Mutexes are used to prevent multiple threads from causing a data race by accessing shared resources at the same time. Sometimes, when locking mutexes, multiple threads hold each other's lock, and the program consequently deadlocks. Four conditions are required for deadlock to occur:

Deadlock needs all four conditions, so preventing deadlock requires preventing any one of the four conditions. One simple solution is to lock the mutexes in a predefined order, which prevents circular wait.

Noncompliant Code Example

The behavior of this noncompliant code example depends on the runtime environment and the platform's scheduler. The program is susceptible to deadlock if thread thr1 attempts to lock ba2's mutex at the same time thread thr2 attempts to lock ba1's mutex in the deposit() function.

#include <stdlib.h>
#include <threads.h>
 
typedef struct {
  int balance;
  mtx_t balance_mutex;
} bank_account;

typedef struct {
  bank_account *from;
  bank_account *to;
  int amount;
} transaction;

void create_bank_account(bank_account **ba,
                         int initial_amount) {
  bank_account *nba = (bank_account *)malloc(
    sizeof(bank_account)
  );
  if (nba == NULL) {
    /* Handle error */
  }

  nba->balance = initial_amount;
  if (thrd_success
      != mtx_init(&nba->balance_mutex, mtx_plain)) {
    /* Handle error */
  }

  *ba = nba;
}

int deposit(void *ptr) {
  transaction *args = (transaction *)ptr;

  if (thrd_success != mtx_lock(&args->from->balance_mutex)) {
    /* Handle error */
  }

  /* Not enough balance to transfer */
  if (args->from->balance < args->amount) {
    if (thrd_success
        != mtx_unlock(&args->from->balance_mutex)) {
      /* Handle error */
    }
    return -1; /* Indicate error */
  }
  if (thrd_success != mtx_lock(&args->to->balance_mutex)) {
    /* Handle error */
  }

  args->from->balance -= args->amount;
  args->to->balance += args->amount;

  if (thrd_success
      != mtx_unlock(&args->from->balance_mutex)) {
    /* Handle error */
  }

  if (thrd_success
      != mtx_unlock(&args->to->balance_mutex)) {
    /* Handle error */
  }

  free(ptr);
  return 0;
}

int main(void) {
  thrd_t thr1, thr2;
  transaction *arg1;
  transaction *arg2;
  bank_account *ba1;
  bank_account *ba2;

  create_bank_account(&ba1, 1000);
  create_bank_account(&ba2, 1000);

  arg1 = (transaction *)malloc(sizeof(transaction));
  if (arg1 == NULL) {
    /* Handle error */
  }
  arg2 = (transaction *)malloc(sizeof(transaction));
  if (arg2 == NULL) {
    /* Handle error */
  }
  arg1->from = ba1;
  arg1->to = ba2;
  arg1->amount = 100;

  arg2->from = ba2;
  arg2->to = ba1;
  arg2->amount = 100;

  /* Perform the deposits */
  if (thrd_success
     != thrd_create(&thr1, deposit, (void *)arg1)) {
    /* Handle error */
  }
  if (thrd_success
      != thrd_create(&thr2, deposit, (void *)arg2)) {
    /* Handle error */
  }
  return 0;
} 

Compliant Solution

This compliant solution eliminates the circular wait condition by establishing a predefined order for locking in the deposit() function. Each thread will lock on the basis of the bank_account ID, which is set when the bank_account struct is initialized.

#include <stdlib.h>
#include <threads.h>
 
typedef struct {
  int balance;
  mtx_t balance_mutex;
 
  /* Should not change after initialization */
  unsigned int id;
} bank_account;

typedef struct {
  bank_account *from;
  bank_account *to;
  int amount;
} transaction;

unsigned int global_id = 1;

void create_bank_account(bank_account **ba,
                         int initial_amount) {
  bank_account *nba = (bank_account *)malloc(
    sizeof(bank_account)
  );
  if (nba == NULL) {
    /* Handle error */
  }

  nba->balance = initial_amount;
  if (thrd_success
      != mtx_init(&nba->balance_mutex, mtx_plain)) {
    /* Handle error */
  }

  nba->id = global_id++;
  *ba = nba;
}

int deposit(void *ptr) {
  transaction *args = (transaction *)ptr;
  int result = -1;
  mtx_t *first;
  mtx_t *second;

  if (args->from->id == args->to->id) {
    return -1; /* Indicate error */
  }

  /* Ensure proper ordering for locking */
  if (args->from->id < args->to->id) {
    first = &args->from->balance_mutex;
    second = &args->to->balance_mutex;
  } else {
    first = &args->to->balance_mutex;
    second = &args->from->balance_mutex;
  }
  if (thrd_success != mtx_lock(first)) {
    /* Handle error */
  }
  if (thrd_success != mtx_lock(second)) {
    /* Handle error */
  }

  /* Not enough balance to transfer */
  if (args->from->balance >= args->amount) {
    args->from->balance -= args->amount;
    args->to->balance += args->amount;
    result = 0;
  }

  if (thrd_success != mtx_unlock(second)) {
    /* Handle error */
  }
  if (thrd_success != mtx_unlock(first)) {
    /* Handle error */
  }
  free(ptr);
  return result;
} 

Risk Assessment

Deadlock prevents multiple threads from progressing, halting program execution. A denial-of-service attack is possible if the attacker can create the conditions for deadlock.

Rule

Severity

Likelihood

Remediation Cost

Priority

Level

CON35-C

Low

Probable

Medium

P4

L3

Related Vulnerabilities

Search for vulnerabilities resulting from the violation of this rule on the CERT website.

Automated Detection

ToolVersionCheckerDescription
Astrée
deadlockSupported by sound analysis (deadlock alarm)
CodeSonar
CONCURRENCY.LOCK.ORDERConflicting lock order
Coverity
ORDER_REVERSALFully implemented
Klocwork
CONC.DL
Parasoft C/C++test
CERT_C-CON35-a

Avoid double locking

Polyspace Bug Finder

CERT C: Rule CON35-C

Checks for deadlock (rule fully covered)

PRQA QA-C

1772,1773Enforced by MTA

Related Guidelines

Key here (explains table format and definitions)

Taxonomy

Taxonomy item

Relationship

CERT Oracle Secure Coding Standard for JavaLCK07-J. Avoid deadlock by requesting and releasing locks in the same orderPrior to 2018-01-12: CERT: Unspecified Relationship