Killing a thread is different from breaking a thread. Killing a thread kills 
the thread unrecoverably, and no cleanup actions are run. This usually isn’t 
what you want, but there’s always a tension between these kinds of things: 
defensive programmers ask “How do I make myself unkillable so I can safely 
clean up?” but then implementors of a dynamic environment (like, say, DrRacket) 
find themselves asking “How do I kill a runaway thread?” Assuming you’re not 
DrRacket, you usually want `break-thread`, not `kill-thread`.

But perhaps you know that already, and your question is just about breaking, so 
by “kill-safe” you mean “break-safe.” You ask why `semaphore-break` doesn’t 
just disable breaking, but that wouldn’t help with the problem the 
documentation alludes to. The problem is that there’s fundamentally a race 
condition in code like this:

    (semaphore-wait sem)
    ; do something important
    (semaphore-post sem)

If this code is executed in a context where breaks are enabled, it’s not 
break-safe whether or not `semaphore-wait` were to disable breaks while waiting 
on the semaphore. As soon as `semaphore-wait` returns, the queued break would 
be delivered, the stack would unwind, and the matching `semaphore-post` call 
would never execute, potentially holding a lock forever. So the issue isn’t 
that the semaphore’s internal state gets somehow corrupted, but that the state 
no longer reflects the value you want.

The right way to write that code is to disable breaks in the critical section:

    (parameterize-break #f
      (semaphore-wait sem)
      ; do something important
      (semaphore-post sem))

This eliminates the race condition, since a break cannot be delivered until the 
`semaphore-post` executes (and synchronous, non-break exceptions can be 
protected against via `dynamic-wind` or an exception handler). But this creates 
a new problem, since if a break is delivered while the code is blocked on the 
semaphore, it won’t be delivered until the semaphore is posted/unlocked, which 
may be a very long time. You’d really rather just break the thread, since it 
hasn’t entered the critical section yet, anyway.

This is what `semaphore-wait/enable-break` is for. You can think of it as a 
version of `semaphore-wait` that re-enables breaks internally, inside its 
implementation, and it installs an exception handler to ensure that if a break 
is delivered at the worst possible moment (after the count has been decremented 
but before breaks are disabled again), it reverses the change and re-raises the 
break exception. (I have no idea if this is how it’s actually implemented, but 
I think it’s an accurate model of its behavior.) This does exactly what we 
want, since it ensures that if we do enter the critical section, breaks are 
disabled until we exit it, but we can still be interrupted if we’re blocked 
waiting to enter it.

So it’s not so much that there’s anything really special going on here, but 
more that break safety is inherently anti-modular where state is involved, and 
you can’t implement `semaphore-wait/enable-break`-like constructs if you only 
have access to the `semaphore-wait`-like sibling.

> On Jan 17, 2020, at 22:37, Jack Firth <jackhfi...@gmail.com> wrote:
> 
> The docs for semaphores say this:
> 
> In general, it is impossible using only semaphore-wait to implement the 
> guarantee that either the semaphore is decremented or an exception is raised, 
> but not both. Racket therefore supplies semaphore-wait/enable-break (see 
> Semaphores), which does permit the implementation of such an exclusive 
> guarantee.
> 
> I understand the purpose of semaphore-wait/enable-break, but there's 
> something about semaphore-wait that confuses me: why does it allow breaking 
> at all? My understanding is that if breaks are enabled, semaphore-wait still 
> tries to block and decrement the counter, even though a break at any time 
> could destroy the integrity of the semaphore. Does that mean it's not 
> kill-safe to use a semaphore as a lock? Wouldn't it be safer if 
> semaphore-wait automatically disabled breaks while waiting?

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