Monday, May 17, 2010

I've uploaded the current table of contents for Multicore Application Programming. You can find all the detail in there, but I think it's appropriate to talk about how the book is structured.

Chapter 1. The design of any processor has a massive impact on its performance. This is particularly true for multicore processors since multiple software threads will be sharing hardware resources. Hence the first chapter provides a whistle-stop tour of the critical features of hardware. It is important to do this up front as the terminology will be used later in the book when discussing how hardware and software interact.

Chapter 2. Serial performance remains important, even for multicore processors. There's two main reasons for this. The first is that a parallel program is really a bunch of serial threads working together, so improving the performance of the serial code will improve the performance of the parallel program. The second reason is that even a parallel program will have serial sections of code. The performance of the serial code will limit the maximum performance that the parallel program can attain.

Chapter 3. One of important aspects of using multicore processors is identifying where the parallelism is going to come from. If you look at any system today, there are likely to be many active processes. So at one level no change is necessary, systems will automatically use multiple cores. However, we want to get beyond that, and so the chapter discusses approaches like virtualisation as well as discussing the more obvious approach of multi-thread or multi-process programming. One message that needs to be broadcast is that multicore processors do not need a rewrite of existing applications. However, getting the most from a multicore processor may well require that.

Chapter 4. The book discusses Windows native threading, OpenMP, automatic parallelisation, as well as the POSIX threads that are available on OS-X, Linux, and Solaris. Although the details do sometimes change across platforms, the concepts do not. This chapter discusses synchronisation primitives like mutex locks and so on, this enables the chapters which avoids having to repeat information in the implementation chapters.

Chapter 5. This chapter covers POSIX threads (pthreads), which are available on Linux, OS-X, and Solaris, as well as other platforms not covered in the book. The chapter covers multithreaded as well as multiprocess programming, together with methods of communicating between threads and processes.

Chapter 6. This chapter covers Windows native threading. The function names and the parameters that need to be passed to them are different to the POSIX API, but the functionality is the same. This chapter provides the same coverage for Windows native threads that chapter 5 provides for pthreads.

Chapter 7. The previous two chapters provide a low level API for threading. This gives very great control, but provides more opportunities for errors, and requires considerable lines of code to be written for even the most basic parallel code. Automatic parallelisation and OpenMP place more of the burden of parallelisation on the compiler, less on the developer. Automatic parallelisation is the ideal situation, where the compiler does all the work. However, there are limitations to this approach, and this chapter discusses the current limitations and how to make changes to the code that will enable the compiler to do a better job. OpenMP is a very flexible technology for writing parallel applications. It is widely supported and provides support for a number of different approaches to parallelism.

Chapter 8. Synchronisation primitives provided by the operating system or compiler can have high overheads. So it is tempting to write replacements. This chapter covers some of the potential problems that need to be avoided. Most applications will be adequately served by the synchronisation primitives already provided, the discussion in the chapter provides insight about how hardware, compilers, and software can cause bugs in parallel applications.

Chapter 9. The difference between a multicore system and a single core system is in its ability to simultaneously handle multiple active threads. The difference between a multicore system and a multiprocessor system is in the sharing of processor resources between threads. Fundamentally, the key attribute of a multicore system is how it scales to multiple threads, and how the characteristics of the application affect that scaling. This chapter discusses what factors impact scaling on multicore processors, and also what the benefits multicore processors bring to parallel applications.

Chapter 10. Writing parallel programs is a growing and challenging field. The challenges come from producing correct code and getting the code to scale to large numbers of cores. There are some approaches that provide high numbers of cores, there are other approaches which address issues of producing correct code. This chapter discusses a large number of other approaches to programming parallelism.

Chapter 11. The concluding chapter of the book reprises some of the key points of the previous chapters, and tackles the question of how to write correct, scalable, parallel applications.