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Definition

semaphore

Contributor(s): Robert Greenwood

In programming, especially in Unix systems, semaphores are a technique for coordinating or synchronizing activities in which multiple processes compete for the same operating system resources. A semaphore is a value in a designated place in operating system (or kernel) storage that each process can check and then change. Depending on the value that is found, the process can use the resource or will find that it is already in use and must wait for some period before trying again. Semaphores can be binary (0 or 1) or can have additional values. Typically, a process using semaphores checks the value and then, if it using the resource, changes the value to reflect this so that subsequent semaphore users will know to wait.

Semaphores are commonly use for two purposes: to share a common memory space and to share access to files. Semaphores are one of the techniques for interprocess communication (IPC). The C programming language provides a set of interfaces or "functions" for managing semaphores.

This was last updated in July 2007

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