to be greater than
its longest execution time before blocking, yielding, etc.)

4) When a mutex or condition variable is unlocked, the thread that has
the highest priority and has been waiting the longest should be made

5) thread-priority-set! should cause an immediate reschedule if the
priority decreases. This seems logical but it is especially important
for real-time systems as otherwise predictability will be lost.

Note that this can be implemented by the following idiom:

  (thread-priority-set! my-thread new-priority)
  (let ((old-priority (thread-priority my-thread)))
	   (if (< new-priority old-priority)

Since I don't see what the additional flexibility in allowing
reschedules to be delayed buys us, I would lobby for immediate

6) Should thread-quantum-set! cause a reschedule if the amount of time
executed so far exceeds the new quantum? (This is not a real-time
issue if there is a quantum that signifies no time sharing.) For
symmetry with the preceding comment, I suggest that this be the case
but I don't really care as it too can be implemented in user code *if*
there is a way to access the number of quanta used since beginning to

7) I would suggest that thread-terminate! should always allow the
current thread to finish the critical section if indeed it is in one.
This would solve the inconsistent state problem noted in the SRFI.
I would also suggest that threads be terminated immediately otherwise
as I see no benefit from delaying. Indeed, terminating as soon as
state is consistent gives other threads as much processing time as

Implementing this will require a flag to be check on exit from the
outermost critical section to see if the current thread should be

8) Perhaps an exception should be thrown when a thread is terminated
(as opposed to when its thunk returns) so that the thread's resources
can be properly deallocated.

9) For good flexibility in scheduling, I like the QNX approach. Allow
FIFO, round-robin and "adaptive priority" which may include aging.

10) For predictability, I favor having thread quanta be in some
sufficiently small unit of time like microseconds.

11) I also like the idea that a program is the initial thread of
execution and hence the parent of all other threads.

As you can see, I lean towards weaker forms of fairness, including
FIFO scheduling. Just my thoughts... what do others think?


Mark K. Gardner
Network Engineering, CIC-5
Los Alamos National Laboratory
P.O. Box 1663, M.S. D451
Los Alamos, NM 87545
Phone: 1-505-665-4953