C++: Generic locker class for thread-safe proxy-access to arbitrary objects

I created a template class which can be used to provide thread-safe access to methods and fields of some target object.
It provides a convenient double-smart-pointer proxy mechanism for accessing one method or field of the target, and a functor mechanism for executing multiple operations on the target within one lock.
Naturally with a RAII solution, the double-smart-pointer style provides no thread-safety for iterator/pointer-based access or any other kind of access which involves taking pointers/references to the target and accessing them outside the lock. For such use cases, wrap the entire operation in the functor style instead.

Source is below and also available on Github

#if 0
set -eu
declare -r tmp="$(mktemp)"
g++ -std=c++14 -Wall -Wextra -o "$tmp" "$0"
valgrind --quiet "$tmp"
exit 0
/* Run this file with bash to compile+execute it */
#include <mutex>
#include <iostream>
#include <type_traits>

/* Demo: double-smart pointer for automatic locking of arbitrary class */

template <typename T>
class ThreadSafe
	T t;
	mutable std::mutex mx;
	class Proxy
		std::unique_lock<std::mutex> lock;
		T& t;
		explicit Proxy(std::mutex& mx, T& t) : lock(mx), t(t) { std::cout << "  (lock)" << std::endl; }
		Proxy(Proxy&& src) : lock(std::move(src.lock)), t(src.t) { }
		~Proxy() { std::cout << "  (unlock)" << std::endl; }
		T *operator -> () { return &t; }
	template <typename ...Args>
	explicit ThreadSafe(Args&&... args) : t(std::forward<Args>(args)...) { }
	Proxy operator -> () { return Proxy(mx, t); }
	template <typename Func, typename R = typename std::enable_if<!std::is_void<typename std::result_of<Func(T&)>::type>::value>::type>
	auto operator () (const Func& func) {
		std::lock_guard<std::mutex> lock(mx);
		return func(t);
	template <typename Func, typename R = typename std::enable_if<std::is_void<typename std::result_of<Func(T&)>::type>::value>::type>
	void operator () (const Func& func) {
		func( * operator -> () . operator -> () );

int main(int argc, char *argv[])
	(void) argc;
	(void) argv;
	/* Initialise s as a thread-safe wrapper around a std::string */
	ThreadSafe<std::string> s("potato");
	/* For doing one operation, the pointer proxy style is convenient */
	s->append("es are awesome");
	/* Function style: Passed function is executed within lock and may do multiple operations */
	s([] (auto& str) { str += "!"; });
	/* Not thread safe, as our lock object expires before the pointer is used.  Use the function style in place of this: */
	std::cout << s->c_str() << std::endl;
	return 0;

Why doesn’t “sudo echo value > target” work, and why pipe into “tee”?

Quick one here for beginners, since I’ve been asked this question quite a bit lately.

Problem and reason for it

When you type “sudo echo value > /sys/target” into a POSIX shell, the interpreter parses the command and comes up with something like this:

Program: sudo
Parameters: echo value
Input: STDIN
Output: /sys/target

Note that “sudo” is not a shell built-in command, it is a separate program which is not even installed on many Linux systems. When “sudo” is executed with those arguments, it opens a root shell and in that shell runs “echo value”. Whether “echo” is a shell built-in, or a separate binary (e.g. /bin/echo) the result should be the same: “value” is written to STDOUT.

The STDOUT for sudo however is not the console since sudo was run with the redirection to /sys/target. This leads us onto the reason why your command doesn’t work.

In order to execute your original command, a few system calls are involved:

  • Fork: The shell process fork into two processes
  • Open: The child process opens /sys/target for writing
  • Dup2: The child process maps the opened file as the STDOUT descriptor (replacing the previous file assigned to that descriptor)
  • Exec: The child process calls exec to replace itself with the desired program (sudo)

Note that this all occurs in your current security context, since “sudo” is not launched yet (the “exec” call launches “sudo”). So as a result, the “open” system call will fail, since your user account does not have the required permissions for opening the target file for writing. The “echo” and “sudo” do not fail because they aren’t even started.


The solution to this is to do the output redirection from within the security context that “sudo” gives you. There are various ways to achieve this:


Tee duplicates its input stream to multiple outputs (hence the name, “T”). Play with the following examples:

echo Hello | tee
echo Hello | tee /dev/stdout
echo Hello | tee /dev/stdout /dev/stderr
echo Hello | tee /dev/stdout /dev/stdout /dev/stdout

This is commonly used for redirecting from programs run with sudo:

echo value | sudo tee /sys/target

The “echo” program does not need to be run with sudo as just writes its parameters to STDOUT. “tee” is run with sudo as it needs to open the target file for writing. Note that since “tee” also copies the input data to its output, you will see your value written to the terminal when using this method.

Nested shell

Another method is to have “sudo” start a shell and redirect from within that shell:

sudo sh -c 'echo value > /sys/target'

If using single-quotes to wrap the command, this will prevent environment variables from your interactive shell from getting expanded into the command. Instead, expansion takes place in the root shell. This may be beneficial in some cases.


The previous methods use sudo, which will typically ask for a password. If you want to permit certain operations to be run without requiring manual password entry (e.g. for scripting or for hoykeys), you can put the commands into scripts, chown the scripts so they’re owned by root, then edit the “sudoers” file appropriately.


You can also replace the scripts with C programs that call setuid to acquire root. After compiling, you must chown the programs to root and set the setuid bit on them so that they can acquire root automatically.

This method requires care since you’re allowing any user to run certain root-only operations. Be careful of what commands you permit to be run like this, take care to avoid buffer overruns/underruns, and compile in ultra-strict mode (-Wall -Wextra -pedantic -Werror -fstack-protector).

Easy containers on Arch Linux with systemd


After numerous issues over the past few months with Docker, I decided to look into other options for crash-and-burn environments, and for “software as a function” invocations.

I was pleasantly surprised to see that systemd and Arch Linux provide everything that I need already.


# Install pacstrap
sudo pacman -S arch-install-scripts

# Create subvolume for container (you could just use a normal directory instead)
sudo btrfs subvol create /opt/gcc295

# Install the base system and a few other packages
sudo pacstrap -icd /opt/gcc295 base wget curl vim ed make git patch bash perl --ignore linux

# Enable and start networking
echo 'nameserver' | sudo tee /opt/gcc295/etc/resolv.conf
sudo systemctl enable systemd-networkd
sudo systemctl start systemd-networkd

# Set the root password for the container
sudo passwd -R /opt/gcc295

# Boot into the container for the first time, log in as root
sudo systemd-nspawn -bnD /opt/gcc295

# Start networking in the container
systemctl start systemd-networkd

# Do what you need to within the container to prepare it for its intended purpose
wget ...
tar xaf ...
cd ...
./configure ...
make ...
make install ...

# Ctrl+] three times to stop and exit the container

# Fork the container to test some idea or develop another container based on this one
sudo systemd-nspawn -bnD /opt/gcc3 --template =/opt/gcc295

# Do what you need to within that container in order to prepare it for usage, then ^]^]^] as before to exit the container

# Run a container using a temporary snapshot, so any changes to the container state are not preserved (i.e. changes are deleted/destroyed/lost).
sudo systemd-nspawn -bnxD /opt/gcc3 

# Optionally, create read-only BTRFS snapshots of prepared containers, then use those snapshots, to ensure that you don't modify them accidentally.
btrfs subvol snapshot -r ...

# You can pass the --read-only option to systemd-nspawn, to force the root file-system to be read-only, if you know that your container shouldn't need to modify it at all.  This may be faster, but contained software which stores/mutates state information in the file system will fail.
sudo systemd-nspawn -bnD --read-only /opt/gcc3

# Execute a program from a container, with arguments, and with a host path (~/arm-kernel-2.6) bound into the container (at /kernel)
sudo systemd-nspawn -xanD /opt/gcc3 --bind=~/arm-kernel-2.6:/kernel make -C /kernel

# Wrapped in a script for ease of use.  Uses -q switch to suppress output from nspawn.
set -e
sudo systemd-nspawn -qxanD /opt/gcc295 --bind="${src}":/src make -C /src "$@"

I use BTRFS subvolumes for containers, to allow easy version-control of them.  You could just install to a normal folder though, subvolumes/BTRFS aren’t required.

Use pacstrap to install the base system and any extra packages that you might want.

To fork the container (as in Git, not the POSIX variety), use the –template argument to systemd-nspawn. This works best if the container folder is a BTRFS subvolume, as BTRFS’ COW snapshot mechanism will be used for forking.

To launch a temporary container based on your template, use the -x option to systemd-nspawn. This works best if the container folder is a BTRFS subvolume, for the same reason as for forking.

Of course, if you do use BTRFS subvolumes, then you can make backups and incremental patches for container development using btrfs send/receive. For complete backups, you can also use TAR or CPIO regardless of whether you’re using BTRFS subvolumes or not.