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Race condition

Race condition

(also concurrency bug)

Race condition definition

A race condition arises when the functioning of a system is contingent on the relative sequence of events, such as the execution order of threads or processes. In a race condition scenario, multiple threads or processes concurrently access shared data, causing unforeseen or unfavorable results due to inadequate synchronization. This can lead to inconsistent outcomes, data damage, or software failure, posing a major challenge in concurrent programming and multi-threaded environments.

See also: end-to-end encryption, synchronization

Race condition examples

  • Bank account operations: If two withdrawals occur simultaneously on the same account without proper synchronization, the account balance may not be updated correctly, resulting in an incorrect final balance.
  • File access: Multiple processes trying to write to the same file concurrently without proper locking mechanisms can lead to data corruption or loss.

Race condition vs. deadlock

Race conditions and deadlocks are both related to concurrent programming and synchronization issues. While race conditions result from insufficient synchronization leading to unpredictable outcomes, deadlocks occur when multiple processes or threads are blocked, waiting for resources held by each other, resulting in a standstill.

Preventing race conditions

  • Use proper synchronization mechanisms, such as locks, semaphores, or mutexes, to protect shared resources.
  • Implement atomic operations that guarantee indivisible access to shared resources.
  • Adopt good programming practices, such as avoiding global variables and minimizing shared data.
  • Use static analysis tools or formal methods to detect potential race conditions in your code.

Further reading

Ultimate digital security