Reducers are a new data type to help programmers avoid data races. Data races happen when one thread modifies an object while a second thread is using it. According to the C and C++ language standards a race is undefined behavior. A program can give incorrect results, crash, or worse. A counter may not increment reliably or a linked list may become corrupt.

A reducer is a special case of a more general type known as a hyperobject. Different types of hyperobjects are used depending on the desired semantics.

Reducers are used when the final value in a variable is built up from a series of independent modifications, such as adding a number to an accumulator or appending an item to a list. As long as the operation is associative (A ⊕ (B ⊕ C) = (A ⊕ B) ⊕ C) the final result will be correct.

Formally, a reducer is a mathematical object called a monoid, meaning it has the following components:

  • a type (e.g double),
  • an identity value (0.0), and
  • an associative binary operation (+).

The operation does not need to be commutative. A reducer can hold a list with the binary operation being concatenation. Associativity is essential.

Reducers and views

OpenCilk ensures that every reference to a reducer uses a private copy, called a view. The address of the current view can change at any spawn or sync, including the implicit spawns and syncs associated with cilk_for and cilk_scope. The address operator & returns the address of the current view, so the address of a reducer can change when the address of a normal variable would be constant over its lifetime. Be careful about saving the address of a reducer. The race detector (Cilk sanitizer) can be used to check for improper retention of a pointer to a view.

Views are created and merged using programmer-provided callback functions commonly named identity and reduce. The identity callback takes a pointer to the value to be initialized (cast to void *). The reduce callback takes two pointer arguments pointing to the two values to be combined. The value pointed to by the second argument should be merged into the value pointed to by the first argument, and storage held by the second argument should be freed. Even if the operation is commutative, the result should be stored in the first argument.

There is a total order on views, the order in which they would have been created in a serial program. The older of any pair of views is conventionally called the left view and the younger of the pair is called the right view. The left view is the first argument to the reduce callback. The variable declared by the programmer is the leftmost view. The programmer needs to initialize or construct the variable just like any other. See <cilk/ostream_reducer.h> for an example where the leftmost view does not get the identity value.

Declaring a reducer

A reducer is declared with the cilk_reducer keyword, with the identity and reduce functions as arguments.

For example, to declare a reducer holding sums of doubles one can write

void zero_double(void *view) { *(double *)view = 0.0; }
void add_double(void *left, void *right)
    { *(double *)left += *(double *)right; }
double cilk_reducer(zero_double, add_double) sum;

When necessary the runtime calls the identity callback (constructor) to create a new view. All views created by the runtime will eventually be combined with an older view using the reduction operation. Any information that needs to be saved should be merged into the left view. This may be as simple as adding two numbers. Arbitrarily complicated data manipulation is possible. (When the right view is discarded without saving its contents the hyperobject is called a holder. Holders act as a form of thread-local storage that does not remain valid across a spawn or sync.)

The memory occupied by the view itself is allocated by and owned by the runtime. In C++ operator new is not called. If the type has a C++ constructor, use placement new in the identity function. If it has a destructor, call the destructor explicitly instead of using delete:

void identity(void *view)
    new (view) Type();
void reduce(void *left, void *right)
    // Here data moves from the right view to the left view.
    static_cast<Type *>(left)->reduce(static_cast<Type *>(right));
    static_cast<Type *>(right)->~Type();
    // The right view will be freed on return from this function.
Type cilk_reducer(identity, reduce) var; // var is a reducer

If the data type requires a custom allocator a level of indirection can be added by using a pointer type:

void identity(void *view)
    // Type::operator new will be used, if defined.
    *static_cast<Type **>(view) = new Type();
void reduce(void *left, void *right)
    (*static_cast<Type **>(left))->reduce(*static_cast<Type **>(right));
    delete *static_cast<Type **>(right);
Type *cilk_reducer(identity, reduce) var;

Formally, the cilk_reducer keyword is part of the type of the variable rather than an attribute of the variable itself. It binds much like *. In particular,

Type cilk_reducer(identity, reduce) a, b;

declares a reducer and a non-reducer variable, like

Type *a, b;

declares a pointer and a non-pointer. A typedef can be used for more pleasing declarations:

typedef Type cilk_reducer(identity, reduce) TypeReducer;
TypeReducer a, b;

Modifications to a reducer should be consistent with the binary operator. For example, if the reduction adds two views then all modifications of the reducer should use +=. At least, the total of all modifications between a cilk_spawn and the next cilk_sync should be equivalent to += (or whatever the reduce function does). This is because the value of a reducer is unpredictable in parallel code. It may become the identity at any cilk_spawn or change abruptly at any cilk_sync. The runtime ensures that the sum (for example) is always correct at the end, but not in the middle.

Declaring a variable to be a reducer does not change its size. In the current implementation all views allocated by the runtime are aligned to the size of a cache line (64 bytes on supported platforms). This alignment avoids false sharing on reducer accesses. If greater alignment is required a level of indirection must be added.

Because reducers are types, pointers to reducers are possible. Use __builtin_addressof to get a pointer to a reducer treated as a reducer instead of a view. This pointer can be passed to reducer-aware code.

extern long f(int index);
// The argument is a pointer to a reducer.
void compute_sum(long cilk_reducer(zero, add) *reducer)
    cilk_for (int i = 0; i < 10000000; ++i)
        *sum += f(i); // dereferenced pointer converts to current view
long provide_reducer()
    long cilk_reducer(zero, add) sum = 0L; // must be initialized
    return sum;


In OpenCilk 2.0 a reducer must be a variable. Reducers may not be dynamically allocated and may not be members of structures or arrays. This limitation is planned to be removed in a future version of OpenCilk.

Reducers may not contain reducers.

Callback functions should not spawn.

Callback functions should be passed by name to cilk_reduce. Two reducers have the same type if they have the same data type and equivalent callback functions. If the callback functions are expressions other than the names of functions the compiler does not know whether they are equivalent and may give spurious errors about type incompatibility. Proving expression equivalence is an unsolvable problem in the general case.

In C++, reducers are not implicitly converted to views when binding references. This limitation is planned to be removed in a future version of OpenCilk. As a workaround, take the address of the reducer, yielding a pointer to the current view, and dereference the pointer.

extern void f(int &, int _Hyperobject &);
void g(int _Hyperobject *p)
  f(*&*p, *p); // ideally you could write f(*p, *p);

Porting from Cilk Plus

The macros used by Intel Cilk Plus are no longer required. The example from former <cilk/reducer.h>

CILK_C_DECLARE_REDUCER(int) my_add_int_reducer =


int cilk_reducer(add_int_identity, add_int_reduce) my_add_int_reducer;

Where Cilk Plus allowed up to five callback functions, OpenCilk has only two and they have different signatures.

  • The identity and reduce functions lose their first argument, which was a pointer to the hyperobject itself.

  • The destructor is no longer a separate function. The right operand to reduce is always destroyed immediately after reduction and no functionality is added by having a separate destructor. Cilk Plus reduce functions may need to have a destructor call added to work as OpenCilk reduce functions.

  • Custom memory allocation functions are not supported by OpenCilk. Memory for the view is provided by the runtime. Reducers may allocate their own additional storage.

As noted above, heap-allocated reducers are not supported in OpenCilk 2.0.