Avoid multithreading traps with Roslyn: Lock object selection

, Author: Cezary Piątek

Multithreading is one of the most difficult aspects of programming and can cause a lot of headaches. The main source of problems is often improper usage of synchronization mechanisms, which can result in deadlocks or a complete lack of synchronization despite our expectations. The infamous deadlocks can be detected in runtime thanks to tools like Concurrency Visualizer, Parallel Tasks Window or with WinDBG !dlk command. However, these tools are often used only after some unexpected behavior is observed, but it would be nice to reduce the feedback loop and detect these issues in design time. I’ve decided to create a series of blog posts where I will present what I’ve recently learned about the traps related to the multithreading in C#. I will also show you my proposition of Roslyn analyzers that can possibly help to avoid those issues right at the stage of writing the code. This part is about choosing a suitable object for locking.

DO NOT lock on publicly accessible members 🔗︎

Using publicly accessible members for locking can result in deadlock because there’s no guarantee that any external code won’t use them for synchronizing something else, too. If the type encapsulates the access to a resource that requires synchronization, then the synchronization should be also fully encapsulated. As a reminder about that, I created a Roslyn rule called MT1000: Lock on publicly accessible member which verifies the accessibility of the member used to acquire lock onto.

DO NOT lock on this reference 🔗︎

A particular example of locking on something that is publicly accessible is acquiring a lock on the this reference, which can also end with a deadlock for the same reason. Even if there is no explicitly written code like lock(this), the lock on current instance could be acquired. There is a less common way for synchronizing every invocation of a given method by decorating it with [MethodImpl(MethodImplOptions.Synchronized)]. This causes wrapping the whole method body into the lock on this reference for instance methods and lock on typeof() for static methods. If you are not convinced that lock(this) is a bad idea, here’s the real-life example: Azure/amqpnetlite#357. To protect the codebase from these potentially dangerous statements, I created the following analyzers:

  • MT1001: Lock on this reference
  • MT1010: Method level synchronization

DO NOT lock on objects with weak identity 🔗︎

Another common mistake related to choosing synchronization object is locking on typeof() expression. This should be avoided because instances of the Type are implicitly shared across the application. After reading Writing High-Performance .NET Code I learned that not only Type but also strings and instances of types that inherit from MarshalByRefObject should be avoided for locking. I dug a little deeper and I discovered that those types belong to a group called types with a weak identity and the complete list of them is much longer:

  • System.String
  • Arrays of value types
  • System.MarshalByRefObject
  • System.ExecutionEngineException
  • System.OutOfMemoryException
  • System.StackOverflowException
  • System.Reflection.MemberInfo
  • System.Reflection.ParameterInfo
  • System.Threading.Thread

There is a FxCop rule CA2002: Do not lock on objects with weak identity that should protect us from this issue. However, current implementations verify only lock() statement, so if we are using Monitor.Enter or Monitor.TryEnter to acquire a lock we are still exposed to the risk of deadlock. I’m planning to create a PR with a fix for that roslyn-analyzers#2744, but in the meantime, I implemented the whole diagnostic as a separate analyzer: MT1002: Lock on object with weak identity. I’ve also realized that there are types on the list which are not directly inherited from the System.Object - all the exceptions and Thread. This could possibly lead to the situation when the lock is acquired on the reference of base type but it points to the instance of type marked as a weak identity. To increase our confidence, it would be wise to completely ban System.Exception and System.Runtime.ConstrainedExecution.CriticalFinalizerObject (base class for Thread) as a candidate for locking object.

DO NOT lock on non-readonly fields 🔗︎

The readonly keyword is very important because without it, we can’t be sure that between invocations of Monitor.Enter and Monitor.Exit the lockObject reference won’t be overwritten. This situation is called abandoned lock and it ends up with a deadlock because the lock acquired on the object originally referenced by lockObject will never be released. To detect this issue in design time, I’ve created an analyzer called MT1003: Lock on non-readonly member

DO NOT lock on value types 🔗︎

The explanation for this is quite straightforward - value types don’t have an object header where the information about the acquired lock could be stored. If we write a lock statement over a value object, we get the CS0185 compiler error. However, if we use Monitor.Enter or Monitor.TryEnter instead of lock() statement, the code will compile but it will also crush in the runtime with System.Threading.SynchronizationLockException, when we try to release the lock. This happens because when we pass a value object to Monitor.Enter and Monitor.Exit, every method gets a different instance because of the boxing. The lock statement as well as Monitor usages will be monitored with MT1004: Lock on value type instance rule.

Best practice for locking 🔗︎

The best practice to avoid all these problems with selecting suitable object to lock onto, is to create a private and readonly instance of object type dedicated exclusively for locking purpose:

private readonly object lockObject = new object();

public void DoSomething()
    lock (lockObject)
        //Critical section

Summary 🔗︎

All my propositions of Roslyn analyzers are available on Github MultithreadingAnalyzer and can be added to your projects with NuGet package SmartAnalyzers.MultithreadingAnalyzer. I would appreciate if you could try it out and let me know if it was able to spot real problems in your codebase or all those reported diagnostics were wrong. A lot of stuff presented here I leaned from the following resources:

For those who want to gain knowledge of parallel programming in C#, I highly recommend reading them.

Products recommended for highly effective .NET Developers:

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