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Programming iOS 4 by Matt Neuburg

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Why Threading Is Hard

The one certain thing about computer code is that it just clunks along the path of execution, one statement at a time. Lines of code, in effect, are performed in the order in which they appear. With threading, that certainty goes right out the window. If you have code that can be performed on a background thread, then you don’t know when it will be performed in relation to your main-thread code. Any line of your background-thread code could be interleaved between any two lines of your main-thread code.

You also might not know how many times a piece of your background-thread code might be running simultaneously. Unless you take steps to prevent it, the same code could be spawned off as a thread even while it’s already running in a thread. So any line of your background-thread code could be interleaved between any two lines of itself.

This situation is particularly threatening with regard to shared data. Suppose two threads were to get hold of the same object and change it. Who knows what horrors might result? Objects in general have state, adding up to the state of your app as a whole. If multiple threads are permitted to access your objects, they and your entire app can be put into an indeterminate or nonsensical state.

This problem cannot be solved by simple logic. For example, suppose you try to make data access safe with a condition, as in this pseudo-code:

if (no other thread is touching this data)
    do something to the data...

Such logic cannot succeed. Suppose ...

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