OpenCilk keywords

The Cilk programming language provides a simple extension to the C and C++ languages that allow programmers to expose logically parallel tasks. Cilk extends C and C++ with three keywords: cilk_spawn, cilk_sync, and cilk_for. This page describes the Cilk language extension.

Spawn and sync

Let us first examine the task-parallel keywords cilk_spawn and cilk_sync. Consider the following example code for a fib routine, which uses these keywords to parallelize the computation of the th Fibonacci number.

int64_t fib(int64_t n) {
  if (n < 2)
    return n;
  int64_t x, y;
  x = cilk_spawn fib(n - 1);
  y = fib(n - 2);
  return x + y;

"Note to the algorithms police"

The example fib routine is a terribly inefficient code for computing Fibonacci numbers. This fib routine computes the th Fibonacci number using work, where denotes the golden ratio, while in fact this number can be computed using work. We use this example fib code simply for didactic purposes.

In the simplest usage of cilk_spawn, parallel work is created when cilk_spawn precedes the invocation of a function, thereby causing the function to be spawned. The semantics of spawning differ from a C/C++ function or method call only in that the parent continuation -- the code immediately following the spawn -- is allowed to execute in parallel with the child, instead of waiting for the child to complete as is done in C/C++. In the example fib function, the cilk_spawn spawns the recursive invocation of fib(n-1), allowing it to execute in parallel with its continuation, which calls fib(n-2).

A function cannot safely use the values returned by its spawned children until it executes a cilk_sync statement, which suspends the function until all of its spawned children return. The cilk_sync is a local "barrier," not a global one as, for example, is used in message-passing programming. In fib, the cilk_sync prevents the execution of fib from continuing past the cilk_sync until the spawned invocation of fib(n-1) has returned.

Together, a programmer can use the cilk_spawn and cilk_sync keywords to expose logical fork-join parallelism within a program. The cilk_spawn keyword creates a parallel task, which is not required to execute in parallel, but simply allowed to do so. The fib example also demonstrates that the cilk_spawn and cilk_sync keywords are composable: a spawned subcomputation can itself spawn and sync child subcomputations. The scheduler in the runtime system takes the responsibility of scheduling parallel tasks on individual processor cores of a multicore computer and synchronizing their returns.

Parallel loops

A for loop can be parallelized by replacing the for with the cilk_for keyword, as demonstrated by the following code to compute from two given vectors and and a given scalar value :

void daxpy(int64_t n, double a, double *x, double *y) {
  cilk_for (int64_t i = 0; i < n; ++i) {
    y[i] = a * x[i] + y[i];

The cilk_for parallel-loop construct indicates that all iterations of the loop are allowed to execute in parallel. At runtime, these iterations can execute in any order, at the discretion of the runtime scheduler.

The cilk_for construct is composable, allowing for simple parallelization of nested loops. The mm routine in the following code example demonstrates how nested cilk_for loops can be used to parallelize a simple code to compute the matrix product where , , and are matrices in row-major order:

void mm(const double *restrict A, const double *restrict B,
        double *restrict C, int64_t n) {
  cilk_for (int64_t i = 0; i < n; ++i) {
    cilk_for (int64_t j = 0; j < n; ++j) {
      for (int64_t k = 0; k < n; ++k) {
        C[i*n + j] += A[i*n + k] * B[k*n + j];