In the brave new world of Swift async/await, a problem I sometimes encounter is how to communicate between Tasks. More specifically, if I need one Task to wait on a condition to be true as a result of work that’s done by another set of Tasks. In this post I’ll cover how I eventually ended up solving this using something like a condition variable.

Refining the problem scope

There’s more than one way to handle Task synchronization, so I want to start by refining the problem that I’m trying to solve. The hope is it’ll be clearer why I chose the solution I did.

One of the easiest ways to have one Task wait on another’s work is to package up that work in it’s own Task then just await that. Here’s a oversimplified example of a pattern that I’ve used:

final actor Thingy {
    private let loadTask: Task<Void, Never>

    /// User might call this at some point, repeatedly
    func processData() async {
        // Waiting on the task to ensure it's done before continuing
        await loadTask.value

        // Ok, now I can do my processing safe that we've loaded

In this example, loading the data can take a while and I want to make sure it’s loaded before doing any on-demand processing of it. I also don’t want to do the load repeatedly, so I wrap it up in Task and set it as a property. Any Task that needs load to be completed just awaits the value. (This is an extremely contrived example to demonstrate a pattern. Don’t email how you’d refactor it.) The point here is awaiting the result of a Task is a nice, straight forward mechanism for synchronizing work between two tasks.

However, there’s a variation of this problem that I want to solve in this post. It’s not that a specific task has completed, but a condition has become true. That sounds subtle, but there’s actually a big difference. Multiple Tasks may be working and any one them might make the condition become true.

For example, suppose I want to limit the number of concurrent Tasks that are downloading images to be no more than 10. When a Task starts to download an image it needs to know if there’s less than 10. If there are 10 or more, it wants to wait until one of the existing Task has finished. This is where awaiting on a single Task as a solution falls apart. The waiting Task actually wants to know when the concurrency count goes below 10, not when a specific Task completes (although they are correlated). It can’t await all the executing Tasks because it doesn’t need to wait until all Tasks complete. If it awaits a single Task, it also might wait longer than necessary if a different Task from the one its awaiting completes first. Of course this is all ignoring that there could be many Tasks waiting for the concurrency count to go below 10, and how do I ensure only one of them continues when it drops to 9 concurrent?

(Also, I know the classic way to solve the image download concurrency limiting is to use OperationQueue. But in a future post, I’m going to argue that’s not ideal in an async/await world for this problem.)

To summarize: I want to have a Task to wait on a condition to become true, which isn’t the same as waiting on a Task to complete.

Classic approach

If I was still in the bad old days of pthreads, I’d reach for a condition variable. I’d have the queued Task wait on it, and when the concurrent count dropped below 10, the just completed download Task would signal the condition variable. But I can’t actually use pthread condition variables because they’d block the underlying system thread, which would hang one of the thread resources used by Swift’s cooperative pool. Then everybody would just be sad.

However, what if I could construct something similar to a condition variable that stays in async/await land? It wouldn’t actually need to do everything a traditional pthread condition does, like make sure only one Task unblocks because I could handle that manually.

Let me sketch out what that might look like:

struct Condition {
    func wait() async {}

    static func makeCondition() -> (Condition, Signal)

final class Signal {
    func signal() {}

With this approach, the Task that wants to download an image can call into the queue that knows how many downloads are currently going. The queue constructs a Condition/Signal pair, keeps the Signal and returns back the Condition to the calling Task. The calling Task then wait()s on that Condition. When the queue decides it’s time for that specific Task to go (it can keep a prioritized array of Signals), it calls signal() on the Signal and the paired Condition unblocks.

This behavior would solve my stated problem: my Task could wait on a condition to become true, instead of waiting on a specific Task.


I chose to use an AsyncStream to build this functionality. Basically, the Condition.wait() is going to sit in an async/await loop waiting on the AsyncStream to complete. The Signal.signal() calls finish() on the AsyncStream‘s continuation to unblock it.

/// Signal is used in conjunction with Condition. Together they allow
/// one Task to wait on anther Task.
public final class Signal {
    private let stream: AsyncStream<Void>.Continuation

    /// Private init, don't call directly. Instead, use Condition.makeCondition()
    fileprivate init(stream: AsyncStream<Void>.Continuation) { = stream

    /// Signal the waiter (who has the Condition) that they're good to go
    public func signal() {

/// Condition allows two async Tasks to coordinate. Use `makeCondition()` to
/// create a Condition/Signal pair. The Task that wants to wait on something to
/// happen takes the Condition, the Task that notifies of the condition takes
/// the Signal.
public struct Condition {
    private let waiter: () async -> Void

    /// Private init; create a closure that will can be waited on
    fileprivate init(waiter: @escaping () async -> Void) {
        self.waiter = waiter

    /// Wait on the condition to become true
    public func wait() async {
        await waiter()

    /// Construct a Condition/Signal pair. The Task that wants to wait on something to
    /// happen takes the Condition, the Task that notifies of the condition takes
    /// the Signal.
    public static func makeCondition() -> (Condition, Signal) {
        let (stream, continuation) = AsyncStream<Void>.makeStream()
        let condition = Condition {
            for await _ in stream {}
        let signal = Signal(stream: continuation)
        return (condition, signal)


In this post I described a variation of a Task synchronization problem. In this variation a Task wants to wait on a condition to become true, as opposed to a Task being completed. I then introduced simplified version of a traditional synchronization mechanism called a condition variable as a mechanism for solving this problem. Finally, I demonstrated a working async/await solution using AsyncStream.

Read the follow up post.