Threads in MFC Part III: Exceptions, Suspense, Murder, and Safety


In the previous tutorial, I described the various synchronization objects you can use to control access to shared objects. In most cases, these will work fine, but consider the following situation:

[code lang=”cpp”]
UINT ThreadFunc(LPVOID lParam)
return 0;

What’s going to happen when that exception gets thrown? The critical section will never be unlocked. If you start the thread again, it will again try to lock it, and finding it already locked, it will sit there forever waiting. Of course, a mutex will unlock when the thread exits, but a critical section won’t. So MFC has a couple of wrapper classes that can incorporate any of the other basic synchronization classes. These are called CSingleLock and CMultiLock.

Here is how they are used:
[code lang=”cpp”]
UINT ThreadFunc(LPVOID lParam)
CSingleLock lock(&(::criticalSection));
return 0;

You merely pass the address of the “real” synchronization object. CSingleLock lock is created on ThreadFunc’s stack, so when an exception is thrown, and that function exits prematurely without a chance to nicely clean up, CSingleLock’s destructor is called, which unlocks the data. This would not happen to criticalSection because, being a global variable, it will not go out of scope and be destroyed when ThreadFunc exits.


This class allows you to block, or wait, on up to 64 synchornization objects at once. You create an array of references to the objects, and pass this to the constructor. In addition, you can specify whether you want it to unblock when one object unlocks, or when all of them do.

[code lang=”cpp”]
//let’s pretend these are all global objects, or defined other than in the local function
\tCCriticalSection cs;
CMutex mu;
CEvent ev;
CSemaphore sem[3];

CSynObject* objects[6]={&cs, &mu, &ev,
&sem[0], &sem[1], &sem[2]};
CMultiLock mlock(objects,6);
int result=mlock.Lock(INFINITE, FALSE);


Notice you can mix synchronization object types. The two parameters I specified (both optional) specify the time-out period and whether to wait for all the objects to unlock before continuing. I saved the return value of Lock() because that is the index into the array of objects of the one that unblocked, in case I want to do special processing.

Killing a Thread

Generally, murder is very messy. You have blood and guts everywhere that certainly don’t clean up after themselves. But sometimes, sadly, it is necessary (no one call the cops–my metaphor is about to end).

If you start a child thread, and for some reason it is just not exiting when you need it to, and you’ve fixed your code, double-checked all your signaling mechanisms, and then and only then you want to kill it, here’s how. When you create the thread, you need to get its handle and save it for later use in your

[code lang=”cpp”]
HANDLE hThread;//handle to thread

A handle is only valid while the thread is running. What if we create a thread, start it off running, and it exits immediately for some reason? Back in our main thread, even if the very next statement after creating the thread is to grab its handle, it could very possibly be too late.

So we create a thread suspended! We just don’t even let it get to first base before we allow ourselves to get to the handle. This is a piece of cake, simply change the last parameter we’ve been giving fxBeginThread() from 0 toCREATE_SUSPENDED:

[code lang=”cpp”]
CWinThread* pThread=AfxBeginThread(ThreadFunc,NULL, THREAD_PRIORITY_NORMAL, 0, CREATE_SUSPENDED);
::DuplicateHandle(GetCurrentProcess(), pThread->m_hThread, GetCurrentProcess(), &hThread, 0, FALSE, DUPLICATE_SAME_ACCESS);

We start the thread suspended, use an API call to duplicate the thread’s handle, saving it to our class variable, and then resuming the thread.

Then, if we want to commit this heinous crime:

[code lang=”cpp”]::TerminateThread(hThread,0);

Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Thread-Safe Classes

Thread-safety refers to the possibility of calling member functions across thread-boundaries. Their are two types of safety: Class-level and Object-level. Class level means that I can create two CStringT objects called a and b, and access each of them in separate threads, but I cannot safely access just a in
two threads. Object safety means that it’s perfectly ok to access a in two or more threads simultaneously. Thread-safety at the object level generally means using synchronization objects to control access to all internal datamembers. So why not make all classes thread-safe at the object level? Because that would just about kill your performance. You can lock objects yourself outside of the actual object (as shown in Part II) to make it safe.

This is not to say that your program will always crash if you try to access a single object from two threads, but it most likely will. Also, you should not generally lock access to MFC member functions or public variables–you don’t know when the MFC framework is going to need access to them. There really isn’t need to lock on a CWnd* object anyway.


There are many, many details I have neglected to cover in these three tutorials. You can look in the SDK or .NET documentation for more information on such things as pausing/resuming, scheduling, masks in CMultiLock(), or any of the other member functions of the thread classes. If you want to learn about the internal details of Windows, threads and fibers, (plus a lot of other important subjects) check out Programming Applications for Microsoft Windows by Jeffrey Richter.

I have yet to cover so-called user-interface threads (internally, there is no difference–all threads are created equal). Perhaps in a future tutorial…

Threads are a very powerful tool, but they can quickly increase the complexity of your application by an order of magnitude. Use wisely. As always, it takes some experimentation to get the hang of how to go about it. So have fun!

©2004 Ben Watson

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