A potential pitfall of using priority scheduling to schedule the processes or threads of a computer operating system. In a simple priority scheduling system, the ready thread or process with the highest priority is given the CPU anytime there is an opportunity for a context switch (such as the current thread yielding, completing, or blocking for I/O).

Priority inversion occurs in the simplest case when there are three threads, labeled A, B, and C, with A having the highest priority and C the lowest. Suppose A performs an I/O operation, requesting data that is held by C. A then blocks for I/O, and the processor becomes available. The scheduler examines the queue of threads that are waiting to run, and selects B, since its priority is greater than C's. At this point, a priority inversion has occured. Thread A, with high priority, must wait for thread B to yield, despite the fact that thread B has lower priority.

It is possible to write code that will detect priority inversion and attempt to remedy the situation. Another approach is through careful configuration of the threads- ensuring that any thread that will act as a server thread (C, in the case above) has priority greater than any thread that will request a service from it. This is only possible if the thread acting as a server will be I/O blocked most of the time, allowing the other threads to execute normally. Otherwise, the server thread will preempt the execution of the other threads on the ready queue.

Of course, a more general solution is not to implement a system with priority-only scheduling, as such a system can be prone to accidental deadlock, and is succeptible to intentional deadlocks caused by malicious programs. The addition of some non-determinism, in the form of a limited round robin or lottery scheduling system can reduce the vulnerability to deadlock, and relieve some priority inversions, though it may not eliminate them completely.