Threading is implemented using pthreads and some Linux specific bits like futexes.
On x86 the per-thread local bindings for special variables is achieved using the %fs segment register to point to a per-thread storage area. This may cause interesting results if you link to foreign code that expects threading or creates new threads, and the thread library in question uses %fs in an incompatible way. On x86-64 the r12 register has a similar role.
Queues require the
sys_futex system call to be available: this
is the reason for the NPTL requirement. We test at runtime that this
system call exists.
Garbage collection is done with the existing Conservative Generational GC. Allocation is done in small (typically 8k) regions: each thread has its own region so this involves no stopping. However, when a region fills, a lock must be obtained while another is allocated, and when a collection is required, all processes are stopped. This is achieved by sending them signals, which may make for interesting behaviour if they are interrupted in system calls. The streams interface is believed to handle the required system call restarting correctly, but this may be a consideration when making other blocking calls e.g. from foreign library code.
Large amounts of the SBCL library have not been inspected for thread-safety. Some of the obviously unsafe areas have large locks around them, so compilation and fasl loading, for example, cannot be parallelized. Work is ongoing in this area.