Thread safety in GStreamer plugins

Alexander Hedges alexander.hedges at
Mon Mar 7 12:23:06 UTC 2022


I'm currently quite confused about thread safety guarantees provided
by gstreamer.

My mental model of threading in gstreamer is that gstreamer manages
its own thread pool
in which the elements are run. Each queue creates a thread boundary
that allows the user
to specify which elements are run on the same thread. The main loop
that does all the
scheduling is run synchronously when `g_main_loop_run()` is called.

So far so good.

In the gstreamer docs it says that "GStreamer is inherently
multi-threaded, and is fully
which makes me think that it is fully supported to have two more
application threads that
both have references to an element and they can change properties
without having to do any
kind of locking to coordinate access to the element.

With that in mind, I now go ahead implementing a gstreamer plugin
based on some sample code
and looking at existing plugins.

When implementing the `set_property` method of the class, I directly
set the instance variables
from the GValues that are passed in like so `object->integer_property
= g_value_get_int(value);`
without doing any synchronization. In my understanding, running the
above line doesn't write the
value atomically, so concurrent writes could lead to write tearing
such that in the end a different
value is set than requested by either calls. With the guarantees
mentioned above, I would assume
that to do this properly there would have to be some locking involved,
but looking at well-known
plugins like videotestsrc it only acquires its own lock for the the
`info` property which is a

Given that there is not much gstreamer-specific about setting
properties of GObjects I wondered if
maybe GLib 2.0 provides some multithreading safety guarantees. Looking
at the GLib docs[2](,
they say that all functions concerning internally held state (stuff
like IO I guess) are thread safe,
but data structures are not. They also say that ref counting is thread safe.
I'm assuming a GObject is a data structure, so that would mean that
accessing a GObject via its methods
from multiple threads is not guaranteed to be thread safe. Also
looking at some code paths for
getting properties it doesn't seem like those are protected by locks
or scheduled on other threads.

Which makes me wonder whether the client is not supposed to protect
against concurrent accesses.

Looking at the thread safety design document
it is also not super clear about the guarantees provided. It mentions that
Objects require the use of `GST_OBJECT_LOCK()` and
`GST_OBJECT_UNLOCK()`, but then again, this is
for the implementations, not the clients of the library, and in
existing plugins the object lock is
not acquired for every property.

So I guess my question is twofold:

1. What multi-threading guarantees does gstreamer provide to users of gstreamer?

2. What do plugins need to do in order to make sure the gstreamer
guarantees are actually valid?

Best regards,
Alexander Hedges

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