If you are doing parallel operations on immutable data you may run into a problem. A lot of us are used to using
[ThreadStatic] static fields to hold ambient state that exceeds the built-in ThreadPrincipal or CurrentCulture settings. If you are running in a web context you certainly have access to HttpContext, but otherwise you appear to be out of luck.
Today I want to present a solution to that problem:
ContextLocal<T> static variable is local to the thread that sets its value plus any child threads, tasks, async, or thread pool work items that it spawns. The value is copy-on-write, so if a child thread changes the value that change is only visible to that child thread and its child threads. Furthermore, when all threads using a value are finished the value is cleaned up automatically. You don't have to worry about values modified on a child thread living forever because the thread is in a pool and never gets destroyed.
What this means is we have a handy way to do the same thing that Thread.CurrentCulture does. One caveat to note: The copy-on-write behavior is only on .Net 4.5 and later.
How does this work exactly?
We need to back up slightly and look at what the framework provides. It has an
ExecutionContext that itself holds various contexts and values. This object is flowed to child tasks/threads automatically, unless you use the thread pool's
QueueUnsafeUserWorkItem or a similar operation to prohibit it.
ExecutionContext is a
CallContext. That has
LogicalSetData. Those are the magic methods we need with the copy-on-write behavior. Don't be fooled by the namespace or documentation, this class works perfectly well outside any WCF or remoting scenarios. Only values that implement the
ILogicalCallData interface will actually be serialized and transmitted over the wire.
First, use a
ConcurrentDictionary or similar class if you want to allow child threads to insert data into a shared data structure. That way none of them are modifying the original reference so they can all share the same copy.
Think of your program as a stream of clear water. Think of starting a
Task<T> or launching another thread as the stream splitting into multiple branches. Now imagine
ContextLocal<T> is a big barrel of red dye. If you drop it in at the head of the stream, all the water turns red. If you drop it on a branch, only that branch and its sub-branches turn red.
The key is that you set the value just before the branch takes place and that value will be visible to all the branches and sub-branches as ambient state, but the value is completely isolated from any other unrelated branches. That's the key difference between
static values are globally shared state.
[ThreadStatic] values are isolated to one thread
ContextLocal<T> values are shared among child threads, but only among child threads.
As far as I am aware, outside of a web server or the built-in properties like CurrentCulture, this is the only way to flow ambient state across threads cleanly. It sure beats adding context parameters to every single method call!
Check it out on github .
Part 1: Russell's Rules For Highly Concurrent Software
Part 2: Immutability Part 2
Part 4: On Rediscovering the Classic Coordinated Transaction Problem
Part 5: Interlocked.CompareExchange
Part 6: Immutability and Thread Safety
This blog represents my own personal opinion and is not endorsed by my employer.