Qt’s GUI Thread

If you’re a Qt developer, you surely are aware of the fact that you can only display GUI elements and access them from the main thread. This limitation as far as I know is mostly bound to the limitations of X and it isn’t to exclude that multithreading support for GUIs will be added soon.

This limitation never caused me any trouble, since the signal & slots mechanism is thread-safe and communicating between threads and GUI elements can be achieved through it. However, yesterday I needed to show a messagebox in a method and, in case the code is not executing in the main thread, show a native win32 MessageBox instead of a QMessageBox (of course, only on Windows can I do that, on other platforms when I’m not in the main thread, I won’t show anything).

Anyway, here’s a simple method to establish if we’re running the GUI thread:

bool isGuiThread()
    if (QCoreApplication::instance()->thread() == QThread::currentThread())
        return true;
    return false;

As you can see this is a pointer comparision, but can we rely on the value returned by currentThread? Yes, we can since the pointer is associated with the thread itself as we can see from the code of the method:

QThread *QThread::currentThread()
    QThreadData *data = QThreadData::current();
    Q_ASSERT(data != 0);
    return data->thread;

// thread_win.cpp

QThreadData *QThreadData::current()
    QThreadData *threadData = reinterpret_cast(TlsGetValue(qt_current_thread_data_tls_index));
    if (!threadData) {
        QThread *adopted = 0;
        if (QInternal::activateCallbacks(QInternal::AdoptCurrentThread, (void **) &adopted)) {
            threadData = QThreadData::get2(adopted);
            TlsSetValue(qt_current_thread_data_tls_index, threadData);
            adopted->d_func()->running = true;
            adopted->d_func()->finished = false;
        } else {
            threadData = new QThreadData;
            // This needs to be called prior to new AdoptedThread() to
            // avoid recursion.
            TlsSetValue(qt_current_thread_data_tls_index, threadData);
            threadData->thread = new QAdoptedThread(threadData);

        if (!QCoreApplicationPrivate::theMainThread) {
            QCoreApplicationPrivate::theMainThread = threadData->thread;
        } else {
            HANDLE realHandle = INVALID_HANDLE_VALUE;
#if !defined(Q_OS_WINCE) || (defined(_WIN32_WCE) && (_WIN32_WCE>=0x600))
                        realHandle = (HANDLE)GetCurrentThreadId();
            qt_watch_adopted_thread(realHandle, threadData->thread);
    return threadData;

qt_create_tls just calls once for every thread TlsAlloc and if the data for the current thread hasn’t been set yet, it is set with TlsSetValue. So, we can rely on a pointer comparision.

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