Aaron Klotz’s Software Blog

My Adventures as a Former Mozilla Employee

WaitMessage Considered Harmful

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I could apologize for the clickbaity title, but I won’t. I have no shame.

Today I want to talk about some code that we imported from Chromium some time ago. I replaced it in Mozilla’s codebase a few months back in bug 1072752:

(message_pump_win.cc) download
    // A WM_* message is available.
    // If a parent child relationship exists between windows across threads
    // then their thread inputs are implicitly attached.
    // This causes the MsgWaitForMultipleObjectsEx API to return indicating
    // that messages are ready for processing (Specifically, mouse messages
    // intended for the child window may appear if the child window has
    // capture).
    // The subsequent PeekMessages call may fail to return any messages thus
    // causing us to enter a tight loop at times.
    // The WaitMessage call below is a workaround to give the child window
    // some time to process its input messages.
    MSG msg = {0};
    DWORD queue_status = GetQueueStatus(QS_MOUSE);
    if (HIWORD(queue_status) & QS_MOUSE &&

This code is wrong. Very wrong.

Let us start with the calls to GetQueueStatus and PeekMessage. Those APIs mark any messages already in the thread’s message queue as having been seen, such that they are no longer considered “new.” Even though those function calls do not remove messages from the queue, any messages that were in the queue at this point are considered to be “old.”

The logic in this code snippet is essentially saying, “if the queue contains mouse messages that do not belong to this thread, then they must belong to an attached thread.” The code then calls WaitMessage in an effort to give the other thread(s) a chance to process their mouse messages. This is where the code goes off the rails.

The documentation for WaitMessage states the following:

Note that WaitMessage does not return if there is unread input in the message queue after the thread has called a function to check the queue. This is because functions such as PeekMessage, GetMessage, GetQueueStatus, WaitMessage, MsgWaitForMultipleObjects, and MsgWaitForMultipleObjectsEx check the queue and then change the state information for the queue so that the input is no longer considered new. A subsequent call to WaitMessage will not return until new input of the specified type arrives. The existing unread input (received prior to the last time the thread checked the queue) is ignored.

WaitMessage will only return if there is a new (as opposed to any) message in the queue for the calling thread. Any messages for the calling thread that were already in there at the time of the GetQueueStatus and PeekMessage calls are no longer new, so they are ignored.

There might very well be a message at the head of that queue that should be processed by the current thread. Instead it is ignored while we wait for other threads. Here is the crux of the problem: we’re waiting on other threads whose input queues are attached to our own! That other thread can’t process its messages because our thread has messages in front of its messages; on the other hand, our thread has blocked itself!

The only way to break this deadlock is for new messages to be added to the queue. That is a big reason why we’re seeing things like bug 1105386: Moving the mouse adds new messages to the queue, making WaitMessage unblock.

I’ve already eliminated this code in Mozilla’s codebase, but the challenge is going to be getting rid of this code in third-party binaries that attach their own windows to Firefox’s windows.