Over the course of the last semester I have been working on a team to create a multi-threaded engine using DirectX 12, with a focus on data oriented design. One of my tasks throughout development was to create a Job System that we can use to parallelize tasks like physics calculations. This system came with a couple of constraints:

  • There needs to be a way to track the completion of tasks, to avoid data races when sending things like position data of an entity to the GPU.
  • The Job System needs to have a simple interface that takes a void * as an argument, and so that it would match some of the same data layout of an SDK that is being used with the project.
  • It must be portable code that will work in both a Windows and UNIX based environment.

During my research of how to go about building a job system, I came across this CppCon talk by Jason Jurecka. During his talk, he mentions a Task Manager where he uses std::future and std::promise to keep track of tasks. This seemed like a good starting concept for me to base my own job system on.

Implementation

* Check out the full project on GitHub

First of all, I needed to define what a job was going to be in this system. A job is basically a function pointer, but it needs to be generic so that any class can use the job system. To solve this problem I took a polymorphic approach where an IJob is an abstract definition of the job type.

struct IJob {
    virtual ~IJob() {}
    virtual bool invoke( void* args, int aIndex ) = 0;
};

This allowed me to have two child classes, one for member functions and one for non-member functions.

/** Defintion for non-member functions */
struct JobFunc : IJob {
    JobFunc( void( *aFunc_ptr )( void*, int ) )
    : func_ptr( aFunc_ptr ) { }

    virtual bool invoke( void* args, int aIndex ) override {
        func_ptr( args, aIndex );
        return true;
    }

    /** The function pointer for this job to invoke */
    void( *func_ptr )( void*, int );
};

/** Defintion for member functions */
template <class T>
struct JobMemberFunc : IJob {
    JobMemberFunc( T* aParent, void ( T::*f )( void*, int ) )
    : parentObj ( aParent ), func_ptr( f ) { }

    virtual bool invoke( void* args, int aIndex ) override {
        if ( !parentObj ) { return false; }

        ( parentObj->*func_ptr )( args, aIndex );
        return true;
    }

    /** the object to invoke the function pointer on */
    T* parentObj;

    /** The function pointer to call when we invoke this function */
    void ( T::*func_ptr )( void*, int );
};

Now that I have a definition of what a Job actually is, I want to be able to store a queue of them for the worker threads to take tasks from. To do this, I defined at CpuJob struct:

struct CpuJob {
    IJob* jobPtr = nullptr;
    void* jobArgs = nullptr;
    int index = 0;
};

I do this so that I can easily store both the function pointer to the job, and the arguments that need to be passed in. This does come add a limitation to the system that if you were to pass in an argument that was allocated on the stack, then it could cause problems when actually invoking the job.

With the CpuJob definition, I can now store a queue of CpuJob’s and make a simple interface for adding jobs. For the interface that I provide to my users I just created a simple template AddJob function that adds to the job queue. In order to eliminate the most contention, the actual job queue should be a lockless queue. Check out Velan Studios’ lock free implementation if you are interested in that.

Now that there is a base for a simple job system, I needed a way to actually track the completion of the Jobs. The reason that we may want this is because if we have something like physics calculations, they need to happen before we can send that data to the GPU in order to avoid race conditions.

To accomplish this, I used std::future and std::promise, which is not something that I have seen a lot of other Job System’s use to control their flow of jobs.

The workflow of doing this is simple, you just need to create a promise and store it’s future in a variable. Then, you can pass a pointer to that promise and have your job call the set_value() function when it is complete, effectively signaling to the dependent thread that the job is done.

Here is an example:

void Solver::Update () {
    std::promise<void> aPromise;
    std::future<void> aFuture = aPromise.get_future();
    a_argument->jobPromise = &aPromise;     // a_argument is defined in this class
    jobManager->AddJob( this, &Physics::Solver::AccumlateForces, ( void* ) ( a_argument ), 0 );
    aFuture.wait(); // This is a blocking function that will wait for that promise
                    // to be fulfilled
}

Where inside the job function:

void Solver::AccumlateForces( void* args, int index ) {
    PhysicsArguments* myArgs = static_cast< PhysicsArguments* >( args );
    // Some kind of work for this thread...
    myArgs->jobPromise->set_value();    // Signal that this job is done
}

As you can see, I am just using a future of void type, so it is just acting as a kind of “flag”. Another clear use case for these is to actually get return values from they with the .get() method on a future object.

One thing to watch out for here is the size of std::future and std::promise. It shouldn’t really be a huge problem, but it is something to watch out for. On a 64-bit Ubuntu system:

Size of std::future<void>  : 16
Size of std::promise<void> : 24

They are not huge objects but it is certainly something to be aware of if they are being created frequently.

Conclusion

By using the more modern C++ 11 features of std::future and std::promise, we can create a Job System that can easily make tracking jobs easier and more explicit to the users of that system.

One thing that I do want to add to this system is an abstraction layer where the user can just make some kind of “Job Sequence”, making it even easier and more explicit of what operations are happening first. At this moment, the system assumes a level of knowledge about how future’s and promise’s work.

I would love feedback about this system, or any thoughts on potential improvements.

See the full project on GitHub!

C++ 11 Features

std::future

std::promise