Channel (programming)


In computing, a channel is a model for interprocess communication and synchronization via message passing. A message may be sent over a channel, and another process or thread is able to receive messages sent over a channel it has a reference to, as a stream. Different implementations of channels may be buffered or not, and either synchronous or asynchronous.

Channels are fundamental to the process calculus approach to concurrency, and originated in communicating sequential processes (CSP), a formal model for concurrency, and has been used in many derived languages, such as occam, and Limbo programming language (via Newsqueak and the Alef programming language). They are also used in Plan 9 from Bell Labs's libthread, as well as in Stackless Python and the Go programming language.

Channel implementations

Channels modeled after the CSP model are inherently synchronous: a process waiting to receive an object from a channel will block until the object is sent. This is also called rendezvous behaviour. Typical supported operations are presented below using the example of the libthread channel API.

  • Channel creation of fixed or variable size, returning a reference or handle
    Channel* chancreate(int elemsize, int bufsize)
  • sending to a channel
    int chansend(Channel *c, void *v)
  • receiving from a channel
    int chanrecv(Channel *c, void *v)

libthread channels

The multithreading library, libthread, which was first created for the operating system Plan 9, offers inter-thread communication based on fixed-size channels.

OCaml events

The OCaml event module offers typed channels for synchronization. When the module's send and receive functions are called, they create corresponding send and receive events which can be synchronized.


Lua Love2D

The Love2D library which is part of the Lua programming language implements channels with push and pop operations similar to stacks. The pop operation will block so as long as there is data resident on the stack. A demand operation is equivalent to pop, except it will block until there is data on the stack

-- A string containing code which will be intereprted by a function such as loadstring(),
-- but on the C side to start a native thread.

local threadCode = [[
    love.thread.getChannel("test"):push("Hello world!")

function love.load()
    -- Start the thread.
    thread = love.thread.newThread(threadCode)
    -- The thread will block until "Hello world!" is popped off channel test's stack.
    -- Because the channel can be popped from before the thread first executes, there may not be data on the stack.
    -- in that case use :demand() instead of :pop() because :demand() will block until there is data on the stack and then return the data.
    -- The thread can now finish.


The XMOS programming language XC provides a primitive type "chan" and two operators "<:" and ":>" for sending and receiving data from a channel.[1]

In this example, two hardware threads are started on the XMOS, running the two lines in the "par" block. The first line transmits the number 42 through the channel while the second waits until it is received and sets the value of x. The XC language also allows asynchronous receiving on channels through a select statement.

chan c;
int x;
par {
  c <: 42;
  c :> x;


This snippet of Go code performs similarly to the XC code. First the channel c is created, then a goroutine is spawned which sends 42 through the channel. When the number is put in the channel x is set to 42. Go allows channels to buffer contents, as well as non blocking receiving through the use of a select block.[2]

c := make(chan int)

go func() {c <- 42}()

x := <- c


Rust provides asynchronous channels for communication between threads. Channels allow a unidirectional flow of information between two end-points: the Sender and the Receiver.[3]

use std::sync::mpsc;
use std::thread;

fn main() {
    let (tx, rx) = mpsc::channel();

    thread::spawn(move || {

    let result = rx.recv();
    println!("{:?}", result);


In addition to their fundamental use for interprocess communication, channels can be used as a primitive to implement various other concurrent programming constructs which can be realized as streams. For example, channels can be used to construct futures and promises, where a future is a one-element channel, and a promise is a process that sends to the channel, fulfilling the future.[4] Similarly, iterators can be constructed directly from channels.[5]

List of implementations

List of non-standard, library based implementations of channels

  • For C++:
    • stlab[6] This implementation supports splits, and different merge and zip operations. Different executors can be attached to the individual nodes.


  1. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2016-03-04. Retrieved 2015-05-10.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  2. ^
  3. ^ "Channels - Rust By Example". Retrieved 28 November 2020.
  4. ^ "Futures", Go Language Patterns
  5. ^ "Iterators", Go Language Patterns
  6. ^ "stlab is the ongoing work of what was Adobe's Software Technology Lab. The Adobe Source Libraries (ASL), Platform Libraries, and new stlab libraries are hosted on github". 2021-01-31.

External links

  • Libthread Channel Implementation
  • Bell Labs and CSP Threads
  • Limbo – Inferno Application Programming
  • – Channels
  • – OCaml Events