Don’t forget to include the message queue in your lock hierarchy

In addition to the loader lock, the message queue is another resource that people often forget to incorporate into their lock hierarchy. If your code runs on a UI thread, then it implicitly owns the message queue whenever it is running, because messages cannot be dispatched to a thread until it calls a message-retrieval function such as Get­Message or Peek­Message. In other words, whenever a thread is not checking for a message, it cannot receive a message.

For example, consider the following code:

for (int i = 0; i < 10; i++) {
  SendMessage(hwndLB, LB_ADDSTRING, 0, (LPARAM)strings[i]);

If hwndLB belongs to another thread, then you have a potential deadlock, because that thread might be waiting for your critical section.

    ... doesn't matter what goes here ...

If you happen to try to send the message while that other thread is waiting for the critical section, you will deadlock because you are waiting for that thread to finish whatever it's doing so it can process the message you sent to it, but that thread is waiting for the critical section which you own.

Even if you promise that hwndLB belongs to your thread, the possibility of subclassing or window hooks means that you do not have full control over what happens when you try to send that message. A WH_CALL­WND­PROC window hook may decide to communicate with another thread (for example, to log the message). Boom, what you thought was a simple message sent to a window on your thread turned into a cross-thread message.

There are many actions that generate message traffic that may not be obvious at first glance because they don't involve explicitly sending a message. Invoking a COM method from an STA thread on an object which belongs to another apartment requires the call to be marshaled to the thread that hosts the object. Tinkering with a window's scroll bars can result in the WS_HSCROLL or WS_VSCROLL style being added or removed, which in turn generates WM_STYLE­CHANGING and WM_STYLE­CHANGED messages. Obtaining the text from a window belonging to another thread in your process results in synchronous message traffic.

A good rule of thumb is basically to avoid anything that involves windows belonging to other threads while holding a critical section or other resource. And even windows which belong to your thread are suspect (due to hooks and subclassing).

Comments (5)
  1. Alex Grigoriev says:

    Better advice is never call an "outside" function while holding a lock. "Outside" meaning something not under your control. Even better don't call any non-utility functions.

  2. anon says:

    Even better: Lock only what you must, iff you must, and no longer than you must.

  3. Joshua says:

    All the more reason to use lock-free.

  4. Neil says:

    Perhaps it would suffice to get the text from the "special place" and not send a message, if you know that the window in question doesn't subclass WM_GET/SETTEXT.

  5. GWO says:

    @Alex Grigoriev: That's solid advice. I'd add to that "While holding a lock, try not to do anything except access the resource that the lock protects". If you can't specify exactly what resource your lock is supposed to be protecting – redesign the code / locking scheme until you can.

    [This is far easier to say than to do. -Raymond]

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