C++ Coroutines Part 2: co_await and Fizz Buzz

This blog post is one of a two part series.


Part 1 showed coroutines as generators: stateful things that produce a sequence of other things (e.g. a sequence of ints). It showed a program that was always busy: CPU utilization was at 100% up until the program exited.

Coroutines are not just about generators. This blog post will show coroutines waiting for things (timers and I/O). To keep things simple, the I/O involves pipes that are only used within the one process, but it should still give an idea of how coroutines in a web server could wait on network sockets for front-end HTTP requests or back-end RPCs (Remote Procedure Calls).

This program will implement Fizz Buzz, printing one line every 100 milliseconds. You can actually implement Fizz Buzz using generators (and filters), just like part 1. Russ Cox has already noted this for Go, and others have noted this for C++, whether for standard coroutines or boost coroutines. But once again, the point of this blog post isn’t really “implement Fizz Buzz”, it’s “demonstrate co_await”, how it can integrate with non-blocking I/O and that there’s more to coroutines than just generators.


Build and run the complete C++ file like this:

$ g++ --version | head -n 1
g++ (Debian 10.2.1-6) 10.2.1 20210110

$ g++ -g -std=c++20 -fcoroutines -fno-exceptions -o coro2 && ./coro2


The “business logic” involves one timer FD (File Descriptor) and two Linux pipes. Each pipe has two FDs: a read end and a write end. The pipes are created in “packet mode” via the O_DIRECT flag (see further below) so that e.g. three writes of 5, 5 and 4 bytes are always received as three reads of 5, 5 and 4 bytes and never one read of 14 bytes. They’re also created with O_NONBLOCK so that e.g. calling write on a full pipe returns immediately with EAGAIN instead of blocking the calling thread (which, in our program, is the only thread).

There are two pipes and each pipe has a dedicated coroutine just for writing to the pipe. The fizz coroutine writes “Fizz” on every 3rd packet and buzz writes “Buzz” on every 5th.

Coro fizz(Scheduler* scheduler, const int fizz_pipe_write_end) {
  while (true) {
    // 5 and 4 are the length of the strings.
    co_await scheduler->async_write(fizz_pipe_write_end, "Tick1", 5);
    co_await scheduler->async_write(fizz_pipe_write_end, "Tick2", 5);
    co_await scheduler->async_write(fizz_pipe_write_end, "Fizz", 4);

Coro buzz(Scheduler* scheduler, const int buzz_pipe_write_end) {
  while (true) {
    // 5 and 4 are the length of the strings.
    co_await scheduler->async_write(buzz_pipe_write_end, "Tock1", 5);
    co_await scheduler->async_write(buzz_pipe_write_end, "Tock2", 5);
    co_await scheduler->async_write(buzz_pipe_write_end, "Tock3", 5);
    co_await scheduler->async_write(buzz_pipe_write_end, "Tock4", 5);
    co_await scheduler->async_write(buzz_pipe_write_end, "Buzz", 4);

The Coro type here (discussed further below) plays a similar role to the Generator type from part 1. Note the co_awaits here. We’re not calling write directly. We’re doing something that could actually write to the pipe or it could cause our coroutine to suspend (if it couldn’t write). Again, details (e.g. what’s a Scheduler?) are further below.

In general, C++ coroutines don’t have to be cooperatively scheduled (e.g. they can run on multiple OS threads), but ours are in this single-threaded program. A pipe has limited capacity (Linux defaults to 16 pages) so both of the loops here will eventually block (and then let the Scheduler run other coroutines).

In theory, the asynchronous writes here can return errors that we could handle with auto result = co_await etc; if (has_error(result)) do_something();. But since writing to a pipe (with valid arguments) can only succeed or block, unlike writing to e.g. a network socket, we’ll just ignore the results of the co_await, to keep this example program simple.


The third and final coroutine is more interesting. Per the “everything is a file” Unix philosophy, Linux provides a timer FD that you can read from (just like any other “file”) but only in a rate-limited way. On every timer event, the consume coroutine copies one packet (if 4 bytes long) from each of the fizz and buzz pipes to stdout. If no packets were copied, it prints the iteration number. The coroutine finishes (co_returns) after 20 iterations.

Note again the co_awaits here. This time we’re saving the result of the co_await etc expression to a local variable. We need to know whether the pipe read a 4-byte or 5-byte packet. For I/O involving network sockets or other regular files, we’d need to check for errors too, but we’ll ignore that here, again for simplicity.

// The result of a "co_await Scheduler::async_io(etc)" call.
// With C++23, we could use a std::expected, similar to Rust's Result type.
// Until then, use a std::pair where the first is the number of bytes
// read/written and the second is the errno.
using AsyncIOResult = std::pair<ssize_t, int>;

Coro consume(Scheduler* scheduler,
             bool* done,
             const int fizz_pipe_read_end,
             const int buzz_pipe_read_end,
             const int timerfd) {
  static constexpr int stdout_fd = 1;

  int iteration = 1;
  while (true) {
    uint64_t num_timer_events;
    co_await scheduler->async_read(timerfd, &num_timer_events,
    while (num_timer_events--) {
      char buf[64];
      bool fizzy_buzzy = false;

      AsyncIOResult fizz_result =
          co_await scheduler->async_read(fizz_pipe_read_end, buf, sizeof(buf));
      if (fizz_result.first == 4) {
        fizzy_buzzy = true;
        write(stdout_fd, buf, 4);

      AsyncIOResult buzz_result =
          co_await scheduler->async_read(buzz_pipe_read_end, buf, sizeof(buf));
      if (buzz_result.first == 4) {
        fizzy_buzzy = true;
        write(stdout_fd, buf, 4);

      if (!fizzy_buzzy) {
        if (int n = snprintf(buf, sizeof(buf), "%d", iteration);
            n < sizeof(buf)) {
          write(stdout_fd, buf, n);

      static const char new_line[] = "\n";
      write(stdout_fd, new_line, 1);

      if (iteration++ == 20) {
        *done = true;


The main function (which is not a coroutine) initializes the FDs, spins up the three coroutines (fizz, buzz and consume) and runs the Scheduler’s event loop.

int main() {
  // Initialize the file descriptors (FDs). Two pipe pairs and a timer.

  int fizz_pipe_fds[2];
  if (pipe2(fizz_pipe_fds, O_DIRECT | O_NONBLOCK) < 0) {
    std::cerr << "pipe2 failed.\n";
    return errno;
  assert(fizz_pipe_fds[0] < MAX_EXCLUSIVE_FD);
  assert(fizz_pipe_fds[1] < MAX_EXCLUSIVE_FD);

  int buzz_pipe_fds[2];
  if (pipe2(buzz_pipe_fds, O_DIRECT | O_NONBLOCK) < 0) {
    std::cerr << "pipe2 failed.\n";
    return errno;
  assert(buzz_pipe_fds[0] < MAX_EXCLUSIVE_FD);
  assert(buzz_pipe_fds[1] < MAX_EXCLUSIVE_FD);

  int timerfd = timerfd_create(CLOCK_MONOTONIC, TFD_NONBLOCK);
  if (timerfd < 0) {
    std::cerr << "timerfd_create failed.\n";
    return errno;
  assert(timerfd < MAX_EXCLUSIVE_FD);

  struct itimerspec t;
  t.it_value.tv_sec = 0;
  t.it_value.tv_nsec = 100'000'000;  // 100 milliseconds.
  t.it_interval.tv_sec = 0;
  t.it_interval.tv_nsec = 100'000'000;  // 100 milliseconds.
  if (timerfd_settime(timerfd, 0, &t, nullptr) < 0) {
    std::cerr << "timerfd_settime failed.\n";
    return errno;

  // Start the coroutines, connected via those FDs.
  Scheduler scheduler;
  bool done = false;
  fizz(&scheduler, fizz_pipe_fds[1]);
  buzz(&scheduler, buzz_pipe_fds[1]);
  consume(&scheduler, &done, fizz_pipe_fds[0], buzz_pipe_fds[0], timerfd);

  // Run the event loop.
  while (!done) {
    if (int err = scheduler.pump_events()) {
      return err;
  return 0;

The asserts against MAX_EXCLUSIVE_FD keep our example simple.

// For simplicity, assert that all of our file descriptors are less than
// MAX_EXCLUSIVE_FD. We also assert that, at any point in time, there's at most
// one coroutine waiting on any given file descriptor. This isn't appropriate
// for a production quality library. But for this program, the Scheduler can
// then use small arrays of pointers instead of more complex data structures.
static constexpr int MAX_EXCLUSIVE_FD = 32;

Similarly, our example program (not a high performance, production quality library) is single-threaded (and doesn’t fork/exec) to avoid the complexity of mutexes, atomics, O_CLOEXEC, etc. For the same reasons, we’ll see further below that the Scheduler uses poll instead of the more scalable epoll or io_uring mechanisms.


Recall that, in part 1, the source coroutine-function returned a Generator that main saved as a local variable: Generator g = source(40);. It saved g so that it had something to call on, to pull the next value out of the generator (by resuming the coroutine).

Here, our coroutines aren’t co_yielding (or co_returning) anything, so we don’t need to save that local variable. It’s a bare fizz(etc); and not Coro f = fizz(etc);. Our Coro::promise_type type doesn’t need an m_value member field, or even any state. Coro and Coro::promise_type turn out to be a very small amount of code (that an optimizing compiler can easily inline).

class Coro {
  class promise_type {
    Coro get_return_object() { return {}; }
    std::suspend_never initial_suspend() { return {}; }
    std::suspend_never final_suspend() { return {}; }
    void return_void() {}

There are a couple of subtleties here, compared to part 1. The first is that initial_suspend returns a std::suspend_never instead of a std::suspend_always. This means that it’s a “hot start” or eager coroutine, instead of a “cold start” or lazy coroutine. Eager means that it doesn’t need an explicit resume call, after it’s constructed, to actually start running. This simplifies our example because we don’t need the f in Coro f = fizz(etc); to call f.some_function(etc) to make that first resume call.

The second subtlety is that final_suspend also returns a std::suspend_never instead of a std::suspend_always. This means that the std::coroutine_handle<Coro::promise_type> will be implicitly destroyed when the coroutine ends. We don’t need to explicitly call destroy (like the Generator destructor in part 1). We couldn’t do this implicit-destruction in part 1 because this snippet below in Generator::next is buggy if calling m_cohandle.resume() could destroy the coroutine handle, as calling m_cohandle.done() would then follow a dangling pointer.

if (m_cohandle.done()) {
  // Etc.


Here’s the Scheduler class declaration.

// I/O operation.
enum class IOp {

class Scheduler {
  Awaitable async_io(int fd, void* ptr, size_t len, IOp iop);
  Awaitable async_read(int fd, void* ptr, size_t len);
  Awaitable async_write(int fd, const void* ptr, size_t len);

  int pump_events();

  Awaitable* m_awaitables[MAX_EXCLUSIVE_FD] = {0};

The async_read and async_write methods are just thin wrappers around async_io, adding the relevant IOp argument. The async_io method is just:

Awaitable Scheduler::async_io(int fd, void* ptr, size_t len, IOp iop) {
  return Awaitable{
      .m_scheduler = this,
      .m_fd = fd,
      .m_ptr = ptr,
      .m_len = len,
      .m_iop = iop,
      .m_result = {},
      .m_cohandle = nullptr,

We’ll get back to Scheduler::pump_events further below, but the obvious question is “what’s an Awaitable”?


With C++ coroutines, there’s technically a subtle difference between awaiters and awaitables, but a value can be both and, for our example program, they are. They’re the value of the expr expression in a larger co_await expr expression (co_await is a unary operator, like ! and sizeof). Here, Scheduler::async_io returns something of type Awaitable (a type that we’ll define in our program; it’s not part of the C++ language or standard library) so we can say co_await Scheduler::async_io(etc).

Being an awaitable means that you have at least three methods:

For example, std::suspend_always implements those three methods (and its await_ready always returns false). So you can say co_await std::suspend_always{} to unconditionally suspend. If you modify e.g. fizz in this example program to do just that, it will indeed suspend. But absent further code changes, neither the Scheduler nor anything else will ever resume that coroutine.

For example, Generator::promise_type::yield_value in part 1 returned a std::suspend_always and co_yield expr is basically syntactic sugar for co_await promise.yield_value(expr). So, after yield_value makes its side effects, co_yield expr is equivalent to co_await std::suspend_always{}.

Multi-threaded await_suspend

If our program was multi-threaded, one dangerous subtlety with await_suspend in general is that “register our coroutine for resumption” means that resumption could happen in parallel, while await_suspend is still running, before it returns. Resumption can also lead to the coroutine frame (and its embedded promise object and awaitable object) being destroyed, so await_suspend must take care not to access member variables (or otherwise dereference this) after registration.

A production quality multi-thread-capable coroutine library needs to consider this, but our simple, single-threaded example program can ignore the problem.

Our Awaitable

Here’s our Awaitable class.

class Awaitable {
  // C++ coroutine awaitable API.

  bool await_ready() {
    do {
      errno = 0;
      ssize_t n = (m_iop == IOp::READ) ? read(m_fd, m_ptr, m_len)
                                       : write(m_fd, m_ptr, m_len);
      m_result = std::make_pair((n >= 0) ? n : 0, errno);
    } while (m_result.second == EINTR);
    return m_result.second != EAGAIN;

  void await_suspend(std::coroutine_handle<> h) {
    m_cohandle = h;
    assert(m_scheduler->m_awaitables[m_fd] == nullptr);
    m_scheduler->m_awaitables[m_fd] = this;

  AsyncIOResult await_resume() { return m_result; }

  // Other API.

  std::coroutine_handle<> retry() {
    return await_ready() ? m_cohandle : nullptr;

  // Scheduler and I/O arguments.
  Scheduler* const m_scheduler;
  const int m_fd;
  void* const m_ptr;
  const size_t m_len;
  const IOp m_iop;

  // I/O result.
  AsyncIOResult m_result;

  // Suspended coroutine.
  std::coroutine_handle<> m_cohandle;

Since our FDs are non-blocking (created with O_NONBLOCK or TFD_NONBLOCK), await_ready returns whether the read or write call returned something other than EAGAIN (e.g. it returned 0 meaning OK). In the not-EAGAIN case, we can just keep running and don’t have to suspend the coroutine.

Otherwise, await_suspend tells the Scheduler that we’re suspending (and our m_fd and m_iop member variables say what FD and read/write direction we’re waiting on). As we’ll see further below, the Scheduler will call retry when the FD is ready. retry just calls await_ready again and, if successful, returns the coroutine_handle for the Scheduler to resume.

await_resume just passes on the m_result set during the last successful (not-EAGAIN) await_ready, whether await_ready was implicitly called via co_await or explicitly called via retry.

Pumping Events

Scheduler::pump_events is the last puzzle piece. Note that it takes care to finish its use of the m_awaitables member variable before resuming any coroutines, as their resumption may modify m_awaitables.

int Scheduler::pump_events() {
  // Collect the file descriptors (FDs) that our coroutines are waiting on.
  struct pollfd polls[MAX_EXCLUSIVE_FD];
  int num_p = 0;
  for (int fd = 0; fd < MAX_EXCLUSIVE_FD; fd++) {
    if (m_awaitables[fd] == nullptr) {
    polls[num_p].fd = fd;
    polls[num_p].events =
        (m_awaitables[fd]->m_iop == IOp::READ) ? POLLIN : POLLOUT;
    polls[num_p].revents = 0;

  // Poll those FDs.
  if (poll(polls, num_p, -1) < 0) {
    return (errno != EINTR) ? errno : 0;

  // Collect the waiting coroutines that are now resumable.
  std::coroutine_handle<> cohandles[MAX_EXCLUSIVE_FD];
  int num_c = 0;
  for (int i = 0; i < num_p; i++) {
    if (polls[i].revents == 0) {
    int fd = polls[i].fd;
    Awaitable* awaitable = m_awaitables[fd];
    if (!awaitable) {
    std::coroutine_handle<> cohandle = awaitable->retry();
    if (!cohandle) {
    m_awaitables[fd] = nullptr;
    cohandles[num_c++] = cohandle;

  // Resume them.
  for (int i = 0; i < num_c; i++) {
  return 0;

Awaitable Lifetimes

You may have noticed that Awaitable::await_suspend saves its this pointer in the Scheduler. Unlike C#, Go or JavaScript (which are garbage collected languages), it’s not immediately obvious that this pointer-to-Awaitable is still valid when Scheduler::pump_events calls awaitable->retry().

However, this is safe. says that “the awaiter object is part of coroutine state (as a temporary whose lifetime crosses a suspension point [emphasis added; the pointer stays valid for at least as long as the coroutine is suspended])… It can be used to maintain per-operation state as required by some async I/O APIs without resorting to additional heap allocations.”

Here be Lifetimes

In general, though, when passing pointer-y (or reference-y, or objects-containing-pointers-y like std::string_view) things as arguments (including the this pointer) to coroutines, you really need to think about lifetimes, the same way you’d have to think about the lifetimes of a callback or lambda’s arguments and captures. For example, here’s a simple, complete, valid C++ program (with no coroutines):

#include <iostream>
#include <string>

void foo(const std::string& s) {
  std::cout << "s has size " << s.size() << ".\n";

int main(int argc, char** argv) {
  return 0;

Formally, foo takes a const std::string& but at its call site in main, we pass a const char*. This works because a temporary std::string is created and it gets destroyed shortly after foo returns. It’s not shown in this program’s 11 lines of code, but the temporary is created because there’s an applicable single-argument, non-explicit std::string constructor.

This is all fine, for regular functions. But if foo was a coroutine, there’s a difference between when it physically returns (at its first suspension) and when it logically finishes (at its co_return).

What guarantees in the coroutine callee (equivalently, obligations on the coroutine caller) are there regarding argument liveness? Without having to examine every foo call site, is it valid to call s.size() in foo’s body, after the first suspension point? If I pass a pointer or reference to a coroutine, how long am I obliged to keep that object alive? How well does this play with indirections through things like std::bind_front, std::forward and std::invoke? Careful thought is required.

In the “foo but imagine that it’s a coroutine” case, it may be better (in terms of simplifying lifetime analysis) if the argument was just a const std::string without the &. Similarly, the filter coroutine from part 1 has a signature and call site like this:

// Signature.
Generator filter(Generator g, int prime)

// Call site.
g = filter(std::move(g), prime);

If we changed the signature by adding a &&

Generator filter(Generator&& g, int prime)

The code still compiles but it will crash at runtime. The coroutine frame now only holds a (dangling) reference to a Generator. It doesn’t hold (and keep alive) the Generator itself.

Even if this cannot be a compiler error, hopefully we’ll still get better tooling to catch these sorts of mistakes, as the C++ community gains more coroutine experience and the ecosystem evolves.


This blog post has hopefully demystified C++20 coroutines’ co_await operator:

Recall that the C++ language and standard library gives you a coroutine API construction kit and it’s up to the programmer or non-standard libraries to provide an ergonomic, higher-level coroutine API. lewissbaker/cppcoro is one such library, although its I/O system is currently Windows-only. Update on 2023-03-04: see also facebook/folly’s experimental/coro but note again its cautions around lambdas and lifetimes.

These higher-level libraries should probably also have some ability to (safely) cancel running coroutines (e.g. after timing out or are no longer needed). And propagate other attributes, like a “Go context”. And some select/poll-able user-space “Go channel” equivalent (instead of just the kernel-space pipes in this example program). And be templated so that you can say Generator<T>, or perhaps Generator<CYType, CRType>, not just “generator of ints”. And the ability to co_await a Generator::next call (or perhaps a Generator::async_next call), in case it involves RPCs. And gracefully handle exceptions. And use mutexes or similar in all the right places, if multi-threaded. And then allow thread pinning, as Chen says: “For example, in Windows, you are likely to want your awaiter to preserve the COM thread context. For X11 programming, you may want to the awaiter to return to the render thread if the co_await was initiated from the render thread”. And integrate with your existing RPC and testing libraries, if you have them. And allow custom allocators. And so on.

Drawing the rest of the proverbial owl is a lot of code. But if you’re ever using, writing, studying or debugging such a high-level C++ coroutine library (there’s not many of these libraries now, but they’ll be coming and maturing as C++20 rolls out), these two blog posts have hopefully given you some idea about the basic coroutine mechanisms at the bottom of it all.


Thanks to Aaron Jacobs for his advice.

Published: 2023-02-21