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Concurrency (Java)

An overview of concurrent programming in Java

Concurrent execution basics

Runnable: describes a task that can be executed but does not return a result

// defined by the JDK
public interface Runnable {
void run();
}

Note that the run() method cannot throw any checked exceptions! See also Exceptions.

Running a task:

  • Can of course be run on the current thread by just invoking run()
  • Can be run inside a dedicated thread (see Threads)
    • Note: This one-to-one relationship between threads and tasks is not recommended!
      • You might want to reuse the same thread for several tasks
      • If you have a large number of computationally-intensive tasks, just immediately executing all of them in their own thread will lead to a loss of performance due to overhead from switching between threads
  • Can be run using an executor service
    • Executor service takes care of scheduling tasks on one or multiple threads
    • Recommended approach: separates task definition and task scheduling

Cached thread pool: executor service that uses an existing idle thread if possible and creates a new thread otherwise (and cleans up unused idle threads after a while

Runnable runnable = () -> {};
ExecutorService executor = Executors.newCachedThreadPool();
executor.execute(runnable);

Fixed thread pool: executor service that uses a fixed number of threads

  • Can use this to limit resource consumption
  • Runnables are queued until a thread becomes available
Runnable runnable = () -> {};
int processors = Runtime.getRuntime().availableProcessors();
ExecutorService executor = Executors.newFixedThreadPool(processors);
executor.execute(runnable);

Synchronous tasks

Callable: describes a task that returns a result

// defined by the JDK
public interface Callable<V> {
V call() throws Exception;
}

Note that the call() method can throw any kind of exception!

Submitting a Callable yields a Future which can be used to get the result:

Callable<String> callable = () -> { return "test"; };
ExecutorService executor = Executors.newCachedThreadPool();
Future<String> resultFuture = executor.submit(callable);
// get() blocks current thread until result is available
// if task throws, it throws ExecutionException wrapping the exception from the task
String result = resultFuture.get();
System.out.println(result);

A Future also has a method cancel(mayInterruptIfRunning) which attempts to cancel the task:

  • If task is not running yet, it won't be scheduled
  • If the task is running and mayInterruptIfRunning is true, the thread running the task is interrupted

Invoking several tasks and waiting for all results:

// blocks current thread until all tasks have completed
List<Future<String>> results = executor.invokeAll(tasks);

Invoking several tasks, waiting until the first one succeeds and canceling the rest:

String result = executor.invokeAny(tasks);

Invoking several tasks and getting the completed ones immediately:

ExecutorCompletionService<String> completionService =
new ExecutorCompletionService<>(executor);
for (Callable<String> task: tasks) {
completionService.submit(task);
}
for (int i = 0; i < tasks.size(); i++) {
// blocks until a new result is available
String currentResult = completionService.take().get();
}

Asynchronous concurrency

In the section on synchronous concurrency, the current thread would always wait for at least some of the concurrent work to complete. With asynchronous concurrency, this is not the case. Instead of waiting for a result, the current thread continues its work. However, you specify a callback that should be executed once the task has completed.

Completable futures

CompletableFuture<String> f = CompletableFuture.supplyAsync(() -> {
return "test";
}, executor);

Specifying a callback for the result:

f.thenAccept(result -> { System.out.println(result); });

Specifying a callback that can also handle exceptions:

f.whenComplete((result, exception) -> {
if (exception == null) {
// process result
} else {
// process exception
}
});

It is also possible to complete a CompletableFuture manually:

CompletableFuture<String> f = new CompletableFuture<>();
executor.execute(() -> {
String result = calculatingSupplier.get();
f.complete(result);
});
executor.execute(() -> {
while (!f.isDone()) {
// try something crazy and call f.complete() if it works
}
});

Note: if you call cancel() on a CompletableFuture, it will only make it complete with a CancellationException

Transforming CompletableFuture instances:

CompletableFuture f2 = f.thenApply(result -> result.toLowerCase());
// similar to concept of flatMap
CompletableFuture f3 = f.thenCompose(functionReturningNewCompletableFuture);

Combining CompletableFuture instances:

f.thenCombine(f2, (resultFromFirst, resultFromSecond) -> {
// return something based on both values
});
CompletableFuture<Void> waitForAll = CompletableFuture.allOf(f, f2);

User Interface callbacks

In Java programs with a UI, you can't perform heavy computations in the UI thread or the UI will freeze. Instead, you should perform the computations in one or more separate threads and then notify the UI thread of the result.

Problem: UIs are typically not thread-safe (see below), so manipulating UI elements from other threads than the UI thread might corrupt the UI

Solution: schedule UI updates to happen on the UI thread

Example for JavaFX:

Platform.runLater(() -> {
// make some changes on the UI elements
})

Parallel algorithms

For some computations, you can use even higher-level mechanisms than the ones above in order to speed them up using parallelization

Parallel streams

See Streams

Parallel Array operations

Arrays.parallelSetAll(theArray, i -> i % 10);
Arrays.parallelSort(theArray);

Be careful with blocking operations

If you are using a thread pool with a limited or fixed number of threads, be very careful with blocking operations. Once all of the treads in the pool are executing a blocking or long-running operation, the pool will not be able to do any other kind of work until at least one of those blocking operations finishes.

Example:

public static void main(String[] args) throws InterruptedException {
ExecutorService es = Executors.newFixedThreadPool(2);
es.execute(() -> blockingTask());
es.execute(() -> blockingTask());
es.execute(() -> normalTask());
es.execute(() -> normalTask());
es.execute(() -> normalTask());
}
private static void normalTask() {
System.out.println("Starting normal task");
System.out.println("Finished normal task");
}
private static void blockingTask() {
System.out.println("Starting blocking task");
try {
Thread.sleep(Integer.MAX_VALUE);
} catch (InterruptedException e) {
}
System.out.println("Finished blocking task");
}

Important note: the common fork-join pool (ForkJoinPool.commonPool()) is a pool with a fixed number of threads which is used under the hood by parallel streams and by default also by completable futures!

See below example for completable futures and see Streams for an example with parallel streams

public static void main(String[] args) throws InterruptedException {
int commonPoolParallelism = ForkJoinPool.commonPool().getParallelism();
for (int i = 0; i < commonPoolParallelism; i++) {
CompletableFuture.supplyAsync(() -> blockingTask()).thenAccept(result -> {
System.out.println(result);
});
}
for (int i = 0; i < 10; i++) {
CompletableFuture.supplyAsync(() -> normalTask()).thenAccept(result -> {
System.out.println(result);
});
}
Thread.sleep(Integer.MAX_VALUE);
}
private static String normalTask() {
System.out.println("Starting normal task");
System.out.println("Finished normal task");
return "normal";
}
private static String blockingTask() {
System.out.println("Starting blocking task");
try {
Thread.sleep(Integer.MAX_VALUE);
} catch (InterruptedException e) {
}
System.out.println("Finished blocking task");
return "blocking";
}

Thread safety

See Thread safety

Threads

See Threads

Locking

See Locking

Note that locking is a low-level concurrency tool and that code using locks is hard to get right! You are likely better off using other tools.

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