Peter S. Housel


omnithreads - Perl interpreter-based threads


This document describes omnithreads version 0.1


    use omnithreads ('yield', 'stack_size' => 64*4096, 'exit' => 'threads_only');

    sub start_thread {
        my @args = @_;
        print('Thread started: ', join(' ', @args), "\n");
    my $thread = omnithreads->create('start_thread', 'argument');

    omnithreads->create(sub { print("I am a thread\n"); })->join();

    my $thread3 = async { foreach (@files) { ... } };

    # Invoke thread in list context (implicit) so it can return a list
    my ($thr) = omnithreads->create(sub { return (qw/a b c/); });
    # or specify list context explicitly
    my $thr = omnithreads->create({'context' => 'list'},
                              sub { return (qw/a b c/); });
    my @results = $thr->join();


    # Get a thread's object
    $thread = omnithreads->self();
    $thread = omnithreads->object($tid);

    # Get a thread's ID
    $tid = omnithreads->tid();
    $tid = omnithreads->self->tid();
    $tid = $thread->tid();

    # Give other threads a chance to run

    # Lists of non-detached threads
    my @threads = omnithreads->list();
    my $thread_count = omnithreads->list();

    my @running = omnithreads->list(omnithreads::running);
    my @joinable = omnithreads->list(omnithreads::joinable);

    # Test thread objects
    if ($thr1 == $thr2) {

    # Manage thread stack size
    $stack_size = omnithreads->get_stack_size();
    $old_size = omnithreads->set_stack_size(32*4096);

    # Create a thread with a specific context and stack size
    my $thr = omnithreads->create({ 'context'    => 'list',
                                'stack_size' => 32*4096,
                                'exit'       => 'thread_only' },

    # Get thread's context
    my $wantarray = $thr->wantarray();

    # Check thread's state
    if ($thr->is_running()) {
    if ($thr->is_joinable()) {

    # Send a signal to a thread

    # Exit a thread


Perl 5.6 introduced something called interpreter threads. Interpreter threads are different from 5005threads (the thread model of Perl 5.005) by creating a new Perl interpreter per thread, and not sharing any data or state between threads by default.

Prior to Perl 5.8, this has only been available to people embedding Perl, and for emulating fork() on Windows.

The omnithreads API is loosely based on the old API. It is very important to note that variables are not shared between threads, all variables are by default thread local. To use shared variables one must use omnithreads::shared.

It is also important to note that you must enable threads by doing use omnithreads as early as possible in the script itself, and that it is not possible to enable threading inside an eval "", do, require, or use. In particular, if you are intending to share variables with omnithreads::shared, you must use omnithreads before you use omnithreads::shared. (omnithreads will emit a warning if you do it the other way around.)

$thr = omnithreads->create(FUNCTION, ARGS)

This will create a new thread that will begin execution with the specified entry point function, and give it the ARGS list as parameters. It will return the corresponding threads object, or undef if thread creation failed.

FUNCTION may either be the name of a function, an anonymous subroutine, or a code ref.

    my $thr = omnithreads->create('func_name', ...);
        # or
    my $thr = omnithreads->create(sub { ... }, ...);
        # or
    my $thr = omnithreads->create(\&func, ...);

The ->new() method is an alias for ->create().


This will wait for the corresponding thread to complete its execution. When the thread finishes, ->join() will return the return value(s) of the entry point function.

The context (void, scalar or list) for the return value(s) for ->join() is determined at the time of thread creation.

    # Create thread in list context (implicit)
    my ($thr1) = omnithreads->create(sub {
                                    my @results = qw(a b c);
                                    return (@results);
    #   or (explicit)
    my $thr1 = omnithreads->create({'context' => 'list'},
                               sub {
                                    my @results = qw(a b c);
                                    return (@results);
    # Retrieve list results from thread
    my @res1 = $thr1->join();

    # Create thread in scalar context (implicit)
    my $thr2 = omnithreads->create(sub {
                                    my $result = 42;
                                    return ($result);
    # Retrieve scalar result from thread
    my $res2 = $thr2->join();

    # Create a thread in void context (explicit)
    my $thr3 = omnithreads->create({'void' => 1},
                               sub { print("Hello, world\n"); });
    # Join the thread in void context (i.e., no return value)

See "THREAD CONTEXT" for more details.

If the program exits without all threads having either been joined or detached, then a warning will be issued.

Calling ->join() or ->detach() on an already joined thread will cause an error to be thrown.


Makes the thread unjoinable, and causes any eventual return value to be discarded. When the program exits, any detached threads that are still running are silently terminated.

If the program exits without all threads having either been joined or detached, then a warning will be issued.

Calling ->join() or ->detach() on an already detached thread will cause an error to be thrown.


Class method that allows a thread to detach itself.


Class method that allows a thread to obtain its own omnithreads object.


Returns the ID of the thread. Thread IDs are unique integers with the main thread in a program being 0, and incrementing by 1 for every thread created.


Class method that allows a thread to obtain its own ID.


This will return the omnithreads object for the active thread associated with the specified thread ID. Returns undef if there is no thread associated with the TID, if the thread is joined or detached, if no TID is specified or if the specified TID is undef.


This is a suggestion to the OS to let this thread yield CPU time to other threads. What actually happens is highly dependent upon the underlying thread implementation.

You may do use omnithreads qw(yield), and then just use yield() in your code.


With no arguments (or using omnithreads::all) and in a list context, returns a list of all non-joined, non-detached omnithreads objects. In a scalar context, returns a count of the same.

With a true argument (using omnithreads::running), returns a list of all non-detached omnithreads objects that are still running.

With a false argument (using omnithreads::joinable), returns a list of all non-joined, non-detached omnithreads objects that have finished running (i.e., for which ->join() will not block).


Tests if two threads objects are the same thread or not. This is overloaded to the more natural forms:

    if ($thr1 == $thr2) {
        print("Threads are the same\n");
    # or
    if ($thr1 != $thr2) {
        print("Threads differ\n");

(Thread comparison is based on thread IDs.)

async BLOCK;

async creates a thread to execute the block immediately following it. This block is treated as an anonymous subroutine, and so must have a semi-colon after the closing brace. Like omnithreads-create()>, async returns a omnithreads object.


This private method returns the memory location of the internal thread structure associated with a threads object. For Win32, this is a pointer to the HANDLE value returned by CreateThread (i.e., HANDLE *); for other platforms, it is a pointer to the pthread_t structure used in the pthread_create call (i.e., pthread_t *).

This method is of no use for general Perl threads programming. Its intent is to provide other (XS-based) thread modules with the capability to access, and possibly manipulate, the underlying thread structure associated with a Perl thread.


Class method that allows a thread to obtain its own handle.


The usual method for terminating a thread is to return() from the entry point function with the appropriate return value(s).


If needed, a thread can be exited at any time by calling threads->exit(). This will cause the thread to return undef in a scalar context, or the empty list in a list context.

When called from the main thread, this behaves the same as exit(0).


When called from a thread, this behaves like omnithreads->exit() (i.e., the exit status code is ignored).

When called from the main thread, this behaves the same as exit(status).


Calling die() in a thread indicates an abnormal exit for the thread. Any $SIG{__DIE__} handler in the thread will be called first, and then the thread will exit with a warning message that will contain any arguments passed in the die() call.


Calling exit() inside a thread causes the whole application to terminate. Because of this, the use of exit() inside threaded code, or in modules that might be used in threaded applications, is strongly discouraged.

If exit() really is needed, then consider using the following:

    omnithreads->exit() if omnithreads->can('exit');   # Thread friendly
use omnithreads 'exit' => 'thread_only'

This globally overrides the default behavior of calling exit() inside a thread, and effectively causes such calls to behave the same as omnithreads->exit(). In other words, with this setting, calling exit() causes only the thread to terminate.

Because of its global effect, this setting should not be used inside modules or the like.

The main thread is unaffected by this setting.

omnithreads->create({'exit' => 'thread_only'}, ...)

This overrides the default behavior of exit() inside the newly created thread only.


This can be used to change the exit thread only behavior for a thread after it has been created. With a true argument, exit() will cause the only the thread to exit. With a false argument, exit() will terminate the application.

The main thread is unaffected by this call.


Class method for use inside a thread to changes its own behavior for exit().

The main thread is unaffected by this call.


The following boolean methods are useful in determining the state of a thread.


Returns true if a thread is still running (i.e., if its entry point function has not yet finished/exited).


Returns true if the thread has finished running, is not detached and has not yet been joined. In other works, the thread is ready to be joined and will not block.


Returns true if the thread has been detached.


Class method that allows a thread to determine whether or not it is detached.


As with subroutines, the type of value returned from a thread's entry point function may be determined by the thread's context: list, scalar or void. The thread's context is determined at thread creation. This is necessary so that the context is available to the entry point function via wantarray(). The thread may then specify a value of the appropriate type to be returned from ->join().

Explicit context

Because thread creation and thread joining may occur in different contexts, it may be desirable to state the context explicitly to the thread's entry point function. This may be done by calling ->create() with a parameter hash as the first argument:

    my $thr = omnithreads->create({'context' => 'list'}, \&foo);
    my @results = $thr->join();

In the above, the threads object is returned to the parent thread in scalar context, and the thread's entry point function foo will be called in list context such that the parent thread can receive a list from the ->join() call. Similarly, if you need the threads object, but your thread will not be returning a value (i.e., void context), you would do the following:

    my $thr = omnithreads->create({'context' => 'void'}, \&foo);

The context type may also be used as the key in the parameter hash followed by a true value:

    omnithreads->create({'scalar' => 1}, \&foo);
    my ($thr) = omnithreads->list();
    my $result = $thr->join();

Implicit context

If not explicitly stated, the thread's context is implied from the context of the ->create() call:

    # Create thread in list context
    my ($thr) = omnithreads->create(...);

    # Create thread in scalar context
    my $thr = omnithreads->create(...);

    # Create thread in void context


This returns the thread's context in the same manner as wantarray().


Class method to return the current thread's context. This is the same as running wantarray() in the current thread.


The default per-thread stack size for different platforms varies significantly, and is almost always far more than is needed for most applications. On Win32, Perl's makefile explicitly sets the default stack to 16 MB; on most other platforms, the system default is used, which again may be much larger than is needed.

By tuning the stack size to more accurately reflect your application's needs, you may significantly reduce your application's memory usage, and increase the number of simultaneously running threads.

N.B., on Windows, Address space allocation granularity is 64 KB, therefore, setting the stack smaller than that on Win32 Perl will not save any more memory.


Returns the current default per-thread stack size. The default is zero, which means the system default stack size is currently in use.

$size = $thr->get_stack_size();

Returns the stack size for a particular thread. A return value of zero indicates the system default stack size was used for the thread.

$old_size = omnithreads->set_stack_size($new_size);

Sets a new default per-thread stack size, and returns the previous setting.

Some platforms have a minimum thread stack size. Trying to set the stack size below this value will result in a warning, and the minimum stack size will be used.

Some Linux platforms have a maximum stack size. Setting too large of a stack size will cause thread creation to fail.

If needed, $new_size will be rounded up to the next multiple of the memory page size (usually 4096 or 8192).

Threads created after the stack size is set will then either call pthread_attr_setstacksize() (for pthreads platforms), or supply the stack size to CreateThread() (for Win32 Perl).

(Obviously, this call does not affect any currently extant threads.)

use omnithreads ('stack_size' => VALUE);

This sets the default per-thread stack size at the start of the application.


The default per-thread stack size may be set at the start of the application through the use of the environment variable PERL5_ITHREADS_STACK_SIZE:

    perl -e'use omnithreads; print(omnithreads->get_stack_size(), "\n")'

This value overrides any stack_size parameter given to use omnithreads. Its primary purpose is to permit setting the per-thread stack size for legacy threaded applications.

omnithreads->create({'stack_size' => VALUE}, FUNCTION, ARGS)

The stack size an individual threads may also be specified. This may be done by calling ->create() with a parameter hash as the first argument:

    my $thr = omnithreads->create({'stack_size' => 32*4096}, \&foo, @args);
$thr2 = $thr1->create(FUNCTION, ARGS)

This creates a new thread ($thr2) that inherits the stack size from an existing thread ($thr1). This is shorthand for the following:

    my $stack_size = $thr1->get_stack_size();
    my $thr2 = omnithreads->create({'stack_size' => $stack_size}, FUNCTION, ARGS);


When safe signals is in effect (the default behavior - see "Unsafe signals" for more details), then signals may be sent and acted upon by individual threads.


Sends the specified signal to the thread. Signal names and (positive) signal numbers are the same as those supported by kill(). For example, 'SIGTERM', 'TERM' and (depending on the OS) 15 are all valid arguments to ->kill().

Returns the thread object to allow for method chaining:


Signal handlers need to be set up in the threads for the signals they are expected to act upon. Here's an example for cancelling a thread:

    use omnithreads;

    sub thr_func
        # Thread 'cancellation' signal handler
        $SIG{'KILL'} = sub { omnithreads->exit(); };


    # Create a thread
    my $thr = omnithreads->create('thr_func');


    # Signal the thread to terminate, and then detach
    # it so that it will get cleaned up automatically

Here's another simplistic example that illustrates the use of thread signalling in conjunction with a semaphore to provide rudimentary suspend and resume capabilities:

    use omnithreads;
    use Thread::Semaphore;

    sub thr_func
        my $sema = shift;

        # Thread 'suspend/resume' signal handler
        $SIG{'STOP'} = sub {
            $sema->down();      # Thread suspended
            $sema->up();        # Thread resumes


    # Create a semaphore and send it to a thread
    my $sema = Thread::Semaphore->new();
    my $thr = omnithreads->create('thr_func', $sema);

    # Suspend the thread


    # Allow the thread to continue

CAVEAT: The thread signalling capability provided by this module does not actually send signals via the OS. It emulates signals at the Perl-level such that signal handlers are called in the appropriate thread. For example, sending $thr->kill('STOP') does not actually suspend a thread (or the whole process), but does cause a $SIG{'STOP'} handler to be called in that thread (as illustrated above).

As such, signals that would normally not be appropriate to use in the kill() command (e.g., kill('KILL', $$)) are okay to use with the ->kill() method (again, as illustrated above).

Correspondingly, sending a signal to a thread does not disrupt the operation the thread is currently working on: The signal will be acted upon after the current operation has completed. For instance, if the thread is stuck on an I/O call, sending it a signal will not cause the I/O call to be interrupted such that the signal is acted up immediately.

Sending a signal to a terminated thread is ignored.


Perl exited with active threads:

If the program exits without all threads having either been joined or detached, then this warning will be issued.

NOTE: If the main thread exits, then this warning cannot be suppressed using no warnings 'omnithreads'; as suggested below.

Thread creation failed: pthread_create returned #

See the appropriate man page for pthread_create to determine the actual cause for the failure.

Thread # terminated abnormally: ...

A thread terminated in some manner other than just returning from its entry point function. For example, the thread may have terminated using die.

Using minimum thread stack size of #

Some platforms have a minimum thread stack size. Trying to set the stack size below this value will result in the above warning, and the stack size will be set to the minimum.

Thread creation failed: pthread_attr_setstacksize(SIZE) returned 22

The specified SIZE exceeds the system's maximum stack size. Use a smaller value for the stack size.

If needed, thread warnings can be suppressed by using:

    no warnings 'omnithreads';

in the appropriate scope.


This Perl not built to support threads

The particular copy of Perl that you're trying to use was not built using the useithreads configuration option.

Having threads support requires all of Perl and all of the XS modules in the Perl installation to be rebuilt; it is not just a question of adding the omnithreads module (i.e., threaded and non-threaded Perls are binary incompatible.)

Cannot change stack size of an existing thread

The stack size of currently extant threads cannot be changed, therefore, the following results in the above error:

Cannot signal threads without safe signals

Safe signals must be in effect to use the ->kill() signalling method. See "Unsafe signals" for more details.

Unrecognized signal name: ...

The particular copy of Perl that you're trying to use does not support the specified signal being used in a ->kill() call.


Parent-child threads

On some platforms, it might not be possible to destroy parent threads while there are still existing child threads.

Creating threads inside special blocks

Creating threads inside BEGIN, CHECK or INIT blocks should not be relied upon. Depending on the Perl version and the application code, results may range from success, to (apparently harmless) warnings of leaked scalar, or all the way up to crashing of the Perl interpreter.

Unsafe signals

Since Perl 5.8.0, signals have been made safer in Perl by postponing their handling until the interpreter is in a safe state. See "Safe Signals" in perl58delta and "Deferred Signals (Safe Signals)" in perlipc for more details.

Safe signals is the default behavior, and the old, immediate, unsafe signalling behavior is only in effect in the following situations:

If unsafe signals is in effect, then signal handling is not thread-safe, and the ->kill() signalling method cannot be used.

Returning closures from threads

Returning closures from threads should not be relied upon. Depending of the Perl version and the application code, results may range from success, to (apparently harmless) warnings of leaked scalar, or all the way up to crashing of the Perl interpreter.

Perl Bugs and the CPAN Version of omnithreads

Support for threads extents beyond the code in this module (i.e., and omnithreads.xs), and into the Perl iterpreter itself. Older versions of Perl contain bugs that may manifest themselves despite using the latest version of omnithreads from CPAN. There is no workaround for this other than upgrading to the lastest version of Perl.

(Before you consider posting a bug report, please consult, and possibly post a message to the discussion forum to see if what you've encountered is a known problem.)


Perl 5.8.0 or later


threads Discussion Forum on CPAN:

Annotated POD for threads:

threads::shared, perlthrtut and

Perl threads mailing list:

Stack size discussion:


Artur Bergman <sky AT crucially DOT net>

threads is released under the same license as Perl.

CPAN version produced by Jerry D. Hedden <jdhedden AT cpan DOT org>


Richard Soderberg <perl AT crystalflame DOT net> - Helping me out tons, trying to find reasons for races and other weird bugs!

Simon Cozens <simon AT brecon DOT co DOT uk> - Being there to answer zillions of annoying questions

Rocco Caputo <troc AT netrus DOT net>

Vipul Ved Prakash <mail AT vipul DOT net> - Helping with debugging

Dean Arnold <darnold AT presicient DOT com> - Stack size API