Document #: P2689
Date: 2022-10-14
Project: Programming Language C++
Reply-to: Christian Trott
Damien Lebrun-Grandie
Mark Hoemmen
Daniel Sunderland

1 Revision History

1.1 Initial Version 2022-10 Mailing

2 Rational

This proposal adds an atomic_accessor to the C++ standard, to be used with mdspan. When accessing data through an mdspan with an atomic_accessor all operations are performed atomically, by using atomic_ref as the reference_type. atomic_accessor was part of the rational provided in P0009 for mdspans accessor policy template parameter.

One of the primary use case for this accessor is the ability to write algorithms with somewhat generic mdspan outputs, which can be called in sequential and parallel contexts. When called in parallel contexts users would simply pass an mdspan with an atomic_accessor - the algorithm implementation itself could be agnostic to the calling context.

A variation on this use case is an implementation of an algorithm taking an execution policy, which adds the atomic_accessor to its output argument if called with a parallel policy, while using the default_accessor when called with a sequential policy. The following demonstrates this with a function computing a histogram:

template<class T, class Extents, class LayoutPolicy>
auto add_atomic_accessor_if_needed(
    mdspan<T, Extents, LayoutPolicy> m) {
        return m;

template<class ExecutionPolicy, class T, class Extents, class LayoutPolicy>
auto add_atomic_accessor_if_needed(
    mdspan<T, Extents, LayoutPolicy> m) {
        return mdspan(m.data_handle(), m.mapping(), atomic_accessor<T>());

template<class ExecT>
void compute_histogram(ExecT exec, float bin_size,
               mdspan<int, stdex::dextents<int,1>> output,
               mdspan<float, stdex::dextents<int,1>> data) {


  auto accumulator = add_atomic_accessor_if_needed(exec, output);

  for_each(exec, data.data_handle(), data.data_handle()+data.extent(0), [=](float val) {
    int bin = std::abs(val)/bin_size;
    if(bin > output.extent(0)) bin = output.extent(0)-1;

The above example is available on godbolt: .

3 atomic_accessor implementation

The implementaiton of an atomic_accessor is straightforward when leveraging atomic_ref:

template <class ElementType>
struct atomic_accessor {

  using offset_policy = atomic_accessor;
  using element_type = ElementType;
  using reference = std::atomic_ref<element_type>;
  using data_handle_type = ElementType*;

  constexpr atomic_accessor() noexcept = default;

  template<class OtherElementType>
  requires (
    std::is_convertible_v<OtherElementType(*)[], element_type(*)[]>
  constexpr atomic_accessor(stdex::default_accessor<OtherElementType>) noexcept {}

  template<class OtherElementType>
  requires (
    std::is_convertible_v<OtherElementType(*)[], element_type(*)[]>
  constexpr atomic_accessor(atomic_accessor<OtherElementType>) noexcept {}

  constexpr data_handle_type
  offset(data_handle_type p, size_t i) const noexcept {
    return p + i;

  constexpr reference access(data_handle_type p, size_t i) const noexcept {
    return reference(p[i]);


Compared to default_accessor we simply make the reference an atomic_ref<element_type>. We also add a conversion from default_accessor which would allow simple conversion of mdspans from non-atomic to atomic:

using array_t = mdspan<int, dextents<int, 2>>;
using atomic_array_t = mdspan<int, dextents<int, 2>,
                              layout_right, atomic_accessor<int>>;

// Assigning from non-atomic to atomic is fine:
void foo(array_t a) {
atomic_array_t atomic_a = a;

4 Open Question: relaxed atomic operations

In the majority of use cases for using atomic accesses on multi-dimensional arrays, those atomics are used to deal with simple accumulations in the presence of concurrent updates.

The previous example demonstrates how it is possible to write generic algorithms which can be used in concurrent and non-concurrent situations.

However: in most of these cases relaxed atomics are all that is needed. Using sequentially consistent atomics instead comes with a significant performance penalty on architectures with more relaxed memory semantics than X86. However: the simple operators (such as operator+=) of atomic_ref are doing sequentially consistent operations.

On the atomic_accessor side this could be accounted for with an additional template argument taking the memory_order.

That leaves the question of the reference type for such a memory_order aware accessor, with three options coming immediately to mind:

  1. add a template parameter to atomic_ref which defaults to memory_order_seq_cst.
  2. add a new class relaxed_atomic_ref which has the same implementation as atomic_ref with the difference that the default memory_order of its update functions (e.g. fetch_add) is memory_order_relaxed.
  3. have relaxed_atomic_ref as an exposition only class for atomic_accessor

While we believe that option 1. would be preferable we recognize that it is a breaking change, and thus unlikely to be acceptable to the committee. Thus we would like to champion option 2, with the possible implication that we should introduce both atomic_accessor and relaxed_atomic_accessor to correspond to the two classes.

A natural question arises regarding other memory orders. We do not believe that there are many use cases requiring anything other than relaxed or sequentially consistent atomic operations on multidimensional arrays. It is unlikely that multidimensional arrays will be widely used to implement complicated synchronization mechanism.

5 Wording

Wording will we provided after an initial review, and initial guidance on how to deal with the desire for easy relaxed atomic operations.

6 Acknowledgements

Sandia National Laboratories is a multimission laboratory managed and operated by National Technology and Engineering Solutions of Sandia, LLC., a wholly owned subsidiary of Honeywell International, Inc., for the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration under Grant DE-NA-0003525.

This manuscript has been authored by UTBattelle, LLC, under Grant DE-AC05-00OR22725 with the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE).

This work was supported by Exascale Computing Project 17-SC-20-SC, a joint project of the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science and National Nuclear Security Administration, responsible for delivering a capable exascale ecosystem, including software, applications, and hardware technology, to support the nation’s exascale computing imperative.