futex — fast user-space locking


#include <linux/futex.h>
#include <sys/time.h>
int futex( int *uaddr,
  int op,
  int val,
  const struct timespec *timeout,
  int *uaddr2,
  int val3);


The futex() system call provides a method for a program to wait for a value at a given address to change, and a method to wake up anyone waiting on a particular address (while the addresses for the same memory in separate processes may not be equal, the kernel maps them internally so the same memory mapped in different locations will correspond for futex() calls). This system call is typically used to implement the contended case of a lock in shared memory, as described in futex(7).

When a futex(7) operation did not finish uncontended in user space, a call needs to be made to the kernel to arbitrate. Arbitration can either mean putting the calling process to sleep or, conversely, waking a waiting process.

Callers of this function are expected to adhere to the semantics as set out in futex(7). As these semantics involve writing nonportable assembly instructions, this in turn probably means that most users will in fact be library authors and not general application developers.

The uaddr argument needs to point to an aligned integer which stores the counter. The operation to execute is passed via the op argument, along with a value val.

Five operations are currently defined:


This operation atomically verifies that the futex address uaddr still contains the value val, and sleeps awaiting FUTEX_WAKE on this futex address. If the timeout argument is non-NULL, its contents specify the duration of the wait. (This interval will be rounded up to the system clock granularity, and kernel scheduling delays mean that the blocking interval may overrun by a small amount.) If timeout is NULL, the call blocks indefinitely. The arguments uaddr2 and val3 are ignored.

For futex(7), this call is executed if decrementing the count gave a negative value (indicating contention), and will sleep until another process releases the futex and executes the FUTEX_WAKE operation.


This operation wakes at most val processes waiting on this futex address (i.e., inside FUTEX_WAIT). The arguments timeout, uaddr2 and val3 are ignored.

For futex(7), this is executed if incrementing the count showed that there were waiters, once the futex value has been set to 1 (indicating that it is available).

FUTEX_FD (present up to and including Linux 2.6.25)

To support asynchronous wakeups, this operation associates a file descriptor with a futex. If another process executes a FUTEX_WAKE, the process will receive the signal number that was passed in val. The calling process must close the returned file descriptor after use. The arguments timeout, uaddr2 and val3 are ignored.

To prevent race conditions, the caller should test if the futex has been upped after FUTEX_FD returns.

Because it was inherently racy, FUTEX_FD has been removed from Linux 2.6.26 onward.

FUTEX_REQUEUE (since Linux 2.5.70)

This operation was introduced in order to avoid a "thundering herd" effect when FUTEX_WAKE is used and all processes woken up need to acquire another futex. This call wakes up val processes, and requeues all other waiters on the futex at address uaddr2. The arguments timeout and val3 are ignored.

FUTEX_CMP_REQUEUE (since Linux 2.6.7)

There was a race in the intended use of FUTEX_REQUEUE, so FUTEX_CMP_REQUEUE was introduced. This is similar to FUTEX_REQUEUE, but first checks whether the location uaddr still contains the value val3. If not, the operation fails with the error EAGAIN. The argument timeout is ignored.


In the event of an error, all operations return −1, and set errno to indicate the error. The return value on success depends on the operation, as described in the following list:


Returns 0 if the process was woken by a FUTEX_WAKE call. See ERRORS for the various possible error returns.


Returns the number of processes woken up.


Returns the new file descriptor associated with the futex.


Returns the number of processes woken up.


Returns the number of processes woken up.



No read access to futex memory.


FUTEX_CMP_REQUEUE detected that the value pointed to by uaddr is not equal to the expected value val3. (This probably indicates a race; use the safe FUTEX_WAKE now.)


Error retrieving timeout information from user space.


A FUTEX_WAIT operation was interrupted by a signal (see signal(7)) or a spurious wakeup.


Invalid argument.


The system limit on the total number of open files has been reached.


Invalid operation specified in op.


Timeout during the FUTEX_WAIT operation.


op was FUTEX_WAIT and the value pointed to by uaddr was not equal to the expected value val at the time of the call.


Initial futex support was merged in Linux 2.5.7 but with different semantics from what was described above. A 4-argument system call with the semantics described in this page was introduced in Linux 2.5.40. In Linux 2.5.70 one argument was added. In Linux 2.6.7 a sixth argument was added—messy, especially on the s390 architecture.


This system call is Linux-specific.


To reiterate, bare futexes are not intended as an easy-to-use abstraction for end-users. (There is no wrapper function for this system call in glibc.) Implementors are expected to be assembly literate and to have read the sources of the futex user-space library referenced below.


restart_syscall(2), futex(7)

Fuss, Futexes and Furwocks: Fast Userlevel Locking in Linux (proceedings of the Ottawa Linux Symposium 2002), online at

Futex example library, futex-*.tar.bz2 at


This page is part of release 3.54 of the Linux man-pages project. A description of the project, and information about reporting bugs, can be found at−pages/.

  Page by b.hubert

may be freely modified and distributed

Niki A. Rahimi (LTC Security Development,
added ERRORS section.

Modified 2004-06-17 mtk
Modified 2004-10-07 aeb, added FUTEX_REQUEUE, FUTEX_CMP_REQUEUE

See also
2.6.14 adds FUTEX_WAKE_OP
commit 4732efbeb997189d9f9b04708dc26bf8613ed721
Author: Jakub Jelinek <>
Date:   Tue Sep 6 15:16:25 2005 -0700

2.6.18 adds (Ingo Molnar) priority inheritance support:
to be documented in the manual page.  Probably there is sufficient
material in the kernel source file Documentation/pi-futex.txt.
commit c87e2837be82df479a6bae9f155c43516d2feebc
Author: Ingo Molnar <>
Date:   Tue Jun 27 02:54:58 2006 -0700

commit e2970f2fb6950183a34e8545faa093eb49d186e1
Author: Ingo Molnar <>
Date:   Tue Jun 27 02:54:47 2006 -0700

See Documentation/futex-requeue-pi.txt

commit cd689985cf49f6ff5c8eddc48d98b9d581d9475d
Author: Thomas Gleixner <>
Date:   Fri Feb 1 17:45:14 2008 +0100

commit 52400ba946759af28442dee6265c5c0180ac7122
Author: Darren Hart <>
Date:   Fri Apr 3 13:40:49 2009 -0700

commit ba9c22f2c01cf5c88beed5a6b9e07d42e10bd358
Author: Darren Hart <>
Date:   Mon Apr 20 22:22:22 2009 -0700

See Documentation/futex-requeue-pi.txt