3.7. Nonblocking communication


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One can improve performance on many systems by overlapping communication and computation. This is especially true on systems where communication can be executed autonomously by an intelligent communication controller. Light-weight threads are one mechanism for achieving such overlap. An alternative mechanism that often leads to better performance is to use nonblocking communication. A nonblocking send start call initiates the send operation, but does not complete it. The send start call will return before the message was copied out of the send buffer. A separate send complete call is needed to complete the communication, i.e., to verify that the data has been copied out of the send buffer. With suitable hardware, the transfer of data out of the sender memory may proceed concurrently with computations done at the sender after the send was initiated and before it completed. Similarly, a nonblocking receive start call initiates the receive operation, but does not complete it. The call will return before a message is stored into the receive buffer. A separate receive complete call is needed to complete the receive operation and verify that the data has been received into the receive buffer. With suitable hardware, the transfer of data into the receiver memory may proceed concurrently with computations done after the receive was initiated and before it completed. The use of nonblocking receives may also avoid system buffering and memory-to-memory copying, as information is provided early on the location of the receive buffer.

Nonblocking send start calls can use the same four modes as blocking sends: standard, buffered, synchronous and ready. These carry the same meaning. Sends of all modes, ready excepted, can be started whether a matching receive has been posted or not; a nonblocking ready send can be started only if a matching receive is posted. In all cases, the send start call is local: it returns immediately, irrespective of the status of other processes. If the call causes some system resource to be exhausted, then it will fail and return an error code. Quality implementations of MPI should ensure that this happens only in ``pathological'' cases. That is, an MPI implementation should be able to support a large number of pending nonblocking operations.

The send-complete call returns when data has been copied out of the send buffer. It may carry additional meaning, depending on the send mode.

If the send mode is synchronous, then the send can complete only if a matching receive has started. That is, a receive has been posted, and has been matched with the send. In this case, the send-complete call is non-local. Note that a synchronous, nonblocking send may complete, if matched by a nonblocking receive, before the receive complete call occurs. (It can complete as soon as the sender ``knows'' the transfer will complete, but before the receiver ``knows'' the transfer will complete.)

If the send mode is buffered then the message must be buffered if there is no pending receive. In this case, the send-complete call is local, and must succeed irrespective of the status of a matching receive.

If the send mode is standard then the send-complete call may return before a matching receive occurred, if the message is buffered. On the other hand, the send-complete may not complete until a matching receive occurred, and the message was copied into the receive buffer.

Nonblocking sends can be matched with blocking receives, and vice-versa.


[] Advice to users.

The completion of a send operation may be delayed, for standard mode, and must be delayed, for synchronous mode, until a matching receive is posted. The use of nonblocking sends in these two cases allows the sender to proceed ahead of the receiver, so that the computation is more tolerant of fluctuations in the speeds of the two processes.

Nonblocking sends in the buffered and ready modes have a more limited impact. A nonblocking send will return as soon as possible, whereas a blocking send will return after the data has been copied out of the sender memory. The use of nonblocking sends is advantageous in these cases only if data copying can be concurrent with computation.

The message-passing model implies that communication is initiated by the sender. The communication will generally have lower overhead if a receive is already posted when the sender initiates the communication (data can be moved directly to the receive buffer, and there is no need to queue a pending send request). However, a receive operation can complete only after the matching send has occurred. The use of nonblocking receives allows one to achieve lower communication overheads without blocking the receiver while it waits for the send. ( End of advice to users.)



Up: Point-to-Point Communication Next: Communication Objects Previous: Model implementation of buffered mode


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