Modifications to different memory locations may appear in different order on different threads or different processors. Memory models describe which re-orderings are possible and what measures must be taken to avoid unwanted reordering.

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There are about six major conceptualizations of memory that dominate today’s programming. Three of them derive from the three most historically important programming languages of the 1950s — COBOL, LISP, and FORTRAN — and the other three derive from the three historically important data storage systems: magnetic tape, Unix-style hierarchical filesystems, and relational databases.