Channels in libuv

go programming language provides a very powerful synchronization mechanism called channels. Channels simplifies communication between threads and makes it very easy to send and receive data from go routines.

I always missed such functionalities when using libuv. libuv has uv async_send, but it can be used only to wakeup the event loop. In this post, we will implement channels in C using libuv. The idea is to implement a channel so that user can use it without worrying about manually doing the synchronization.


A channel will have a queue, a mutex to synchronize the sending and receiving and a condition variable to signal receivers when data is available. When uv_chan_send is called, it takes the data and puts it into a internal queue and signal all receivers about the data. uv_chan_receive will acquire a lock, dequeue the data and unlock the lock.


typedef struct uv_chan_s uv_chan_t;

struct uv_chan_s {
  uv_mutex_t mutex;
  uv_cond_t cond;
  void* q[2];

int uv_chan_init(uv_chan_t* chan);
void uv_chan_send(uv_chan_t* chan, void* data);
void* uv_chan_receive(uv_chan_t* chan);
void uv_chan_destroy(uv_chan_t* chan);


typedef struct {
  void* data;
  uv_req_type type;
  void* active_queue[2];
} uv__chan_item_t;

int uv_chan_init(uv_chan_t* chan) {
  int r = uv_mutex_init (&chan->mutex);
  if (r == -1)
    return r;


  return uv_cond_init (&chan->cond);

void uv_chan_send(uv_chan_t* chan, void* data) {
  uv__chan_item_t* item = malloc(sizeof(uv__chan_item_t));
  item->data = data;

  uv_mutex_lock (&chan->mutex);
  QUEUE_INSERT_TAIL(&chan->q, &item->active_queue);
  uv_cond_signal (&chan->cond);
  uv_mutex_unlock (&chan->mutex);

void* uv_chan_receive(uv_chan_t* chan) {
  uv__chan_item_t* item;
  QUEUE* head;
  void* data = NULL;

  uv_mutex_lock (&chan->mutex);
  while (QUEUE_EMPTY(&chan->q)) {
    uv_cond_wait (&chan->cond, &chan->mutex);

  head = QUEUE_HEAD (&chan->q);
  item = QUEUE_DATA (head, uv__chan_item_t, active_queue);
  data = item->data;
  QUEUE_REMOVE (head);
  free (item);
  uv_mutex_unlock (&chan->mutex);
  return data;

void uv_chan_destroy(uv_chan_t* chan) {
  uv_cond_destroy (&chan->cond);
  uv_mutex_destroy (&chan->mutex);


#include "uv.h"
#include <stdio.h>
#include <stdlib.h>
#include <string.h>

static void worker(void* arg) {
  int i;
  char* string;
  uv_chan_t* chan = arg;

  for (i = 0; i < 10; i++) {
    string = malloc(sizeof(char) * 2);
    sprintf(string, "%d", i);
    uv_chan_send (chan, string);
    uv_sleep (10);
  uv_chan_send (chan, NULL);

int main(int argc, char** argv) {
  int threads_exited = 0;
  char* message;
  uv_chan_t chan;
  uv_thread_t thread1, thread2;

  uv_chan_init (&chan);
  uv_thread_create(&thread1, worker, &chan);
  uv_thread_create(&thread2, worker, &chan);

  while (threads_exited < 2) {
    message = uv_chan_receive(&chan);
    if (message == NULL)
    else {
      printf("Message : %\n", message);

  uv_chan_destroy (&chan);
  return 0;

In this example, I am executing two threads and each will execute the worker function. worker function will get an instance of the channel. Each worker will push some data into the channel and main thread receives all the data. Worker thread signals end of messages by passing a NULL value to the channel. uv_chan_receive blocks until the channel gets some data.

Note: you need to allocate/deep copy the data before sending to the channel. Otherwise, worker would have overwritten the data before receiver gets it.

Future work

Some ideas which would be nice to have:

Happy programming!

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