Mutex Objects

A mutex object is a synchronization object whose state is set to signaled when it is not owned by any thread, and nonsignaled when it is owned. Only one thread at a time can own a mutex object, whose name comes from the fact that it is useful in coordinating mutually exclusive access to a shared resource. For example, to prevent two threads from writing to shared memory at the same time, each thread waits for ownership of a mutex object before executing the code that accesses the memory. After writing to the shared memory, the thread releases the mutex object.

A thread uses the CreateMutex function to create a mutex object. The creating thread can request immediate ownership of the mutex object and can also specify a name for the mutex object. Threads in other processes can open a handle to an existing mutex object by specifying its name in a call to the OpenMutex function. For additional information about names for mutex, event, semaphore, and timer objects, see Interprocess Synchronization.

Any thread with a handle of a mutex object can use one of the wait functions to request ownership of the mutex object. If the mutex object is owned by another thread, the wait function blocks the requesting thread until the owning thread releases the mutex object using the ReleaseMutex function. The return value of the wait function indicates whether the function returned for some reason other than the state of the mutex being set to signaled.

Once a thread owns a mutex, it can specify the same mutex in repeated calls to one of the wait-functions without blocking its execution. This prevents a thread from deadlocking itself while waiting for a mutex that it already owns. To release its ownership under such circumstances, the thread must call ReleaseMutex once for each time that the mutex satisfied the conditions of a wait function.

If a thread terminates without releasing its ownership of a mutex object, the mutex object is considered to be abandoned. A waiting thread can acquire ownership of an abandoned mutex object, but the wait function's return value indicates that the mutex object is abandoned. It is best to assume that an abandoned mutex object indicates that an error has occurred and that any shared resource being protected by the mutex object is in an undefined state. If the thread proceeds as though the mutex object had not been abandoned, its "abandoned" flag is cleared when the thread releases its ownership. This restores normal behavior if a handle to the mutex object is subsequently specified in a wait function.

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