# Golang synchronization primitives source code analysis: part one - sync.Once

### Background

In the following series of posts, I will take an in-depth look at the synchronization primitives provided by Golang.

Although the recommended synchronization mechanism in Golang is channel, there are several powerful synchronization primitives provided in Golang sync package. Based on the official document, Other than the Once and WaitGroup types, most are intended for use by low-level library routines. If you read the code of low-level open source projects or the standard packages, you will see synchronization primitives in sync package frequently.

As the first post in this series, let’s check the source code of sync.Once, which is also the simplest one.

### sync.Once

If you have several logics running in various go-routines, and you want only one of the logics will execute finally. For this kind of scenario, sync.Once is a perfect option for you.

Let’s review the source code of sync.Once defined inside the once.go file:

Struct Once has a status flag done whose value is 0 when initialized. Wrap the logic you want to execute in a function f, and pass this function f to the Do() method. When Do is called for the first time, the logic in f executes after that done flag is set to 1, other calls to Do don’t execute f.

One misleading point is If once.Do(f) is called multiple times, only the first call will invoke f, even if f has a different value in each invocation. Check the following example:

Even Do is called twice with different f logic, but only the first call is invoked since they are bound to the same instance of Once.

### fast path and slow path

As you saw above, the implementation of sync.Once is not complex. But one question comes to my mind when I double check the code. Why do we need split the logics into two functions Do and doSlow? Why the second function name is doSlow, and what does slow mean here?

Do you have similar questions?

I found the answer in the comments of once.go file.

Note that it mentioned two words: fast path and slow path.

• Fast path is a term used in computer science to describe a path with shorter instruction path length through a program compared to the ‘normal’ path. For a fast path to be effective it must handle the most commonly occurring tasks more efficiently than the ‘normal’ path, leaving the latter to handle uncommon cases, corner cases, error handling, and other anomalies. Fast paths are a form of optimization.

In the Once case, since the first call to Do function will set done to 1, so the most common case or status for Once is the done flag equals to 1. The fast path in Do function is just for this common case. While the done flag equals to initial status 0 can be regarded as uncommon case, which is specially handled in the doSlow function. The performance can be optimized in this way.

### hot path

Another very interesting concept worth mentioning is hot path, and it occurs in the Once struct design.

At first glance, it’s just plain and ordinary struct, but the comments emphasize that done is first in the struct because it is used in the hot path. It means that done is defined as the first field in Once struct on purpose. And the purpose is also described in the comment Placing done first allows more compact instructions on some architectures (amd64/x86), and fewer instructions (to calculate offset) on other architectures.

What does that mean? I found a great answer in this post. The conclusion is:

• A hot path is a sequence of instructions executed very frequently.

• When accessing the first field of a structure, we can directly dereference the pointer to the structure to access the first field. To access other fields, we need to provide an offset from the first value in addition to the struct pointer.

• In machine code, this offset is an additional value to pass with the instruction which makes it longer. The performance impact is that the CPU must perform an addition of the offset to the struct pointer to get the address of the value to access.

• Thus machine code to access the first field of a struct is more compact and faster.

Simply speaking, accessing the first field of a struct is faster since the CPU doesn’t need to compute the memory offset!

This is really a good lesson to show the high-level code you programmed can have such a big difference in the bottom level.