The bakery algorithm was proposed by Leslie Lamport as a solution to Dijkstra’s concurrent programming problem. In the problem, Dijkstra had first identified the need for mutual exclusion among a group of concurrently executing processes.

We want to run N processes concurrently, with exclusive access to a shared resource. Modern day languages solve this with help from hardware. But the bakery algorithm allows for pure software mutual exclusion by making sure that at most one process is executing its critical section, while other non-faulty processes are either in their non-critical section, or spinning in place, waiting to get to the critical section. In other words, mutual exclusion in the critical section is achieved in software. Now this is inefficient, since it involves processes “spinning” in a loop while waiting for a chance to execute the critical section.

What is remarkable about this algorithm (as Lamport points out multiple times in the paper) is that even though reads from memory may not be atomic (which is important with overlapping reads and writes to the same location), the algorithm works fine, since it does not care what exact value is read, and makes do with a distinction between zero and nonzero values. Here’s an implementation followed by a description (the code is on github: go get

package main

import (

func max(xs []int) int {
	if len(xs) < 1 {
		panic("max() on empty slice")
	ret := xs[0]
	for i := 1; i < len(xs); i++ {
		if xs[i] > ret {
			ret = xs[i]
	return ret

func main() {
	n := flag.Int("nodes", 5, "number of participating nodes")
	iters := flag.Int("iters", 100000, "number of iterations")
	debug := flag.Bool("debug", false, "print debug trace")


	// 1. process i is in the doorway while choosing[i] == true
	// 2. process i is in the bakery from when it resets choosing[i] to false till
	// either it fails, or finishes its critical section.

	choosing := make([]bool, *n+1, *n+1) // one extra for the monitoring process
	numbers := make([]int, *n+1, *n+1)

	sharedMap := map[string]int{
		"last_updated_by": -1,

	sharedSlice := make([]int, 0)

	lock := func(id int) {

		choosing[id] = true

		/* At the doorway */

		if *debug {
			fmt.Printf("%d: choosing\n", id)

		numbers[id] = 1 + max(numbers)
		if *debug {
			fmt.Printf("%d: chose number %d\n", id, numbers[id])

		choosing[id] = false

		/* Entered bakery */

		for k := 0; k <= *n; k++ {                              /* L1 */
			printed := false
			for choosing[k] {                                   /* L2 */
				// spin
				if *debug && !printed {
					fmt.Printf("%d: spinning for %d (waiting for it to choose: %v)\n",
						id, k, choosing)
					printed = true
				// this is important, as tight spinning here would cause only
				// the first $n_core goroutines to be scheduled, starving
				// all others. this would in turn cause the whole algorithm
				// to stop making any progress.
				time.Sleep(10 * time.Millisecond)
			printed = false
			for numbers[k] != 0 &&
				((numbers[k] < numbers[id]) ||
					(numbers[k] == numbers[id] && k < id)) {    /* L3 */
				// spin
				if *debug && !printed {
					fmt.Printf("%d: spinning for %d (waiting for it to finish CS: %v)\n",
						id, k, numbers)
					printed = true
				time.Sleep(10 * time.Millisecond)

	unlock := func(id int) {
		if *debug {
			fmt.Printf("%d: unlock: %v\n", id, numbers)
		numbers[id] = 0

	proc := func(id int, stop chan struct{}, ack chan struct{}) {
		for {
			select {
			case <-stop:
				break out


				fmt.Printf("%d: entering critical section\n", id)

				// critical section
				sharedMap["last_updated_by"] = id
				sharedSlice = append(sharedSlice, id)
				sharedSlice = sharedSlice[1:]
				// end critical section

				fmt.Printf("%d: done critical section\n", id)
		ack <- struct{}{}

	stops := make([]chan struct{}, 0)
	acks := make([]chan struct{}, 0)
	for i := 0; i < *n; i++ {
		c := make(chan struct{})
		d := make(chan struct{})
		stops = append(stops, c)
		acks = append(acks, d)
		go proc(i, c, d)

	// Monitor and quit after some time

	for i := 1; i < *iters; i++ {
		if *debug {
			fmt.Sprintf("monitor lock acquired", sharedSlice)
		if len(sharedSlice) > 1 {
			panic(fmt.Sprintf("found concurrent access with %v", sharedSlice))
		// Go will panic when sharedMap is written to by two goroutines

		if *debug {
			fmt.Sprintf("monitor lock released", sharedSlice)

	for _, stop := range stops {
		stop <- struct{}{}

	for _, ack := range acks {



So we have n goroutines, and each wants to mutate a shared map (by updating the single value in it) and a shared slice (by appending the process id to it, and then reslicing it to maintain a length of 1). There is also the main monitoring goroutine that checks if the shared slice ever contains more than two items. Simultaneous mutation of a map by more than one goroutines is detected by the Go runtime, which panics in such a case.

The key idea of the algorithm is that just like in an old fashioned bakery (or a bank), each participant gets a token, or a number, roughly in the order of arrival. Participants then get serviced in order of their token numbers. The thing is that in our situation, there is no single receptionist to hand these tokens over to participant processes. So, our solution is to have processes pick their own numbers, and such a tie is broken by letting the process with a lower id enter the critical section first.

The lock routine is the meat of the bakery algorithm. There are two shared slices, choosing and numbers, and process i only writes to choosing[i] and numbers[i], but can read from any other indices in choosing and numbers.


Our system with N processes (goroutines, here) functions such that at any given time, at most one process is in the critical section. To prove this, let’s see the execution from process i’s perspective, and first define some terms:

  • : Time when process i completes the last iteration of loop L2 for process k. This is when it sees choosing[k] == false.
  • : Time when process i completes the last iteration of loop L3 for process k. This happens when process i sees a 0 in numbers[k], or if it thinks it should be serviced before process k owing to a lower token number.
  • : Time at which process k completes choosing[k] = true.
  • : Time at which process k completes setting choosing[k] = false, after choosing a number.

We can now make some observations:

  • .
  • At time $t^k_e$, numbers[k] is completely written, and a read at or after this point of numbers[k] will not return a partial result.
  • At , either process k is just out of the doorway (set choosing[k] = false) and in the bakery (either waiting for other processes, or executing its critical section); or is neither in the doorway or in the bakery (maybe executing some non-critical section code). This corresponds to either , or , respectively.

    • When , we also have . This means that process i found (at time ) either numbers[i] < numbers[k], or if both numbers are equal, that i < k. Note that k must have picked a number at least as large as numbers[i] in this case.

    • When , it must be that numbers[i] < numbers[k], since when k does enter the doorway (after the moment $t^k_d$), it will pick a number that is at least one larger than numbers[i], which has already been written completely.

Hence, in both these cases, process i does not wait for process k. Generalizing this to all other processes k that a given process i needs to share resources with, it can be seen that at most one process will be able to execute its critical section.


If a process fails after setting choosing[k] = true, and then keeps failing and recovering, never resetting choosing[k], a deadlock can be reached as other processes will keep spinning, waiting on the failed process.

Starvation because of spinning

If we do not yield to the runtime by calling time.Sleep() in every loop iteration, only as many goroutines as the number of cores on our computer will be able to run causing the algorithm to stop making any progress.