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Reader-Writer Locking with Async-Await

Published Dec 20, 2017  |  Comments/Questions?

Consider this another pitfall warning. If you are a frequent user of reader/writer locking (via the ReaderWriterLockSlim class) like I am, you will undoubtedly run into this situation. As more and more code we write these days are asynchronous with the use of async/await, it is easy to end up in the following situation (an oversimplification, but just imagine write locks in there as well):

async Task MyMethod()
	var thing = await ReadThingAsync();
	myReaderWriterLockSlim.ExitReadLock(); // This guy will choke.

This, of course, will not work. This is because reader/writer locks, at least the implementation in .NET, are thread-affine. This means the very same thread that acquired a lock must be the one to release it. As soon as you hit an await, you have dispatched the rest of the behavior to some other thread. So this cannot work.

This explains why other thread-synchronization classes such as SemaphoreSlim are not async/await savvy with methods like WaitAsync but not ReaderWriterLockSlim.

So, what are our options?

  1. Carefully write our code such that whatever happens between reader/writer locks is always synchronous.
  2. Relax some of the rules around reader/writer locking that requires it to be thread-affine and roll your own.
  3. Look for an already existing, widely adopted, mature library that handles this very scenario.

In the spirit of Option 3, Stephen Cleary has an AsyncEx library that includes this functionality and many others geared towards working efficiently with async/await. If that is too heavy-handed, may I suggest this post by Stephen Toub that lays out a basic implementation that you can build upon?

Tagged as  csharp dotnet threads async await