lights FAQ Forum
This package

Portable OS APIs


POSIX threads binding for Linux, OSX and Windows

local pthread = require'pthread'

POSIX threads. Emulated in Windows by the winpthreads library from MinGW-w64.


API Description
threads[, attrs]) -> th create and start a new thread
th:equal(other_th) -> true | false check if two threads are equal
th:join() -> status wait for a thread to finish
th:detach() detach a thread
th:priority(new_priority) set thread priority
th:priority() -> priority get thread priority
pthread.min_priority() -> priority get min. priority
pthread.max_priority() -> priority get max. priority
pthread.yield() relinquish control to the scheduler
pthread.mutex([mattrs]) -> mutex create a mutex
mutex:free() free a mutex
mutex:lock() lock a mutex
mutex:unlock() unlock a mutex
mutex:trylock() -> true | false lock a mutex or return false
condition variables
pthread.cond() -> cond create a condition variable
cond:free() free the condition variable
cond:broadcast() broadcast
cond:signal() signal
cond:wait(mutex[, timeout]) -> true | false wait with optional timeout (*)
read/write locks
pthread.rwlock() -> rwlock create a r/w lock
rwlock:free() free a r/w lock
rwlock:writelock() lock for writing
rwlock:readlock() lock for reading
rwlock:trywritelock() -> true | false try to lock for writing
rwlock:tryreadlock() -> true | false try to lock for reading
rwlock:unlock() unlock the r/w lock

(*) timeout is an os.time() or time.time() timestamp, not a time period.

NOTE: All functions raise errors but error messages are not included and error codes are platform specific. Use c/precompile errno.h | grep CODE to search for specific codes.


Use it with luastate:

local ffi = require'ffi'
local pthread = require'pthread'
local luastate = require'luastate'

--make a new Lua state
local state =

--load the standard libraries into the Lua state

--create a callback into the Lua state to be called from a different thread

   --up-values are not copied, so we have to require ffi again.
   local ffi = require'ffi'

   --this is our worker function that will run in a different thread.
   local function worker()
      --print() is thread-safe so no need to guard it.
      print'Hello from thread!'

   --make a ffi callback frame to call into our worker function.
   --luajit anchors both the callback object and its function
   --so we don't care about them getting garbage collected.
   local worker_cb = ffi.cast('void *(*)(void *)', worker)

   --get the callback pointer out of the Lua state as a number,
   --because we can't pass cdata between Lua states.
   --tonumber() works on x64 too in this case because the Lua state
   --was allocated by LuaJIT which can only allocate stuff in the
   --lowest 4GB of the address space.
   return tonumber(ffi.cast('intptr_t', worker_cb))

--call the function that we just pushed into the Lua state
--to get the callback pointer.
local worker_cb_ptr = ffi.cast('void*', state:call())

--create a thread which will start running automatically.
local thread =

--wait for the thread to finish.

--close the Lua state.

Reference[, attrs]) -> th

Create and start a new thread and return the thread object.

func_ptr is a C callback declared as: void *(*func_ptr)(void *arg). Its return value is returned by th:join().

The optional attrs table can have the fields:

  • detached = true - start detached (not very useful with Lua states)
  • priority = n - thread priority; must be between pthread.min_priority() and pthread.max_priority() – in Linux these are both 0.
  • stackaddr = n - stack address.
  • stacksize = n - stack size in bytes (OS restrictions apply).

pthread.mutex([mattrs]) -> mutex

Create a mutex. The optional mattrs table can have the fields:

  • type = 'normal' | 'recursive' | 'errorcheck':
    • ‘normal’ (default) - non-recursive mutex: locks are not counted and not owned, so double-locking as well as unlocking by a different thread results in undefined behavior.
    • ‘recursive’ - recursive mutex: locks are counted and owned, so double-locking is allowed as long as done by the same thread.
    • ‘errorcheck’ - non-recursive mutex with error checking, so double-locking and unlocking by a different thread results in an error being raised.

Building notes

This library only works on a LuaJIT binary that was compiled with -pthread.

Implementation notes

POSIX is a standard indifferent to binary compatibility, resulting in each implementation having a different ABI. Moreso, different implementations cover different parts of the API.

The list of currently supported pthreads implementations are:

  • winpthreads 9.0.0 from Mingw-w64 (tested on Windows 10 64bit)
  • libpthread from GNU libc (tested on Ubuntu 10.04 x64)
  • libpthread from OSX (tested on OSX 10.9 64bit)

Only functionality that is common to all of the above is available. Winpthreads dumbs down the API the most (no process-shared objects, no real-time extensions, etc.), but OSX too (no timed waits, no semaphores, no barriers, etc.) and even Linux (setting priority levels needs root access). Functions that don’t make sense with Lua (pthread_once) or are stubs in one or more implementations (pthread_setconcurrency) or are unsafe to use with Lua states (killing, cancelation) were also dropped. All in all you get a pretty thin library with just the basics covered. The good news is that this is really all you need for most apps. A more comprehensive but still portable threading library would have to be implemented on top of native synchronization primitives. In any case, I cannot personally support extra functionality, but patches welcome.

Next are a few tips to get a rough idea of the portability situation.

To find out (part of) the truth about API coverage, you can start by checking the exported symbols on the pthreads library on each platform and compare them:

On Linux:

   c/syms /lib/ | \
      grep '^pthread' > pthread_syms_linux.txt


   (c/syms /usr/lib/libpthread.dylib
   c/syms /usr/lib/system/libsystem_pthread.dylib) | \
      grep '^pthread' > pthread_syms_osx.txt

On Windows:

   c/syms bin\mingw64\libwinpthread-1.dll | \
      grep ^^pthread > pthread_syms_mingw.txt

Compare the results (the first column tells the number of platforms
that a symbol was found on):

   sort pthread_syms_* | uniq -c | sort -nr

To find out the differences in ABI and supported flags, you can preprocess the headers on different platforms and compare them:

c/preprocess pthread.h sched.h semaphore.h > pthread_h_<platform>.lua

The above will use gcc to preprocess the headers and generate a (very crude, mind you) Lua cdef template file that you can use as a starting point for a binding and/or to check ABI differences.

Next step is to look at the source code for winpthreads and find out what is really implemented (and how).

Last updated: 22 months ago | Edit on GitHub

Pkg type:Lua+ffi
Version: aa06ad3
Last commit:
Author: Cosmin Apreutesei
License: BSD
Import: libwinpthread
Import ver: 9.0.0

Requires: +luajit 

Required by: libstdcxx  thread