Lecture 32: Lazy Linked Lists

COSC 273: Parallel and Distributed Computing

Spring 2023


  1. Quiz on concurrent linked lists released today, due Friday
  2. Next leaderboard submission on Monday
  3. First leaderboad results soon

Last Time

Concurrent Linked Lists, Three Ways:

  1. Coarse locking
    • lock the whole data structure for every operation
  2. Fine-grained locking
    • lock individual nodes to avoid conflicts
  3. Optimistic locking
    • search without locks, lock on find, then validate

Optimistic Insertion

Step 1: Traverse the List

Step 1: Traverse the List

Step 1: Traverse the List

Step 2: Acquire Locks

Step 3: Validate List - Traverse

Step 3: Validate List - pred Reachable?

Step 3: Validate List - Is curr next?

Step 4: Perform Insertion

Step 5: Release Locks

Performance v. Size, 1 Thread

Performance v. Size, 128 Threads

Time v. Threads, 8 Elements

Time v. Threads, 8,192 Elements

Coarse Time v. Threads

Fine Time v. Threads

Optimistic Time v. Threads

Further Improvement?

Question. What is undesireable about optimistic locking?

Optimism and Validation

Under best circumstances:

  • validation succeeds
    • likely if little contention
  • still traverse the list twice

Under contention:

  • all operations are blocking
    • not wait-free
  • contention can lead to validation failures
    • not starvation-free


Operations are complicated because they consist of several steps

  • hard to reason about when the operation appears to take place
  • coarse/fine-grained synchronization stop other threads from seeing operations “in progress”
  • optimistic synchronization may encounter “in progress” operations before locking
    • validation required

Overly Optimistic?

Question. What operation(s) interfere with add/remove and how? When do we need to validate starting at the head?

Conflicting add Operations

Conflicting remove Operations

Improved Validation?

Question. How could we modify remove method to make validation more efficient?

Lazy Synchronization

A simple strategy

  • Mark a node before physical removal
    • marked nodes are logically removed, still physically present
  • Only marked nodes are ever removed

Validation simplified:

  • Just check if nodes are marked
  • No need to traverse whole list!

Lazy Operation

  1. Traverse without locking
  2. Lock relevant nodes
  3. Validate list
    • check nodes are
      • not marked
      • correct relationship
    • if validation fails, go back to Step 1
  4. Perform operation
    • for removal, mark node first
  5. Unlock nodes

Lazy Removal Illustrated

Step 1: Traverse List

Step 1: Traverse List

Step 2: Lock Nodes

Step 3: Validate pred.next == curr?

Step 3: Validate not marked?

Step 4a: Perform Logical Removal

Step 4b: Perform Physical Removal

Step 5: Release Locks and Done!

In Code

  • LazyList.java in linked-lists.zip

A Node in Code

    private class Node {
	T item;
	int key;
	Node next;
	Lock lock;
	volatile boolean marked;

Validation, Simplified

private boolean validate (Node pred, Node curr) {
  return !pred.marked && !curr.marked && pred.next == curr;


  1. Limited locking as in optimistic synchronization
  2. Simpler validation
    • faster—no second list traversal
    • more likely to succeed?
  3. Logical removal easier to reason about
    • linearization point at logical removal line
  4. contains() no longer acquires locks
    • often most frequent operation
    • now it is wait-free!

What About Performance?

Performance v. Size, 1 Thread

Performance v. Size, 128 Threads

Time v. Threads, 8 Elements

Time v. Threads, 8,192 Elements

Further Improvements?

What could be done better?

  1. concurrent add/remove operations can still block one another
  2. operations are still not starvation free

Question. Can we avoid locks entirely?