Multithreading in C

CServer Side ProgrammingProgramming

Multithreading is a specialized form of multitasking and a multitasking is the feature that allows your computer to run two or more programs concurrently. In general, there are two types of multitasking: process-based and thread-based.

Process-based multitasking handles the concurrent execution of programs. Thread-based multitasking deals with the concurrent execution of pieces of the same program.

A multithreaded program contains two or more parts that can run concurrently. Each part of such a program is called a thread, and each thread defines a separate path of execution.

C does not contain any built-in support for multithreaded applications. Instead, it relies entirely upon the operating system to provide this feature.

This tutorial assumes that you are working on Linux OS and we are going to write multi-threaded C program using POSIX. POSIX Threads, or Pthreads provides API which are available on many Unix-like POSIX systems such as FreeBSD, NetBSD, GNU/Linux, Mac OS X and Solaris.

The following routine is used to create a POSIX thread −

#include <pthread.h>
pthread_create (thread, attr, start_routine, arg)

Here, pthread_create creates a new thread and makes it executable. This routine can be called any number of times from anywhere within your code. Here is the description of the parameters.

threadAn opaque, unique identifier for the new thread returned by the subroutine.
attrAn opaque attribute object that may be used to set thread attributes. You can specify a thread attributes object, or NULL for the default values.
start_routineThe C routine that the thread will execute once it is created.
argA single argument that may be passed to start_routine. It must be passed by reference as a pointer cast of type void. NULL may be used if no argument is to be passed.

The maximum number of threads that may be created by a process is implementation dependent. Once created, threads are peers, and may create other threads. There is no implied hierarchy or dependency between threads.

Terminating Threads

There is following routine which we use to terminate a POSIX thread –

#include <pthread.h>
pthread_exit (status)

Here pthread_exit is used to explicitly exit a thread. Typically, the pthread_exit() routine is called after a thread has completed its work and is no longer required to exist.

If main() finishes before the threads it has created, and exits with pthread_exit(), the other threads will continue to execute. Otherwise, they will be automatically terminated when main() finishes.

Example Code

#include <iostream>
#include <cstdlib>
#include <pthread.h>
using namespace std;
#define NUM_THREADS 5
void *PrintHello(void *threadid) {
   long tid;
   tid = (long)threadid;
   printf("Hello World! Thread ID, %d\n", tid);
int main () {
   pthread_t threads[NUM_THREADS];
   int rc;
   int i;
   for( i = 0; i < NUM_THREADS; i++ ) {
      cout << "main() : creating thread, " << i << endl;
      rc = pthread_create(&threads[i], NULL, PrintHello, (void *)i);
      if (rc) {
         printf("Error:unable to create thread, %d\n", rc);


$gcc test.cpp -lpthread
main() : creating thread, 0
main() : creating thread, 1
main() : creating thread, 2
main() : creating thread, 3
main() : creating thread, 4
Hello World! Thread ID, 0
Hello World! Thread ID, 1
Hello World! Thread ID, 2
Hello World! Thread ID, 3
Hello World! Thread ID, 4
Published on 03-Apr-2019 13:30:46