Suppose I have two resources, named 0 and 1, that can only be accessed exclusively.

Is there any way to recover the "index" of the "parallel processor" that xargs launches in order to use it as a free mutual exclusion service? E.g., consider the following parallelized computation:

$ echo {1..8} | xargs -d " " -P 2 -I {} echo "consuming task {}"
consuming task 1
consuming task 2
consuming task 3
consuming task 4
consuming task 5
consuming task 6
consuming task 7
consuming task 8

My question is whether there exists a magic word, say index, where the output would look like

$ echo {1..8} | xargs -d " " -P 2 -I {} echo "consuming task {} with resource index"
consuming task 1 with resource 0
consuming task 2 with resource 1
consuming task 3 with resource 1
consuming task 4 with resource 1
consuming task 5 with resource 0
consuming task 6 with resource 1
consuming task 7 with resource 0
consuming task 8 with resource 0

where the only guarantee is that there is only ever at most one process using resource 0 and same for 1. Basically, I'd like to communicate this index down to the child process that would respect the rule to only use the resource it was told to.

Of course, it'd be preferable to extend this to more than two resources. Inspecting the docs, xargs probably can't do this. Is there a minimal equivalent solution? Using/cleaning files as fake locks is not preferable.

2 Answers 2


If you're using GNU xargs, there's --process-slot-var:

Set the environment variable environment-variable-name to a unique value in each running child process. Each value is a decimal integer. Values are reused once child processes exit. This can be used in a rudimentary load distribution scheme, for example.

So, for example:

~ echo {1..9} | xargs -n2 -P2 --process-slot-var=index sh -c 'echo "$index" "$@" "$$"' _
0 1 2 10475
1 3 4 10476
1 5 6 10477
0 7 8 10478
1 9 10479

I like @muru's answer but note that the _ at the end is very important! This is because $@ only includes arguments $1 and up after the argument to the sh -c command (because $0 is the script name). If you don't have this you'll miss one in n of the inputs to xargs. Posting here because I was caught out by this.

Elsewhere I have seen GNU parallel mentioned which might handle this more easily without such gotchas. (posting as a new answer because I don't have the karma to comment).

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