POSIX Threads for Windows – REFERENCE - Pthreads-w32

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pthread_key_create, pthread_key_delete, pthread_setspecific, pthread_getspecific - management of thread-specific data


#include <pthread.h>

int pthread_key_create(pthread_key_t *key, void (*destr_function) (void *));

int pthread_key_delete(pthread_key_t key);

int pthread_setspecific(pthread_key_t key, const void *pointer);

void * pthread_getspecific(pthread_key_t key);


Programs often need global or static variables that have different values in different threads. Since threads share one memory space, this cannot be achieved with regular variables. Thread-specific data is the POSIX threads answer to this need.

Each thread possesses a private memory block, the thread-specific data area, or TSD area for short. This area is indexed by TSD keys. The TSD area associates values of type void * to TSD keys. TSD keys are common to all threads, but the value associated with a given TSD key can be different in each thread.

For concreteness, the TSD areas can be viewed as arrays of void * pointers, TSD keys as integer indices into these arrays, and the value of a TSD key as the value of the corresponding array element in the calling thread.

When a thread is created, its TSD area initially associates NULL with all keys.

pthread_key_create allocates a new TSD key. The key is stored in the location pointed to by key. There is a limit of PTHREAD_KEYS_MAX on the number of keys allocated at a given time. The value initially associated with the returned key is NULL in all currently executing threads.

The destr_function argument, if not NULL, specifies a destructor function associated with the key. When a thread terminates via pthread_exit or by cancellation, destr_function is called with arguments the value associated with the key in that thread. The destr_function is not called if that value is NULL or the key has been deleted. The order in which destructor functions are called at thread termination time is unspecified.

Before the destructor function is called, the NULL value is associated with the key in the current thread. A destructor function might, however, re-associate non- NULL values to that key or some other key. To deal with this, if after all the destructors have been called for all non- NULL values, there are still some non- NULL values with associated destructors, then the process is repeated.

pthread_key_delete deallocates a TSD key. It does not check whether non- NULL values are associated with that key in the currently executing threads, nor call the destructor function associated with the key.

pthread_setspecific changes the value associated with key in the calling thread, storing the given pointer instead.

pthread_getspecific returns the value currently associated with key in the calling thread.

The routines pthread_setspecific, pthread_getspecific, and pthread_key_delete can be called from destr_function targeting any valid key including the key on which destr_function is currently operating. If pthread_getspecific is called on the key whose thread specific data is being destroyed, the value NULL is returned, unless pthread_setspecific was called previously on that key from within destr_function to set the value to non-NULL. For some implementations the effect of calling pthread_setspecific from within destr_function can be either memory leakage or infinite loops if destr_function has already been called at least PTHREAD_DESTRUCTOR_ITERATIONS times.

Pthreads-w32 stops running key destr_function routines after PTHREAD_DESTRUCTOR_ITERATIONS iterations, even if some non- NULL values with associated descriptors remain. If memory is allocated and associated with a key from within destr_function, that memory may not be reclaimed because that key's destr_function, may not run again.

Return Value

pthread_key_create, pthread_key_delete, and pthread_setspecific return 0 on success and a non-zero error code on failure. If successful, pthread_key_create stores the newly allocated key in the location pointed to by its key argument.

pthread_getspecific returns the value associated with key on success, and NULL on error.


pthread_key_create returns the following error code on error:

PTHREAD_KEYS_MAX keys are already allocated
Insufficient memory to allocate the key.

pthread_key_delete and pthread_setspecific return the following error code on error:

key is not a valid, allocated TSD key

pthread_getspecific returns NULL if key is not a valid, allocated TSD key.


Xavier Leroy <Xavier.Leroy@inria.fr>

Modified by Ross Johnson for use with Pthreads-w32.

See Also

pthread_create(3) , pthread_exit(3) , pthread_testcancel(3) .


The following code fragment allocates a thread-specific array of 100 characters, with automatic reclamation at thread exit:

/* Key for the thread-specific buffer */
static pthread_key_t buffer_key;
/* Once-only initialisation of the key */
static pthread_once_t buffer_key_once = PTHREAD_ONCE_INIT;
/* Allocate the thread-specific buffer */
void buffer_alloc(void)
  pthread_once(&buffer_key_once, buffer_key_alloc);
  pthread_setspecific(buffer_key, malloc(100));
/* Return the thread-specific buffer */
char * get_buffer(void)
  return (char *) pthread_getspecific(buffer_key);
/* Allocate the key */
static void buffer_key_alloc()
  pthread_key_create(&buffer_key, buffer_destroy);
/* Free the thread-specific buffer */
static void buffer_destroy(void * buf)

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