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Linux Work Queue

Version History
Date Description
Oct 29, 2021 Initial

NOTE: like a lot of my other notes. This is written for myself. The note is not a high-level summary. It documents my journery on reading the source code and gradually understand the workqueue subsystem. I wrote it sequentially and I ask questions. Most of the questions are answered in a later section.

My simple testing code is here:


Work queue is a generic async execution with shared worker pool in linux kernel. It does what is designed to do, it runs “your function” across a set of worker threads. The subsystem is huge. As of v5.9, the workqueue.c has more than 6K lines of code.

The internal documentation is at Documentation/core-api/workqueue.rst.

Think about how would you design the thread pool and interfaces to submit work to it. I have designed one in LegoOS. The basic infrastructure is not hard, basically playing around various queues. The tricky part is to get the concurrency right, and various corner cases. Also, NUMA affinity, multiple thread pools etc features add more complexity. But the important thing is to understand the core!

Public APIs

  • alloc_workqueue()
  • queue_work()

Key Data Structures and Functions

Data Structures

  • struct work_struct, the work item, including the func
  • struct worker, the actual worker thread
    • has a struct task_struct *task
  • struct worker_pool, multiple workers can form a pool

  • So it looks like there 2 worker pools per cpu, and it is accessed by macro. But can we create more pools?

    /* the per-cpu worker pools */
    static DEFINE_PER_CPU_SHARED_ALIGNED(struct worker_pool [NR_STD_WORKER_POOLS], cpu_worker_pools);
    #define for_each_cpu_worker_pool(pool, cpu)             \
        for ((pool) = &per_cpu(cpu_worker_pools, cpu)[0];       \
             (pool) < &per_cpu(cpu_worker_pools, cpu)[NR_STD_WORKER_POOLS]; \

  • workqueues is a list of all workqueues

    static LIST_HEAD(workqueues);       /* PR: list of all workqueues */

Create workers

The first is I want to understand is how workers are created, and how many of them are created. I think I will do a bottom-up fashion instead of top-down. So I started from the function to create a single worker, then I check who calls it.

The create_worker() - creates a worker thread. The steps are straightforward. Calling into kthread_create, attach it to a worker_pool. So this is how worker and pool got connected.

static struct worker *create_worker(struct worker_pool *pool)

    worker->task = kthread_create_on_node(worker_thread, worker, pool->node,
                          "kworker/%s", id_buf);

    /* successful, attach the worker to the pool */
    worker_attach_to_pool(worker, pool);

    /* start the newly created worker */

The worker_attach_to_pool() is quite simple, just some list op.

    list_add_tail(&worker->node, &pool->workers);
    worker->pool = pool;

Okay, now I want to see who calls create_worker(). It is a static function, so only called within this file. Cool.

First off, it is called by workqueue_init(), during startup. So here looks like it is creating a worker for the per-cpu pools (2 pools per cpu). What are those workers for though?

void __init workqueue_init(void)
    /* create the initial workers */
    for_each_online_cpu(cpu) {
        for_each_cpu_worker_pool(pool, cpu) {
            pool->flags &= ~POOL_DISASSOCIATED;

    hash_for_each(unbound_pool_hash, bkt, pool, hash_node)

Anyways, it is also called within workqueue_prepare_cpu(), which is a callback for cpu hotplug. Skip. Also called by maybe_create_worker(), which seems to be called within worker thread itself to create another worker within a pool. I’m not sure whether the initial workers we created in workqueue_init() will create those during runtime..

Anyways, the final caller is get_unbound_pool(). Looks promising. It does says start the initial worker. So follows the caller of get_unbound_pool().

 * get_unbound_pool - get a worker_pool with the specified attributes
 * @attrs: the attributes of the worker_pool to get
static struct worker_pool *get_unbound_pool(const struct workqueue_attrs *attrs)
    /* create and start the initial worker */
    if (wq_online && !create_worker(pool))
        goto fail;

The get_unbound_pool() is called by alloc_unbound_pwq() only. It seems to be creating struct pool_workqueue. This structure, seems a wrapper around struct worker_pool?

Okay, seem this is it. I’m going to do top-down. Start from the public API. apply_workqueue_attrs() is easy to understand. It gots the workqueue entry and some attributes and then do some work based on that.

I just want to understand what will be created if one calls alloc_workqueue. Well, it looks like inside apply_wqattrs_prepare(), it is looping over nodes. So it appears end of the day, it is one create_worker per node? I thought it is per cpu? Well, I could try it out and see.

alloc_workqueue()               - Public API
  -> alloc_and_link_pwqs(struct workqueue_struct *wq)
    -> apply_workqueue_attrs(workqueue_struct, workqueue_attrs)
        -> apply_workqueue_attrs_locked(workqueue_struct, workqueue_attrs)
            -> apply_wqattrs_prepare() *****
                -> alloc_unbound_pwq()
                    -> get_unbound_pool()
                        -> create_worker()

Actually, look closely into get_unbound_pool(). It actually has quite some logic before calling into create_worker(). This logic is checking whether we already have a matching pool and return early. And this is why our alloc_workqueue() won’t create kworker right away. But I’m wondering whether it creates later on.. Any way, I’m done!

The worker

The worker is created by the function create_worker(). Duh. The worker thread is fairly straightforward, it repeatly sleep, wakeup, check if there are any pending work, do it, sleep. It appears that workers get work from the struct worker_pool. So now I understand what the pool concept is used here. And, it sorts of also answered my earlier question: the workers are generic and it appears alloc_workqueue actually will not create new threads. New users reuse the old worker threads. Though the worker may create more depends on load (that func is simple too..).

 * worker_thread - the worker thread function
 * @__worker: self
 * The worker thread function.  All workers belong to a worker_pool -
 * either a per-cpu one or dynamic unbound one.  These workers process all
 * work items regardless of their specific target workqueue.  The only
 * exception is work items which belong to workqueues with a rescuer which
 * will be explained in rescuer_thread().
 * Return: 0
static int worker_thread(void *__worker)
    struct worker *worker = __worker;
    struct worker_pool *pool = worker->pool;


    do {
        // Yizhou:
        // See, we are dequeuing work from the pool
        // So, we can check who/when enqueue into worklist
        struct work_struct *work =
                     struct work_struct, entry);

        pool->watchdog_ts = jiffies;

        if (likely(!(*work_data_bits(work) & WORK_STRUCT_LINKED))) {
            /* optimization path, not strictly necessary */
            process_one_work(worker, work);
            if (unlikely(!list_empty(&worker->scheduled)))
        } else {
            move_linked_works(work, &worker->scheduled, NULL);
    } while (keep_working(pool));

So, checking out worklist. It is simply modified by __queue_work(). Now the last question, I guess, is to figure out how __queue_work() decide which pool to insert the new work into.

The __queue_work() only gets the wq returned by alloc_workqueue(). Let’s see. Ok, looks like there are quite a lot flags controlling these. WQ_UNBOUND, WORK_CPU_UNBOUND and so on. These flags control, sort of, which pool to use.


I need to try it out.


Last update: October 30, 2021


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