(Part of the CORBA FAQ, Copyright © 1996-99)


[Recently created (12/1998). Click here to go to the next FAQ in the “chain” of recent changes]

The CORBA specification does not currently address multi-threaded architectures. Provided that the CORBA product is thread safe, threaded CORBA applications can be developed. CORBA clients and servers can both be multi-threaded. Daemon processes provided with CORBA products may be implemented as multi-threaded servers by the CORBA vendor. Different multi-threaded models or multi-threaded architectures may be supported by a particular CORBA product. A particular ORB may provide frameworks to simplify the development of multi-threaded CORBA applications.

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[Recently created (12/1998). Click here to go to the next FAQ in the “chain” of recent changes]

Client-side CORBA applications might require multi-threading to allow it to perform other tasks while it is waiting for a synchronous remote invocation to return. It might desire this functionality for several different reasons.

  1. A client application might wish to leverage the static request/response style of invocation but achieve some degree of asynchronous communication. Perhaps the client wishes to perform several synchronous invocations within their own application threads. This would allow a client to obtain results from several remote servers more quickly. There are several reasons the use of multi-threading might be preferred over the use of DII. DII might be complicate application source code. Application polling associated with the deferred synchronous invocation might result in a performance bottleneck.
  2. A client-side CORBA application might need to respond to events such as incoming invocations, connect requests, or GUI events (mouse clicks, etc.) CORBA products that support only blocking style remote invocations will be unable to process any of these events. This would mean that a client-side application would be unable to respond to GUI events for the duration of any remote CORBA invocations. This is not an issue for short duration invocations but becomes a problem for longer invocations or in failure or time-out situations. Performing remote invocations within dedicated threads can avoid this issue.

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[Recently created (12/1998). Click here to go to the next FAQ in the “chain” of recent changes]

CORBA server applications may be multi-threaded for serveral reasons.

  1. A particular CORBA object may support an operation whose implementation performs some blocking routine. This may be a disk read or database query. Let us assume that the server application processes all CORBA events within a single main thread. This means that the server will be unable to respond to incoming connection requests or invocation requests while the blocking operation is in progress. Multi-threading can be used to avoid these sorts of situations. The server can be more accessible if multiple threads are allowed to process (an block during) incoming CORBA events.
  2. A single multi-threaded server process supporting many (>25) clients is much more efficient that many (>25) single-threaded server processes each supporting its own client. Running a single application with multiple threads requires less machine resources than running multiple applications. This advantage can be seen even if the operation invocations are of short duration and non-blocking.

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[Recently created (12/1998) and reorganized to separate thread model semantics and pooling (3/1999). Click here to go to the next FAQ in the “chain” of recent changes]

There are several different common architectures that can be used within multi-threaded CORBA servers. A server process needs the ability to process CORBA messages. These messages are processed by one or more threads, as determined by the application architecture. The CORBA specification does not specifically address threading capabilities within CORBA compliant ORBs.

An ORB vendor is free to support only single-threaded application or to support multi-threaded applications. If the ORB does support the development of multi-threaded applications, the ORB might only support a subset of the threading models listed below. Significant threading code might still need to be developed to achieve one of the models. For example, the ORB vendor might support a set of application hooks (i.e., interceptors or filters) and allow you to implement threading code with the native OS thread API. On the other hand, the ORB product might provide a built-in feature so no custom thread development needs to be done. The CORBA specification does not address this issue.

When you consider different threading models, it is important to consider what kind of concurrency is desired. While it may be advantageous that two or more threads can be concurrent, it may also be disadvantageous. Also, the resources consumed by idle or active threads, and also the resources consumed for thread creation and deletion, need to be considered.

  1. Thread-Per-Request: With this architecture, the CORBA server ensures that each incoming message is processed in its own thread. This means that multiple requests will be processed concurrently. There are concurrency issues. If two or more requests (threads) are using the same object, then some form of concurrency control (locking) is needed. Also, if two or more requests (threads) are from the same client, then perhaps the requests should be serialized instead of allowed to execute concurrently.
  2. Thread-Per-Client: With this architecture, the CORBA server ensures that each incoming message from a distinct client is processed in its own thread. This is similar to Thread-Per-Request except multiple requests from the same client are serialized. Requests from distinct clients are concurrent. The way that one client is distinguished from another is an interesting problem. Typically, this is done by looking a the network connection and determining that the clients are the same or different. The server needs the ability to monitor client connections and the inception and termination of this connections (typically at a network level, not an application level).
  3. Thread-Per-Server-Object: With this architecture, the CORBA server ensures that each object in the server gets it own thread of execution. This means that multiple requests will be processed concurrently provided they are using different objects. Multiple requests using the same object are serialized. There are concurrency issues, and some locking strategy is needed. Also, deadlock is very possible. It may be that threading or locking at each object is too fine a grain, and a more appropriate choice is putting the thread/lock boundary around a group of coordinating objects.

For each of the above threading architectures, the required server threads can be either created on demand or recycled through a thread pool. The advantage of creating threads on demand is that an arbitrary number of threads can be supported. A thread is created, used, and then reaped. The Thread-Per-Request model would create/reap a thread for each request; the Thread-Per-Client model would create/reap a thread for each client connection; the Thread-Per-Server-Object model would create/reap a thread for each CORBA object instantiated in the server. Thread creation and reaping has some cost, which may be large or small depending on the operating system thread support.

A thread pool is an alternative to creating threads on demand. In this approach, a fixed number of threads are created and cycled in turn to meet the demand for threads. If the demand for threads exceeds the pool size, then further requests for threads are blocked until one of the existing threads is recycled. This approach has the advantage of capping the server resources.

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[Recently created (12/1998) and small wordsmithing (3/1999). Click here to go to the next FAQ in the “chain” of recent changes]

Building multi-threaded applications requires an additional efforts in the area of design, development and testing. Issues like concurrency and synchronization become more critical. Difficult to find software bugs are unfortunately easy to introduce. A specific set of application requirements can often be met without resorting to the use of threaded clients or servers. This is not true with all applications. Some do require multi-threading to achieve their desired level of concurrency, performance or scalability.

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