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Last Updated: Jul 11, 2024

Producer-Consumer Problem in OS

Author Divyansh Jain
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The producer-consumer problem illustrates a multi-process synchronization challenge involving two key processes: the producer and the consumer. These processes collaborate using a shared, fixed-size buffer that acts as a queue. The producer's role is to create data, place it into the buffer, and then repeat this process.

producer consumer problem using semaphores

In the producer-consumer problem, there is one Producer who produces things, and there is one Consumer who consumes the products which are produced by the producer. The producers and consumers share the same fixed-size memory buffer.

The Producer's role is to produce data, store it in the buffer, and then generate data again. The Consumer's task is to consume the data from the buffer.

The Producer-Consumer problem is a classic multi-process synchronization problem, which implies we're aiming to synchronize many processes.

When the consumer is consuming an item from the buffer, the producer should not add items into the buffer, and vice versa. As a result, only one producer or consumer should access the buffer at a time. This scenario seems to be a problem, let’s discuss all the scenarios which can cause problems to the system.

What's the problem here?

Let's consider that there are n slots in the buffer, and each slot may store one unit of data. On the buffer, there are two processes running: producer and consumer.

Illustration Image

A producer tries to fill an empty space in the buffer with data. A consumer attempts to retrieve data from that buffer slot. If those two processes run concurrently, as you may have anticipated, they will not give the desired outcome.

There must be a method to make both the producer and the customer operate independently.

The following are some of the issues that might arise in the Producer-Consumer:

  • The producer should generate data only if the buffer is not full. When the buffer is filled, the producer should not be able to add any more data to it.
  • When the buffer is not empty, the consumer can consume the data. The consumer should not be able to take any data from the buffer if it is empty.
  • The buffer should not be used by both the producer and the consumer at the same time.

Solution of Producer-Consumer Problem Using Semaphores 

Semaphores can be used to solve the three difficulties listed above. A semaphore S is an integer variable with just two standard operations: wait() and signal().

The signal() method increases the value of semaphore by one, whereas the wait() operation decreases it by one.

while(S<=0);   // busy waiting in the while loop
S--;     // decreasing S by one

S++;     // increasing S by one

There are two types of semaphores:

Binary Semaphore - This is related to, but not the same as, a mutex lock. It can only have two possible values: 0 and 1. Its value is set to 1 at the start. It is used to implement a solution to a critical section problem including multiple processes.

Counting Semaphore - Its value can traverse an unbounded domain. It's used to limit who has access to a resource with numerous instances.

To solve this problem, We employ three semaphore variables:-

  • mutex - The lock is acquired and released using a mutex, a binary semaphore.
  • empty - empty is a counting semaphore that is initialized on the basis of the number of slots present in the buffer, at first all the slots are empty.
  • full - a counting semaphore with a value of zero as its starting value.

At any particular time, the current value of empty denotes the number of vacant slots in the buffer, while full denotes the number of occupied slots.

Solution of Producer Problem

The pseudocode for the producer function will look like this:

    // process will wait until the empty > 0 and further decrement of 'empty'
    // To acquire the lock
    /* Here we will perform the insert operation in a particular slot */
    // To release the lock
    // increment of 'full'


  • When we look at the above code for a producer, we can see that it first waits until at least one slot is vacant.
  • wait(empty) decreases the value of the semaphore variable "empty" by one, indicating that when the producer produces anything, the value of the empty space in the buffer decreases. If the buffer is full, or the value of the semaphore variable "empty" is 0, the program will stop and no production will take place.
  • wait(mutex) sets the semaphore variable "mutex" to zero, preventing any other process from entering the critical section.
  • The buffer is then locked, preventing the consumer from accessing it until the producer completes its function.
  • signal(mutex) is being used to mark the semaphore variable "mutex" to "1" so that other processes can arrive into the critical section though because the production is finished and the insert operation is also done.
  • So, After the producer has filled a slot in the buffer, the lock is released.
  • signal(full) is utilized to increase the semaphore variable "full" by one because after inserting the data into the buffer, one slot is filled in the buffer and the variable "full" must be updated.

This is how we address the producer section of the producer-consumer problem.

Solution of Consumer Problem

The pseudocode for the producer function will look like this:

    // need to wait until full > 0 and then decrement the 'full'
    // To acquire the lock
     /* Here we will perform the remove operation in a particular slot */ 
    // To release the lock
    // increment of 'empty'


  • The consumer waits until the buffer has at least one full slot.
  • wait(full) is used to reduce the semaphore variable "full" by one since the variable "full" must be reduced by one of the consumers consuming some data.
  • wait(mutex) sets the semaphore variable "mutex" to "0", preventing any other processes from entering the critical section.
  • And soon after that, the consumer then acquires a lock on the buffer.
  • The consumer then completes the data removal operation by removing data from one of the filled slots.
  • So because the consumption and remove operations are complete, signal(mutex) is being used to set the semaphore variable "mutex" to "1" so that other processes can enter the critical section now.
  • The lock is then released by the consumer.
  • Because one slot space in the buffer is released after extracting the data from the buffer, signal(empty) is used to raise the variable "empty" by one.

This is how we overcome the producer-consumer problem.

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Frequently Asked Questions

Why do we use semaphores to solve the producer-consumer problem?

Mutual exclusion is ensured via the mutex semaphore. We can solve our problem by employing the three semaphore variables, as well as the wait() and signal() functions (the wait() method reduces the semaphore variable by one, while the signal() function helps by increasing the semaphore variable by one).

How many counting semaphores are used?

There are two counting semaphores used, first is “empty”, which is initialized on the basis of the number of slots present in the buffer. And the second is “full”, which is initialized with a value zero as its starting value.

What is the main cause of the producer-consumer problem?

The main challenge in the producer-consumer problem arises from the need to synchronize access to a shared buffer between a producer and a consumer process.

What are the three types of consumer problem-solving?

Three common approaches to solving consumer problems are Deductive Reasoning, Algorithmic Problem Solving, and Heuristic Problem Solving.


To summarize the article, we learned about the producer-consumer problem and what are the causes associated with it. We used the semaphore approach to solve the dilemma. Hope you learned something. But the knowledge never stops, so to better understand the Operating Systems, you can go through many articles on our platform.

Recommended Readings:

Do check out The Interview guide for Product Based Companies as well as some of the Popular Interview Problems from Top companies like Amazon, Adobe, Google, Uber, Microsoft, etc. on Code360.

Happy Learning Ninja :)

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