I am going to write a series of blog posts giving a tour of the current Parallel JS implementation in SpiderMonkey. These posts are intended to serve partly as documentation for the code. The plan is to begin high level and work my way down to the nitty gritty details, so here we go!

I will start my discussion at the level of the intrinsic ForkJoin() function. As an intrinsic function, ForkJoin() is not an API intended for use by end-users. Rather, it is available only to self-hosted code and is intended to serve as a building block for other APIs (ParallelArray among them).

The ForkJoin function

The idealized view of how ForkJoin works is that you give it a callback fjFunc and it will invoke fjFunc once on each worker thread. Each call to fjFunc should therefore do one slice of the total work.

In reality, though, the workings of ForkJoin are rather more complex. The problem is that we can only execute Ion-compiled code in parallel. Moreover, we can only handle ion-compiled code that avoids the interpreter, since most of the pathways in the interpreter are not thread-safe. This means that we require accurate type information. However, we can only get accurate type information by running the code (and, moreover, we can’t run the code in parallel because the type monitoring infrastructure is not thread-safe).

What we wind up doing therefore is using sequential executions whenever we can’t run in parallel. This might be because there isn’t enough type information, or it might be because the code contains operations that require parts of the interpreter that are not thread-safe.

In the general case, a single call to ForkJoin can move back and forth between parallel and sequential execution many times, gathering more information and potentially recompiling at each step. After a certain number of bailouts, however, we will just give up and execute the remainder of the operations sequentially.

The ForkJoin function is designed such that the caller does not have to care whether the execution was done in parallel or sequential. Either way, presuming that the callback fjFunc is properly written, the same results will have been computed in the end.

The arguments to ForkJoin

ForkJoin expects one or two arguments:

ForkJoin(fjFunc)               // Either like this...
ForkJoin(fjFunc, feedbackFunc) // ...or like this.

Both arguments are functions. fjFunc defines the operation that will execute in parallel and feedbackFunc is used for reporting on whether bailouts occurred and why. feedbackFunc is optional and may be undefined or null. Not passing in feedback will result in slightly faster execution as less data is gathered. The ForkJoin function does not return anything and neither fjFunc nor feedbackFunc are expected to return any values; instead, fjFunc and feedbackFunc are expected to mutate values in place to produce their output.

fjFunc: The parallel operation

The signature of fjFunc is as follows:

fjFunc(sliceId, numSlices, warmup)

Here sliceId and numSlices are basically the thread id and the thread count respectively (though we purposefully distinguish between the slice, a unit of work, and the worker thread—today there is always one slice per worker thread, but someday we may improve the scheduler to support work-stealing or other more intelligent strategies for dividing work and then this would not necessarily be true).

The warmup flag indicates whether the function is being called in warmup mode. As will be explained in the next section, we expect fjFunc to generally track how much work it has done so far. When warmup is true, the function should do “some” of the remaining work, but not too much. When warmup is false, it should attempt to do all the remaining work. Thus, if fjFunc successfully returns when warmup is false, then ForkJoin can assume that all of the work for that slice has been completed.

Warmups and bailouts

On the very first call to ForkJoin, it is very likely that the callback fjFunc has never been executed and therefore no type information is available. In that case, ForkJoin will begin by invoking the callback fjFunc sequentially (i.e., with the normal interpreter) and with the warmup argument set to true. We currently invoke fjFunc once for each slice. As we just said, because warmup is true, each call to fjFunc should do some of the work in its slice but not all (fjFunc is responsible for tracking how much work it has done; I’ll explain that in a second). Once the calls to fjFunc return, and presuming no exceptions are thrown, ForkJoin will attempt compilation for parallel execution.

Presuming compilation succeeds, ForkJoin will attempt parallel execution. This means that we will spin up worker threads and invoke fjFunc in each one. This time, the warmup argument will be set to false, so fjFunc should try and do all the rest of the work that remains in each slice. If all of these invocations are successful, then, the ForkJoin procedure is done.

However, it is possible that one or more of those calls to fjFunc may bailout, meaning that it will attempt some action that is not permitted in parallel mode. There are many possible reasons for bailouts but they generally fall into one of three categories:

  • The type information could be incomplete, leading to a failed type guard;
  • The script might have attempted some action that is not (yet?) supported in parallel mode even though it seems like it might be theoretically safe, such as access to a JS proxy, built-in C++ function, or DOM object;
  • The script might have attempted to mutate shared state.

What we do in response to a bailout is to fallback to another sequential, warmup phase. As part of this fallback, we typically invalidate the parallel version of fjFunc that bailed out, meaning that we’ll recompile it later. Next, just as we did in the initial warmup, we invoke fjFunc using the normal interpterer once for each slice with the warmup argument set to true.

Once this “recovery” warmup phase has completed, we will re-attempt parallel execution. The idea is that we now have more accurate type and profiling information, so we should be able to compile successfully this time.

This process of alternating parallel execution and sequential recovery runs continues until either (1) a parallel run completes without error (in which case we’re done) or (2) we have bailoud out three times (which is a random number, obviously, that we probably want to tune). Once we’ve had three bailouts, we’ll give up and just invoke fjFunc sequentially with warmup set to false.

An example: ParallelArray.map

To make this more concrete, I want to look in more detail about how ParallelArray.map is implemented in the self-hosted code. All the other ParallelArray functions work in a similar fashion so I will just focus on this one.

The semantics of a parallel map are simple: when the user writes pa.map(kernelFunc), a new ParallelArray is returned with the result of invoking kernelFunc on each element in pa. In effect, this is just like Array.map, except that the order of each iteration is undefined.

Our implementation works by dividing the array to be mapped into chunks, which are groups of 32 elements. These chunks are then divided evenly amongst the N worker threads. The implementation relies on shared mutable state to track how many chunks each thread has been able to process thus far. There is a private array called info that stores, for each chunk, a start index, end index, and a current index. The start and end indices simply reflect the range of items assigned to the worker. The current index, which is initially the same as the start index, indicates the next chunk that the worker should attempt to process. This array is shared across all threads and is unsafely mutated using special intrinsics (thus bypassing the normal restrictions against mutating shared state).

The ParallelArray map function is built on ForkJoin. A simplified verison looks something like this:

function map(kernelFunc) {
    // Compute the bounds each slice will have to operate on:
    var length = this.length;
    var numSlices = ForkJoinSlices();
    var info = prepareInfoArray(length, numSlices);
    // Create the result buffer:
    var buffer = NewDenseArray(length);
    // Perform the computation itself, writing into `buffer`:
    // Package up the buffer in a parallel array and return it:
    return NewParallelArray(buffer);
    function mapSlice(sliceId, numSlices, warmup) {
        // ... see below ...

Here is the source to the map callback function mapSlice:

function mapSlice(sliceId, numSlices, warmup) {
  var chunkPos = info[SLICE_POS(sliceId)];
  var chunkEnd = info[SLICE_END(sliceId)];
  if (warmup && chunkEnd > chunkPos)
    chunkEnd = chunkPos + 1;
  while (chunkPos < chunkEnd) {
    var indexStart = chunkPos << CHUNK_SHIFT;
    var indexEnd = std_Math_min(indexStart + CHUNK_SIZE, length);
    // Process current chunk:
    for (var i = indexStart; i < indexEnd; i++)
      UnsafeSetElement(buffer, i, kernelFunc(self.get(i), i, self));
    UnsafeSetElement(info, SLICE_POS(sliceId), ++chunkPos);

This same code is used both for parallel execution and the sequential fallback. Each time mapSlice is invoked, it will use the sliceId it is given to lookup the current chunk (info[SLICE_POS(sliceId)]; SLICE_POS is a macro that computes the correct index). It will then process that chunk and update the shared array with the index of the next chunk (results are unsafely written into the result array buffer—note that this result is not yet exposed to non-self-hosted code). If we are in warmup mode, it will stop and return once it has processed a single chunk. Otherwise, it keeps going and processes the remaining chunks, updating the shared array at each point.

The purpose of updating the shared array is to record our progress in the case of a bailout. If a bailout occurs, it means that after processing some portion of the current chunk, the function will simply exit. As a result, the “current chunk” will not be incremented, and the next time that mapSlice is invoked with that same sliceId, it will pick up and start re-processing the same chunk. This does mean that if a bailout occurs we will process some portion of the chunk twice, once in parallel mode and then again in sequential mode after the bailout. This is unobservable to the end user, though, because parallel executions are guaranteed to be pure and thus the user could not have modified shared state or made any observable changes.

The various worker threads will unsafely mutate this shared array to track their progress. Unsafe mutations make use of the intrinsic UnsafeSetElement(array, index, value), which is more-or-less equivalent to array[index] = value except that (1) it assumes the index is in bounds; (2) it assumes that array is a dense array or a typed array; (3) it does not do any data race detection. In other words, you have to know what you’re doing. The same intrinsic is also used to store the intermediate results.

feedback: Reporting on bailouts

The precise API for feedback is to some extent still being hammered out. Right now this function is used primarily for unit testing so that we can be sure that parallelization works when we think it should. The eventual goal is to display information in the profiler or other dev tools that indicate what happened. This post is already long enough, so I’ll defer a discussion of the precise process by which we gather bailout information. Suffice to say that in the event of a bailout, each thread records the cause of the bailout (e.g., “write to illegal object” or “type guard failure”) along with a stack trace showing the script and its position.


This note describes the code as it is found on our branch. This differs slightly from what is currently landed on trunk. In particular, there have been some recent refactorings that renamed the ParallelDo function to ForkJoin. This is because we recently refactored the source so that ParallelDo.cpp and ForkJoin.cpp, originally two distinct but tightly interwoven layers, are now fused into one abstraction.