Mutex in OS (Operating System) with Examples – Complete Guide

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What is Mutex in OS?

Mutex stands for ‘Mutual Exclusion’; it is a synchronization primitive that is using to make ensuring that only one thread or process is capable to access the shared resource or critical section at a time. The main objective of a mutex is to prevent multiple threads from concurrently executing operations that could make lead to data inconsistencies or race conditions.

Mutex in Operating System

Mutexes are most significant for the controlling access to shared resources and preventing the conflicts in between threads or processes. They play a critical role in concurrent programming and are often using in conjunction along with other synchronization primitives to build up more complex synchronization mechanisms.

‘Mutex in OS’ Tutorial Headlines:

In this section, we will show you all headlines about this entire article; you can check them as your choice; below shown all:

  1. What is Mutex in OS?
  2. How Does Work Mutex in OS?
  3. Types of Mutex Locks
  4. Components of Mutex Locks
  5. Example of Mutual Exclusion
  6. Applications & Uses of Mutex in OS
  7. Advantages of Mutex in OS
  8. Disadvantages of Mutex in OS
  9. Solve: Producer-Consumer Problem with Example
  10. FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)
  • Why is Mutex Important in OS?
  • Why mutex is faster than semaphore?
  • Why mutex is required?
  • What Does mutex prevent deadlock?
  • Can Mutexes be used across different processes?

Let’s Get Started!!

How Does Work Mutex in OS?

Here, we will try to cover about working structure of mutex in Operating System step by step along with suitable diagram:

Also Read: Contiguous Memory Allocation in OS with Types and Examples

working of Mutex in Operating System

  • Mutex works on the concept of locking and unlocking resources to provide mutual exclusion to a shared resource.
  • It is essentially an integer in memory that can have different values depending on its state, starting at 0 to represent an unlocked state.
  • When a thread wishes to lock the mutex, it checks if it is zero and then assigns one, making it the owner of the mutex.
  • If another thread wishes to gain control, it must wait for the first thread to unlock the mutex, ensuring mutual exclusion to the shared resource.
  • The test-and-set operation must be atomic, and CPUs have a function called “compare-and-set” or “test-and-set” to perform this operation atomically with respect to other threads.

Types of Mutex Locks

Mutex locks come in different types that offer varying levels of capabilities and behaviour. Here are some of the types of mutex locks:

Simple Mutex Locks

  • These are the basic, traditional mutex locks.
  • They provide exclusive access to a critical section for a single thread at a time.
  • Typically, they have two operations: lock (or acquire) and unlock (or release).

Reentrant Mutex Locks

  • Reentrant locks allow a thread to acquire the same lock multiple times without causing a deadlock.
  • This is useful when a function, while holding the lock, calls another function that also needs to acquire the same lock.

Error-Checking Mutex Locks

  • These locks provide additional error-checking capabilities.
  • They can detect situations where a thread attempts to unlock a lock it didn’t own or attempts to lock an already locked lock.

Timed Mutex Locks

  • Timed locks allow a thread to attempt to acquire a lock with a specified timeout.
  • If the lock cannot acquire within the specified time, the thread can perform alternative actions.

Recursive Mutex Locks

  • Recursive locks allow a thread to acquire the same lock multiple times, counting each acquisition.
  • The lock must release the same number of times, so same thread acquires it

Priority Inheritance Mutex Locks

  • In priority inheritance, the priority of a thread holding a lock temporarily boost up to that of the highest-priority thread waiting for the lock.
  • This helps prevent priority inversion issues, where a high-priority thread get block by a lower-priority thread holding a lock.

Priority Ceiling Mutex Locks

  • Similar to priority inheritance, priority ceiling mutex locks assign a priority ceiling to a lock.
  • The priority of a thread holding the lock temporarily sets to the priority ceiling, preventing priority inversion.

Adaptive Mutex Locks

  • Adaptive locks can adapt their behaviour based on the runtime conditions.
  • For example, they may switch between spinning and sleeping depending on contention levels.


  • Spinlocks are a type of mutex that repeatedly checks for the lock to become available.
  • Instead of putting the thread to sleep, spinlocks keep the thread actively checking until the lock acquires.

Components of Mutex Locks

There are various components that work together to ensure that only one thread or process can access a shared resource at a time, maintaining data consistency and preventing unintended results.

Also Read: Critical Section Problem in Operating System

Mutex Variable: Mutex variable is a synchronization mechanism that acts like a “lock” to protect access to a shared data resource. It is a low-level primitive that uses to coordinate concurrent access to mutable data, and only one thread at a time can acquire access to data that protected by a mutex.

Locking Operation (Acquire or Lock)

  • This operation likes as thread that uses to request ownership of the mutex and enter the critical section.
  • This operation is often called “acquire” or “lock.”
  • If the mutex already locked, the acquiring thread may need to wait until the lock becomes available.

Unlocking Operation (Release or Unlock)

  • Here, thread uses to release ownership of the mutex, allowing other threads to acquire it.
  • This operation is often called “release” or “unlock.”

Example of Mutual Exclusion

Example of mutual exclusion in an operating system is when two processes are trying to access a shared resource, such as a printer or a file. Mutual exclusion ensures that only one process can access the shared resource at a time, preventing race conditions and ensuring data consistency.

For instance, consider a scenario where two processes, P1 and P2, are trying to access a shared printer. The printer can only print one document at a time, so mutual exclusion is necessary to prevent both processes from trying to print simultaneously.

Also Read: What is Semaphore in OS? Types with Examples & Their Operations

Here’s a simple example of how mutual exclusion can be implemented in an operating system:

  • Both P1 and P2 request access to the printer.
  • The operating system checks if the printer is currently in use.
  • If the printer is free, the operating system grants access to the first process that requested it (either P1 or P2).
  • The granted process starts printing its document.
  • Once the printing is complete, the process releases the printer, making it available for the other process to use.

Applications & Uses of Mutex in OS

Here are some common uses of mutexes in different applications, such as:

Multithreaded Programming: In multithreaded applications, mutexes use to synchronize access to shared data structures. This helps prevent data corruption and ensures that only one thread at a time can execute critical sections of code that manipulate shared variables.

Database Management Systems (DBMS): Mutexes employ in database systems to manage concurrent access to databases. Transactions often need to execute atomically, and mutexes help control access to critical sections of the database to maintain data consistency.

Parallel Programming: In parallel computing environments, where multiple processors or cores utilize, mutexes are using to synchronize access to shared resources, ensuring that parallel threads do not interfere with each other when accessing critical sections of code.

Graphical User Interface (GUI) Programming: In applications with graphical user interfaces, multiple threads may involve in handling user input, updating the display, or processing background tasks. Mutexes help synchronize access to GUI elements to prevent visual artifacts and maintain a consistent user experience.

Networking Applications: In networked applications, mutexes are using to synchronize access to shared data structures, especially when handling incoming requests or managing network connections. This ensures that network-related operations perform safely in a multithreaded environment.

Real-Time Systems: In real-time systems where timing is critical, mutexes use to synchronize access to shared resources to avoid race conditions that could lead to unpredictable behavior. This is crucial in systems with stringent timing requirements.

Print Spooling: In print spoolers, where multiple print jobs may submit simultaneously, mutexes use to synchronize access to the print queue. This ensures that only one print job is processed at a time to avoid conflicts.

Producer-Consumer Problem: Mutexes apply in solving synchronization problems like the producer-consumer problem. They help control access to a shared buffer between producer and consumer threads, preventing issues like buffer overflows or data corruption.

Advantages of Mutex in OS

Here are some advantages benefits of using mutexes including:

Also Read: Server Operating System: Types, Examples, and Working

Preventing Data Races: Mutexes helps prevent data races that occur when multiple threads or processes try to access and modify shared data concurrently without proper synchronization. By acquiring and releasing a mutex, only one thread can access the protected resource at a time, avoiding conflicts.

Ensuring Atomicity: Mutex operations are atomic, meaning they can execute as a single, indivisible unit. This ensures that the critical section of code protected by the mutex execute without interruption, preventing inconsistencies in shared data due to partial updates.

Coordination between Threads: Mutexes provide a mechanism for coordinating the execution of threads. Threads can use mutexes to synchronize access to shared resources, ensuring that only one thread can access the critical section at a time. This coordination helps in maintaining the integrity of shared data.

Deadlock Prevention: Mutexes can use to prevent deadlock situations where multiple threads are waiting for each other to release resources. By carefully managing the acquisition and release of mutexes, developers can design systems that minimize the risk of deadlocks.

Priority Control: Some mutex implementations allow developers to control the priority of threads waiting for the mutex. This can be useful in scenarios where certain threads need more timely access to a shared resource.

Compatibility with Locking APIs: Mutexes are often part of a broader set of synchronization primitives and locking APIs provided by programming languages or operating systems. This compatibility makes it easier for developers to implement thread-safe code using standardized tools and practices.

Fairness: Some mutex implementations provide fairness mechanisms, ensuring that threads grant access to the critical section in the order in which they requested it. This helps in preventing starvation, where a thread might continuously block from accessing a resource.

Portability: Mutexes generally support by various programming languages and operating systems, making code more portable across different platforms.

Disadvantages of Mutex in OS

There are also some potential disadvantages associated with their use. It’s important to be aware of these drawbacks to make informed decisions when choosing synchronization mechanisms. Here are some disadvantages of mutexes:

Also Read: Deadlock Detection in OS with Algorithms & Examples

Deadlock Risk: If not used carefully, mutexes can lead to deadlock situations where two or more threads get block indefinitely, each waiting for the other to release a mutex. Designing systems with proper deadlock prevention strategies is crucial.

Priority Inversion: Mutexes may introduce priority inversion, a situation where a higher-priority task indirectly delay by a lower-priority task holding the mutex. This can occur when a lower-priority task is holding a mutex that a higher-priority task needs, preventing the higher-priority task from proceeding.

Overhead: Mutex operations involve acquiring and releasing locks, which introduces some level of overhead. This overhead can impact performance, especially in scenarios with high contention for shared resources.

Potential for Resource Contention: If many threads contend for the same mutex, it can lead to increased contention and decreased parallelism. This contention can result in reduced performance gains in multithreaded applications.

Difficulty in Debugging: Incorrect usage of mutexes can lead to subtle bugs that are challenging to diagnose and debug. Deadlocks and race conditions, in particular, can be difficult to identify and resolve.

Global State: Mutexes often introduce a global state into the program, and managing this state correctly can be complex. Incorrect use of mutexes may result in unexpected interactions between different parts of the program.

Lack of Compositionality: Combining multiple mutex-protected regions of code can be challenging. This lack of compositionality can make it difficult to reason about the behavior of the entire program, especially as the number of mutexes and protected regions increases.

Manual Synchronization: Mutexes require explicit management by the programmer, leading to the potential for human error. Forgetting to acquire or release a mutex, or releasing it in the wrong place, can introduce bugs that are hard to detect.

Solve: Producer-Consumer Problem with Example

The producer-consumer problem is a classic synchronization problem that involves two types of processes, producers and consumers, which share a common, fixed-size buffer as a communication medium. Producers produce data and put it into the buffer, while consumers take data from the buffer and process it. The challenge is to ensure that producers do not try to produce data into a full buffer, and consumers do not try to consume data from an empty buffer.

Also Read: Swap Space Management in Operating System with Example

Mutexes can use to solve the producer-consumer problem by providing mutual exclusion when accessing the shared buffer. Here’s a simple example of how mutexes can employ in the context of the producer-consumer problem:

import threading

// For importing the all threads

import time

import queue

# Shared buffer


buffer = queue.Queue(maxsize=BUFFER_SIZE)

# Mutex to control access to the buffer

mutex = threading.Lock()

# Producer function

def producer():

    while True:

        item = produce_item()


        if buffer.full():

            print(“Buffer is full. Producer is waiting.”)





            print(f”Produced {item}. Buffer size: {buffer.qsize()}”)



# Consumer function

def consumer():

    while True:


        if buffer.empty():

            print(“Buffer is empty. Consumer is waiting.”)




            item = buffer.get()

            print(f”Consumed {item}. Buffer size: {buffer.qsize()}”)



# Helper function to simulate producing an item

def produce_item():

    return time.time()

# Create producer and consumer threads

producer_thread = threading.Thread(target=producer)

consumer_thread = threading.Thread(target=consumer)

# Start the threads



# Wait for the threads to finish (this will never happen in this example)



FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)

Why is Mutex Important in OS?

Mutex is an essential in operating system because it facilitates the mutual exclusion in between threads; and making ensure that only one thread has the right for getting to access a critical section or data at a time. This also helps the prevents data corruption, race conditions, and ensures code reliability

Why mutex is faster than semaphore?

Mutexes are faster as compared with semaphores due to their simpler implementation. Mutexes are typically implemented with a test-and-set operation that is a single atomic instruction to acquire the lock. Whereas, semaphores, especially counting semaphores, are often implemented by using more complex operations like as test-and-increment. This additional complexity can make semaphores slightly slower to mutexes.

Why mutex is required?

Mutex is required in situations where multiple threads need to access shared resources or critical sections of code. It facilitates the mutual exclusion, ensuring that only one thread has access to the critical section at a time, preventing race conditions and data corruption.

What Does mutex prevent deadlock?

Mutex prevents deadlock by providing a mechanism for mutual exclusion, ensuring that only one thread can access a critical section at a time. This prevents scenarios where multiple threads are indefinitely blocked, waiting for each other to release resources, thus avoiding deadlock situations.

Can Mutexes be used across different processes?

Mutexes can be implemented to work across different processes, providing synchronization mechanisms for inter-process communication. These are often called inter-process Mutexes, and they typically involve using operating system facilities for inter-process synchronization.

Final Remarks

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Also Read: Free Space Management in OS with Techniques and Examples!

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