Programming language: C++
Tags: Concurrency    
Latest version: v1.0.1

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A single-producer, single-consumer lock-free queue for C++

This mini-repository has my very own implementation of a lock-free queue (that I designed from scratch) for C++.

It only supports a two-thread use case (one consuming, and one producing). The threads can't switch roles, though you could use this queue completely from a single thread if you wish (but that would sort of defeat the purpose!).

Note: If you need a general-purpose multi-producer, multi-consumer lock free queue, I have one of those too.


  • Blazing fast
  • Compatible with C++11 (supports moving objects instead of making copies)
  • Fully generic (templated container of any type) -- just like std::queue, you never need to allocate memory for elements yourself (which saves you the hassle of writing a lock-free memory manager to hold the elements you're queueing)
  • Allocates memory up front, in contiguous blocks
  • Provides a try_enqueue method which is guaranteed never to allocate memory (the queue starts with an initial capacity)
  • Also provides an enqueue method which can dynamically grow the size of the queue as needed
  • Also provides try_emplace/emplace convenience methods
  • Has a blocking version with wait_dequeue
  • Completely "wait-free" (no compare-and-swap loop). Enqueue and dequeue are always O(1) (not counting memory allocation)
  • On x86, the memory barriers compile down to no-ops, meaning enqueue and dequeue are just a simple series of loads and stores (and branches)


Simply drop the readerwriterqueue.h and atomicops.h files into your source code and include them :-) A modern compiler is required (MSVC2010+, GCC 4.7+, ICC 13+, or any C++11 compliant compiler should work).

Note: If you're using GCC, you really do need GCC 4.7 or above -- 4.6 has a bug that prevents the atomic fence primitives from working correctly.


using namespace moodycamel;

ReaderWriterQueue<int> q(100);       // Reserve space for at least 100 elements up front

q.enqueue(17);                       // Will allocate memory if the queue is full
bool succeeded = q.try_enqueue(18);  // Will only succeed if the queue has an empty slot (never allocates)

int number;
succeeded = q.try_dequeue(number);  // Returns false if the queue was empty

assert(succeeded && number == 17);

// You can also peek at the front item of the queue (consumer only)
int* front = q.peek();
assert(*front == 18);
succeeded = q.try_dequeue(number);
assert(succeeded && number == 18);
front = q.peek(); 
assert(front == nullptr);           // Returns nullptr if the queue was empty

The blocking version has the exact same API, with the addition of wait_dequeue and wait_dequeue_timed methods:

BlockingReaderWriterQueue<int> q;

std::thread reader([&]() {
    int item;
    for (int i = 0; i != 100; ++i) {
        // Fully-blocking:

        // Blocking with timeout
        if (q.wait_dequeue_timed(item, std::chrono::milliseconds(5)))
std::thread writer([&]() {
    for (int i = 0; i != 100; ++i) {

assert(q.size_approx() == 0);

Note that wait_dequeue will block indefinitely while the queue is empty; this means care must be taken to only call wait_dequeue if you're sure another element will come along eventually, or if the queue has a static lifetime. This is because destroying the queue while a thread is waiting on it will invoke undefined behaviour.


The queue should only be used on platforms where aligned integer and pointer access is atomic; fortunately, that includes all modern processors (e.g. x86/x86-64, ARM, and PowerPC). Not for use with a DEC Alpha processor (which has very weak memory ordering) :-)

Note that it's only been tested on x86(-64); if someone has access to other processors I'd love to run some tests on anything that's not x86-based.

Finally, I am not an expert. This is my first foray into lock-free programming, and though I'm confident in the code, it's possible that there are bugs despite the effort I put into designing and testing this data structure.

Use this code at your own risk; in particular, lock-free programming is a patent minefield, and this code may very well violate a pending patent (I haven't looked). It's worth noting that I came up with this algorithm and implementation from scratch, independent of any existing lock-free queues.

More info

See the [LICENSE.md][license] file for the license (simplified BSD).

My blog post introduces the context that led to this code, and may be of interest if you're curious about lock-free programming.

*Note that all licence references and agreements mentioned in the readerwriterqueue README section above are relevant to that project's source code only.