Types of parallelism


Marie-Hélène Burle

There are various ways to run code in parallel and it is important to have a clear understanding of what each method entails.


We talk about multi-threading when a single process (with its own memory) runs multiple threads.

The execution can happen in parallel—if each thread has access to a CPU core—or by alternating some of the threads on some CPU cores.

Because all threads in a process write to the same memory addresses, multi-threading can lead to race conditions.

Multi-threading does not seem to be a common approach to parallelizing R code.

Multi-processing in shared memory

Multi-processing in shared memory happens when multiple processes execute code on multiple CPU cores of a single node (or a single machine).

The different processes need to communicate with each other, but because they are all running on the CPU cores of a single node, messages can pass via shared memory.

Multi-processing in distributed memory

When processes involved in the execution of some code run on multiple nodes of a cluster, messages between them need to travel over the cluster interconnect. In that case, we talk about distributed memory.