a ridiculous adder

Aug 19, 2014  

Alright, the first example of “Ridiculous Concurrency” ! Here is a terribly inefficient adder that performs arithmetic on arbitrarily large integers.

See this gist for the complete source …

In case no one gets the joke, I’ll be explicit: this is not really a way to implement a “BigNum”, it’s a terrible way to do it, but it’s a fun way to do it that can only be done with Go.

This is the main function:

func main() {
     bignum := MakeBigNum([]int{9, 9, 8})
     fmt.Println("\nAnd after adding ... \n")
     add(100000, bignum)

Pretty straightforward … and this is how you make the big number:

func addDigit(b *Bignum, num int, in <-chan bool) chan bool {
     new_out := make(chan bool)
     d := &Digit{num, in, new_out}
     b.digits = append(b.digits, d)
     go carry(d)
     return new_out

func carry(d *Digit) {
         for in_msg := range d.pull_carry {
     	         out_msg := false
                 if in_msg {
                         sum := d.value + 1
                         if sum >= 10 {
                                 d.value = sum - 10
                                 out_msg = true
                         } else {
                                 d.value = sum
                 d.push_carry <- out_msg

func sentinel(b *Bignum, in <-chan bool) {
        for {
                var msg = <-in
                if msg {
                        last_out := addDigit(b, 1, in)
                        go sentinel(b, last_out)
                        last_out <- false
                 } else {
                        b.stable <- true
func MakeBigNum(num_arr []int) *Bignum {
         var digits []*Digit
         last_out := make(chan bool)
         stable := make(chan bool)
         b := &Bignum{digits, last_out, stable}
         l := len(num_arr)
         for i := 0; i < l; i++ {
                 last_out = addDigit(b, num_arr[l-i-1], last_out)
         go sentinel(b, last_out)
         return b

Yup, every digit is a Goroutine here!

Each digit is connected to the one on its left and the one on its right, and has channels open to each. It listens in on one (pull_carry) and increments itself if necessary. If it overflows, it lets the next one know.

The last digit is always a “sentinel”, which on receiving a carry signal (i.e. when the overall big number grows in size), creates a new “digit” (spawning a goroutine for it) and makes that one the new sentinel.

With this arrangement, the actual task of addition is boring:

func add(n int, b *Bignum) {
        sent := 0
        done := 0
	for {
	         select {
	    	 case b.add <- true:
			 if sent == n {
			         break done_sending
	         case <-b.stable:
	 for ; done < n; done++ {
	         <- b.stable

Well, alright, not that boring. b.add is nothing other than the pull_carry channel of the first digit. We just pump that channel as many times as the size of the number we’re adding, and wait for the number to “stabilize” at the end. b.stable is the flip side of b.add: it’s the push_carry channel of the last digit.

The small trick here is to start receiving the results in parallel, to avoid deadlock. Another option would be to provide buffered channels, but I prefer it this way so I don’t have to think about how much buffer space to allocate. This is just as correct.

That’s pretty much it … here are the data types we used in our adder:

type Bignum struct {
         digits   []*Digit
         add      chan<- bool
         stable   chan bool
type Digit struct {
         value      int
         pull_carry <-chan bool
         push_carry chan<- bool

This isn’t really about adding numbers, creating a reasonably complex (statically typed!) asynchronous model like this would be hard in any other language (yes, I’m aware of core.async, and it has go, |>, <| and so on, and using alts!! might result in something similar, but it feels a bit clunkier to play around with).

Here’s another great perk of #golang … you don’t have to take my word for all this: try out this example live at the Go Playground!