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[wg14/wg21 liaison] atomics in C++

From: Uecker, Martin <Martin.Uecker_at_[hidden]>
Date: Sat, 19 Jun 2021 11:16:49 +0000

Hi all,

I want to summarize my understanding of the compatibility situation
for atomics here because I want to write a paper for WG14 addressing
potential solutions for the _Atomic_ref use case in C, and want
to make sure I get this part right.

For compatibility, there are two things required:

1. Compatible syntax for headers
2. ABI compatibility

Regarding the first point, in C we have the atomic_XXX types and
also the _Atomic(T) type specifier (C11), which were both designed
together with WG21 with compatibility in mind. The only thing which
still was missing is the _Atomic(T) macro in C++. This seems now part
of C23++ [1]. So the compatibility story seems finally complete
and we can now write things like this (thank you WG21!):

#ifdef __cplusplus
extern "C" {

#include <stdatomic.h>
void foo(_Atomic(int) *x);

#ifdef __cplusplus


With respect to ABI, there is still the issue that _Atomic(T) types
are not compatible between implementations even within C++:


This could potentially be addressef by making stricter requirements
on the representation of _Atomic(T). But as I understand it,
implementations want to exploit the freedom to change the type
for optimal performance and/or to insert locks into the object
and would object to such requirements. So from the language
side there is nothing which can be done, and the ABI issues need
to be worked out by the implementors and ABI groups.

So as I see it, there is no fundamental C/C++ compatibility
issue here.

Finally, there is the _Atomic qualifier in C which is currently
a different way to specifiy the same type as _Atomic(T).
From the C side, this is problematic as it is at the same
time completely useless because it provides no new functionality
and confusing as it does not work in he same way as any
other qualifier.

But the _Atomic qualifier in C also has no impact on C/C++
compatibility at all as it is not supported in C++ (similar
to how std::atomic<T> template syntax is not a compatibility
problem as this is not supported in C).

If WG14 were to retarget it, deprecate it, or replace it with
something else to address the _Atomic_ref use case, this
should not cause any problems to C++. Agreed?


[1] http://open-std.org/JTC1/SC22/WG21/docs/papers/2021/n4885.pdf
[2] http://www.open-std.org/jtc1/sc22/wg14/www/docs/n2741.htm

Received on 2021-06-19 06:16:57