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CSC3324 : Understanding Concurrency

Semester 1 Credit Value: 10
ECTS Credits: 5.0


Sequential systems belong to the last millennium. Concurrent systems, on the other hand, are fast becoming ubiquitous technology of modern times, from multi-core processors to heterogeneous distributed computer network to Web servers and services, to genetic regulatory networks, to biochemical models of living cells. All these seemingly different application areas are in fact underpinned by a unifying principle of computational processes interacting and communicating in order to achieve a common computational goal.

The principal aim of this module is to develop an understanding of this unifying principle and the ways in which concurrency can be modelled and harnessed to deliver correct, reliable and efficient designs. Fundamental concepts of concurrency as well as modelling techniques will be introduced using Petri nets (a graphical model extending finite state machines with concurrency). The key ideas will be further explored and reinforced through several examples of applications as well as practical work implemented using state-of-the-art modelling tools developed at Newcastle. The material should equip students with confidence based on a solid understanding of the complexity and inherent intricacies of concurrent designs, in order to successfully tackle the most advanced and challenging computing technologies which will emerge during a student’s career.

Outline Of Syllabus

- Introduction: The ubiquity of concurrent systems, their role in modern technology, considerations for deploying concurrency, and the challenge of developing correct concurrent systems.
- Languages and Traces as a formal representation of behaviour of reactive systems.
- Finite State Machines as a formal representation of behaviour, with the use of interleaving to represent concurrency.
- Petri nets as a "true concurrency" formalism for representing concurrent behaviours.
- Compositionality as the only practical way of constructing large systems.
- Formal verification of concurrent systems.
- Concurrency in electronic circuits.
- Concurrent computation: Amdahl’s law vs. Gustafson’s law, taxonomies, types of concurrency, synchronisation primitives.
- Pipelines and their analysis and optimisation.
- Tool Support: visualization, simulation, and formal verification.
- Case studies illustrating model based design.

Teaching Methods

Teaching Activities
Category Activity Number Length Student Hours Comment
Guided Independent StudyAssessment preparation and completion221:0022:00Lecture follow-up
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesLecture221:0022:00Lectures
Guided Independent StudyAssessment preparation and completion251:0025:00Background reading
Guided Independent StudyAssessment preparation and completion220:3011:00Revision for end of Semester exam
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesPractical101:0010:00Practicals
Guided Independent StudyProject work101:0010:00Coursework
Teaching Rationale And Relationship

Lectures present theory and techniques. Practical classes provide examples and practice exercises to develop key skills. Further exercise work takes place during the private study hours.

Assessment Methods

The format of resits will be determined by the Board of Examiners

Description Length Semester When Set Percentage Comment
Written Examination901A60Open book
Other Assessment
Description Semester When Set Percentage Comment
Prob solv exercises1M20Weekly exercises
Practical/lab report1M20implement a model of a concurrent system
Assessment Rationale And Relationship

There is one system design and analysis assignment assessing the understanding of basic concepts of the modelling and analysis of concurrent systems through a simple case study using the Workcraft toolkit developed at Newcastle. The coursework will involve design of a model, its implementation as a Petri net, formulation of analytical requirements, and automatic checking of these requirements.

The examination is based around theoretical issues involved in a problem solving task. It is an "open book" examination paper, and nothing needs to be learnt by heart to pass it.

The purpose of the problem solving exercises is to familiarise the students with the software for modelling and verification of concurrent systems, and to practice the modelling techniques learnt at the lectures.

N.B. This module has both “Exam Assessment” and “Other Assessment” (e.g. coursework). If the total mark for either assessment falls below 35%, the maximum mark returned for the module will normally be 35%.

Reading Lists