Group Lock

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Table of Contents

  1. Introduction
  2. Usage
    1. Creation
    2. Lock and Unlock
    3. Destroy
    4. Registering Member to The Group Lock
    5. Session Management
    6. Synchronization with External Locks
    7. Lock Replace
  3. Debugging
  4. Notes
    1. Deadlock When Synchronizing to More Than One External Locks

Group Lock (pj_grp_lock_t) is a new synchronization object in PJLIB for deadlock avoidance and session management. It is implemented by ticket #1616 for PJSIP version 2.1.


Group lock is a synchronization object to manage concurrency among members within the same logical group. Example of such groups are:

  • dialog, which has members such as the dialog itself, an invite session, and several transactions
  • ICE, which has members such as ICE stream transport, ICE session, STUN socket, TURN socket, and down to ioqueue key

Group lock has three functions:

  • mutual exclusion: to protect resources from being accessed by more than one threads at the same time
  • session management: to make sure that the resource is not destroyed while others are still using or about to use it.
  • lock coordinator: to provide uniform lock ordering among more than one lock objects, which is necessary to avoid deadlock.

The requirements of the group lock are:

  • must satisfy all the functions above
  • must allow members to join or leave the group (for example, transaction may be added or removed from a dialog)
  • must be able to synchronize with external lock (for example, a dialog lock must be able to sync itself with PJSUA lock)



The group lock can be created either by the first member in the group or by the higher object that manages the members. Once created, the ownership of the group lock will be shared by the members, using a reference counter. The group lock will have its own pool. Also a group lock is a pj_lock_t object, hence lock API can be used.

typedef struct pj_grp_lock_config 
   unsigned flags;

PJ_DECL(pj_status_t) pj_grp_lock_create(pj_pool_t *pool,
                                       const pj_grp_lock_config *cfg,
                                       pj_grp_lock_t **p_grp_lock);

Lock and Unlock

The group lock is a lock that can be used as mutex. You can use lock API pj_lock_acquire(), pj_lock_tryacquire(), and pj_lock_release(), or the group lock's own API pj_grp_lock_acquire(), pj_grp_lock_tryacquire(), and pj_grp_lock_release(). Locking the group lock temporarily increases the reference counter to prevent it from being destroyed. The side effect is, the pj_grp_lock_release() may cause the group to be destroyed, if it is the last one that holds the reference counter. In that case, it returns PJ_EGONE.


The group lock lifetime is governed by an internal reference counter (see Session Management below). It will be destroyed once the reference counter reaches zero.

Since group lock is a lock object, it can be destroyed with pj_lock_destroy() API. This will forcefully destroy the group lock without adhering to the reference counter, thus should be avoided.

Registering Member to The Group Lock

The purpose of registering a member to the group lock is to prevent that member from being destroyed prematurely, when other threads are referencing the member. To achieve that, the member registers a callback to be called by the group lock to destroy itself when the reference counter of the group reaches zero. In other words, once registered, a member must not allow itself to be destroyed unless the request comes from the group lock's destroy callback.

The API to register a member:

PJ_DECL(pj_status_t) pj_grp_lock_add_handler(pj_grp_lock_t *grp_lock,
                                             pj_pool_t *pool,
                                             void *member,
                                             void (*destroy)(void *member));

Sometimes a member needs to die early (for example, transactions may come and go in a dialog). A member may unregister the handler using this API:

PJ_DECL(pj_status_t) pj_grp_lock_del_handler(pj_grp_lock_t *grp_lock,
                                             void *member,
                                             void (*destroy)(void *member));

Session Management

This API manages the reference counter of the group:

PJ_DECL(pj_status_t) pj_grp_lock_add_ref(pj_grp_lock_t *grp_lock);
PJ_DECL(pj_status_t) pj_grp_lock_dec_ref(pj_grp_lock_t *grp_lock);

The pj_grp_lock_dec_ref() returns PJ_EGONE when that operation causes the group lock to be destroyed (because the reference counter reaches zero).

Synchronization with External Locks

Often it is necessary to synchronize the group lock with an external lock. By external, it means a lock owned by object outside the group, and it’s not possible to to add that object to the group. The PJSUA lock is an example of such locks. It is not possible for PJSUA to use the group lock of ICE, for example, simply because there can be many of them. And ICE sessions come and goe (hence their group locks will be destroyed), while PJSUA lock needs to live forever. An alternative approach exists, i.e. for PJSUA to instantiate a group lock and make ICE (and other objects that potentially can use group lock) use this group lock as their lock. But by using this approach, effectively we are making the whole library single threaded, which is not efficient.

The synchronization feature solves this problem by "chaining" the external lock to the group lock. Once lock A is chained to the group lock, then every time the group lock is acquired, lock A will be acquired too, and always in the same order, hence preventing the deadlock. And better yet, the code that uses lock A does not need to be aware about the group lock. It can continue to use only lock A, and still the lock ordering is obeyed.

Consider the following example with PJSUA lock. (Note: this example is currently only hypothetical since it's not yet implemented)

  1. The PJSUA-LIB library continues to use an internal lock object for it's synchronization.
  2. ICE object creates group lock, and chain PJSUA-LIB's lock to its group lock at the first position (hence PJSUA-LIB's lock will be locked first when group lock is acquired).
  3. An operation is performed in PJSUA-LIB, and PJSUA-LIB acquires PJSUA lock. This is done using existing lock API since PJSUA-LIB is not made aware about group lock. At some point during this operation, ICE operation is performed and ultimately the ICE group lock is acquired. All of these operations will cause locks to be acquired with the order that is depicted below:
    pjsua --> { pjsua --> ice }
    Note: the locks inside curly brackets are the group lock's total lock, which consists of pjsua as an external (chained) lock in the first position and it's own lock (marked as "ice" that is created by the group lock).
  4. From a worker thread, an event occurs in ICE (such as incoming packet), which cause ice group lock to be acquired. The processing then calls a high level PJSUA-LIB callback, which acquires PJSUA's lock. The whole lock order then is depicted below.
    { pjsua --> ice } --> pjsua

As shown above, the lock order between "pjsua" and "ice" is maintained uniformly, hence deadlock is avoided.

For a more complete solution, the PJSUA-LIB's lock itself can be changed to a group lock, which can be synchronized to external lock such as application lock, hence making the whole system deadlock proof.

Use the API below to synchronize an external lock with the group lock:

PJ_DECL(pj_status_t) pj_grp_lock_chain_lock(pj_grp_lock_t *grp_lock,
                                            pj_lock_t *external_lock,
                                            int pos);

The pos argument specifies the lock order and also the relative position with regard to lock ordering against the group lock. Lock with lower pos value will be locked first, and those with negative value will be locked before the group lock (the group lock's pos value is zero).

This is the API to unregister external lock:

PJ_DECL(pj_status_t) pj_grp_lock_unchain_lock(pj_grp_lock_t *grp_lock,
                                              pj_lock_t *external_lock);

Lock Replace

This API is used to move things from the old lock to the new lock and close the old lock. It is especially useful

PJ_DECL(pj_status_t) pj_grp_lock_replace(pj_grp_lock_t *old_lock,
                                         pj_grp_lock_t *new_lock);


To enable debugging, declare PJ_GRP_LOCK_DEBUG to non-zero in your config_site.h. With this, now every call to pj_grp_lock_dec_ref() will cause the group lock state to be printed to log at level four. This info includes the current value of the reference counter, along with the source file and line number info of the code that adds the reference counter.

Note though that each pj_grp_lock_acquire() and pj_grp_lock_release() also increments and decrements the reference counter, hence they will also cause info to be dump.

If you after this find out that the leaking reference is caused by timer, you can enable timer heap debugging by setting PJ_TIMER_DEBUG to non-zero and call pj_timer_heap_dump() to dump the state of the timer heap including information about the source file and line number of code that registered currently active timer entries.


Deadlock When Synchronizing to More Than One External Locks

Adding more than one external locks to a group lock may introduce deadlock potential. Consider the following example.

  1. External lock EA and EB (read: external A and B) are added to group lock G, resulting in group lock's chain: {EA --> EB --> G}
  2. Thread 1 locks EA then G. The lock order then is: EA --> { EA --> EB --> G }
  3. Thread 2 locks EB then G. The lock order then is: EB --> { EA --> EB --> G }
  4. The lock orders in 2 and 3 are not uniform, potentially causing deadlock.
Last modified 18 months ago Last modified on Jan 25, 2023 9:23:10 AM