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In computing, a futex (short for "fast userspace mutex") is a Linux kernel system call that programmers can use to implement basic locking, or as a building block for higher-level locking abstractions such as semaphores and POSIX mutexes or condition variables.

A futex consists of a kernelspace wait queue that is attached to an aligned integer in userspace. Multiple processes or threads operate on the integer entirely in userspace (using atomic operations to avoid interfering with one another), and only resort to relatively expensive system calls to request operations on the wait queue (for example to wake up waiting processes, or to put the current process on the wait queue). A properly programmed futex-based lock will not use system calls except when the lock is contended; since most operations do not require arbitration between processes, this will not happen in most cases.


On Linux, Hubertus Franke (IBM Thomas J. Watson Research Center), Matthew Kirkwood, Ingo Molnár (Red Hat) and Rusty Russell (IBM Linux Technology Center) originated the futex mechanism. Futexes appeared for the first time in version 2.5.7 of the Linux kernel development series; the semantics stabilized as of version 2.5.40, and futexes have been part of the Linux kernel mainline since the December 2003 release of 2.6.x stable kernel series.

In 2002 discussions took place on a proposal to make futexes accessible via the file system by creating a special node in /dev or /proc. However, Linus Torvalds strongly opposed this idea and rejected any related patches.[1]

In May 2014 the CVE system announced a vulnerability discovered in the Linux kernel's futex subsystem that allowed denial-of-service attacks or local privilege escalation.[2][3]

A technique very similar to the futex mechanism, called benaphore, was available at least since 1996 in the BeOS operating system, which Be Inc. originally wrote for BeBox hardware.[4]


The basic operations of futexes are based on only two central operations—​WAIT and WAKE—​though some futex implementations (depending on the exact version of the Linux kernel) have a few more operations for more specialized cases.[5]

  • WAIT (addr, val)
Checks if the value stored at the address addr is val, and if it is puts the current thread to sleep.
  • WAKE (addr, val)
Wakes up val number of threads waiting on the address addr.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Torvalds, Linus. "Futex Asynchronous Interface". 
  2. ^ CVE-2014-3153
  3. ^ "[SECURITY] [DSA 2949-1] linux security update". Lists.debian.org. 2014-06-05. Retrieved 2014-06-08. 
  4. ^ Benoit Schillings (1996-06-05). "Be Engineering Insights: Benaphores". haiku-os.org. Retrieved 2014-09-09. 
  5. ^ Futexes Are Tricky, Red Hat (v 1.6, 2011).

External links[edit]