Using Glib::Dispatcher

The slots connected to sigc::signal objects execute in the thread which calls emit() or operator()() on the signal. Glib::Dispatcher does not behave this way: instead its connected slots execute in the thread in which the Glib::Dispatcher object was constructed (which must have a glib main loop). If a Glib::Dispatcher object is constructed in the main GUI thread (which will therefore be the receiver thread), any worker thread can emit on it and have the connected slots safely execute gtkmm functions.

Some thread safety rules on the use of Glib::Dispatcher still apply. As mentioned, a Glib::Dispatcher object must be constructed in the receiver thread (the thread in whose main loop it will execute its connected slots). By default this is the main program thread, although there is a Glib::Dispatcher constructor which can take the Glib::MainContext object of any thread which has a main loop. Only the receiver thread should call connect() on the Glib::Dispatcher object, or manipulate any related sigc::connection object, unless additional synchronization is employed. However, any worker thread can safely emit on the Glib::Dispatcher object without any locking once the receiver thread has connected the slots, provided that it is constructed before the worker thread is started (if it is constructed after the thread has started, additional synchronization will normally be required to ensure visibility).

Aside from the fact that connected slots always execute in the receiver thread, Glib::Dispatcher objects are similar to sigc::signal<void> objects. They therefore cannot pass unbound arguments nor return a value. The best way to pass unbound arguments is with a thread-safe (asynchronous) queue. At the time of writing glibmm does not have one, although most people writing multi-threaded code will have one available to them (they are relatively easy to write although there are subtleties in combining thread safety with strong exception safety).

A Glib::Dispatcher object can be emitted on by the receiver thread as well as by a worker thread, although this should be done within reasonable bounds. On unix-like systems Glib::Dispatcher objects share a single common pipe, which could in theory at least fill up on a very heavily loaded system running a program with a very large number of Dispatcher objects in use. Were the pipe to fill up before the receiver thread's main loop has had an opportunity to read from it to empty it, and the receiver thread attempt to emit and so write to it when it is in that condition, the receiver thread would block on the write, so deadlocking. Where the receiver thread is to emit, a normal sigc::signal<void> object could of course be used instead.