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bug#25214: 26.0.50; Interacting with user from threads other than the pr

From: Clément Pit--Claudel
Subject: bug#25214: 26.0.50; Interacting with user from threads other than the primary
Date: Sun, 18 Dec 2016 23:31:28 -0500
User-agent: Mozilla/5.0 (X11; Linux x86_64; rv:45.0) Gecko/20100101 Thunderbird/45.5.1

Hi Eli,

> Thoughts?

I don't have that much concurrency experience, but this sounds like an issue 
that other languages have had to deal with in the context of GUIs.  In 
Microsoft's Windows Forms, for example, applications start with a single thread 
(the UI thread) running a message pump, and other threads that want to interact 
with the user may do so only by posting a message (using Control.Invoke) to the 
UI thread.

If I understand your description of the problem correctly, what happens is 
essentially that the main thread and the background thread are competing for 
keyboard access.  If so, could the solution be to route all UI requests through 
the main thread?  Concretely, this would mean that in the context of a 
secondary thread, calling "read-from-minibuffer" really means pushing a message 
(tagged with a thread id) into a queue of "pending-reads-from-minibuffer", then 
repeatedly `thread-yield`ing until the UI thread has pushed the user's response 
into a map of "processed-reads-from-minibuffer".  The user's response would be 
collected by the main thread.

Alternatively, could we simply disallow this type of interaction until we have 
a good story about it? That would bring us closer to the way web workers work 
in Javascript (they need to post a message to interact with the UI/DOM).


On 2016-12-16 10:17, Eli Zaretskii wrote:
> Here's some fun with threads:
>  emacs -Q
> Evaluate:
>   (defun my-question ()
>     (let (use-dialog-box) ;; in case this is a GUI frame
>       (if (y-or-n-p "Yes or no? ")
>         (message "You said YES")
>       (message "You said NO"))))
> Evaluate:
>   (my-question)
> You get a question asked in the minibuffer, answer it with Y or N, and
> get the corresponding echo.  All's well.
> Now evaluate this:
>   (make-thread #'my-question "question")
> You again get the question asked in the minibuffer, but typing
> anything at the prompt causes Emacs to complain that whatever you
> typed is "undefined".  Your only fire escape is to close this session
> with some mouse gesture, or kill it.
> What happens here is that, by the time the new thread runs, the main
> (a.k.a. "primary") thread is already idle, i.e. it already called
> read_char, which called wait_reading_process_output, which called
> thread_select.  (In fact, it's _because_ the primary thread called
> thread_select that the new thread was allowed to run at all, since it
> has to acquire the global lock for that, and that is only possible
> when the running thread releases the lock inside thread_select.)  Now,
> when wait_reading_process_output calls thread_select, it prepares the
> mask for file descriptors it will wait for to become ready for
> reading, in this case there's only one descriptor: the keyboard
> descriptor.  So the primary thread is waiting for input from the
> keyboard.
> Now the new thread starts running and eventually calls y-or-n-p, which
> calls read_char, which calls wait_reading_process_output.  But when
> this call prepares the mask for the thread_select call, it skips the
> keyboard descriptor, because we only allow a single thread to wait on
> each descriptor, and the keyboard descriptor is already watched by the
> primary thread.  So the new thread ends up not waiting on the keyboard
> input descriptor.
> The thread_select call then switches back to the primary thread, and
> the primary thread receives the Y or N character you type.  But it
> doesn't know what to do with it, so it becomes confused.
> IOW, user interaction from non-primary threads is currently inherently
> unsafe.
> And then, of course, there's the use case where two threads ask the
> user something via the minibuffer.
> Thoughts?
> In GNU Emacs (i686-pc-mingw32)
>  of 2016-12-16 built on HOME-C4E4A596F7
> Repository revision: fb2fdb1435d2520c1cbf2a3d6a53128512a38458
> Windowing system distributor 'Microsoft Corp.', version 5.1.2600
> Recent messages:
> For information about GNU Emacs and the GNU system, type C-h C-a.
> Configured using:
>  'configure --prefix=/d/usr --enable-checking=yes,glyphs --with-wide-int
>  --with-modules 'CFLAGS=-O0 -gdwarf-4 -g3''
> Configured features:
> Important settings:
>   value of $LANG: ENU
>   locale-coding-system: cp1255
> Major mode: Lisp Interaction
> Minor modes in effect:
>   tooltip-mode: t
>   global-eldoc-mode: t
>   electric-indent-mode: t
>   mouse-wheel-mode: t
>   tool-bar-mode: t
>   menu-bar-mode: t
>   file-name-shadow-mode: t
>   global-font-lock-mode: t
>   font-lock-mode: t
>   blink-cursor-mode: t
>   auto-composition-mode: t
>   auto-encryption-mode: t
>   auto-compression-mode: t
>   line-number-mode: t
>   transient-mark-mode: t
> Load-path shadows:
> None found.
> Features:
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> term/tty-colors frame cl-generic cham georgian utf-8-lang misc-lang
> vietnamese tibetan thai tai-viet lao korean japanese eucjp-ms cp51932
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> format env code-pages mule custom widget hashtable-print-readable
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> Memory information:
> ((conses 16 102990 12105)
>  (symbols 56 21101 0)
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>  (vector-slots 8 444812 4412)
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