Welcome!

Linux Authors: JP Morgenthal, Trevor Parsons, Carmen Gonzalez, Michael Meiner, Pat Romanski

Related Topics: Java, Weblogic, Linux

Java: Article

Java Basics: Introduction to Java Threads, Part 2

Internet Portals Like Yahoo, CNN, or Your Bank's Web Site Use Them

In the previous lesson www.sys-con.com/story/?storyid=46096&de=1 I've explained the basics of Java threads. This time we'll talk about using threads for creating a little more advanced programs.

I'm sure each of you have visited some of the major Internet portals like Yahoo, CNN or your bank's Web site. These portals usually display different types of information like News, Weather, Stock Market quotes, etc. Each of these info pieces appears on the screen instantaneously even though it's coming to the portal from different servers, i.e. the News server may be located in Washington and the stock market data come from New York (see Figure 1 below).

Let's say it takes 4 seconds to receive the news and 3 seconds to get the stock prices. If your program will do it in a sequence, it'll take you 7 seconds total, but why not do this in parallel and reduce the total time to 4 seconds? After all these servers have their own processors that can work in independently from each other! We are not going to discuss Web technologies here, but I'll show you how to spawn parallel processing using multi-threading, collect the returned data and display the results to the user in one shot.

Our program will consist of the following classes:

  • MyPortal that will spawn the threads and collect their returns in an ArrayList of strings. It'll print entire content of this array when all threads complete.
  • NewsServer that will run for 4 seconds and return a message "We have good and bad news";
  • StockServer that will run for 3 seconds and return a message "The stock market is on the rise!".
These threads do not contain any code that actually gets some news or market data. My goal is to show you how threads can communicate with other classes, and after this part works, it wont be difficult to replace the line that prints a static message with a method call that actually connects to the Internet and gets the data as it was explained in the lesson on getting data from the Internet:.

The class in Listing 1 creates and starts two threads (news and stocks) and goes to sleep for 10 seconds just to keep the program alive for a while. Please note that the class MyPortal also passes to each thread a reference to its instance so the threads know were to return the results. After each thread completes, it returns the result to MyPortal by calling its method submitResult(). Each of the resulting strings is being added to the ArrayList dataToDisplay, and when its size grows to two elements MyPortal prints the content of content the collection dataToDisplay. A little later I'll explain why such use of an ArrayList may not be the best solution for this example.

Listing 1. The source code of the class MyPortal


import java.util.ArrayList;
public class MyPortal {
	ArrayList dataToDisplay = new ArrayList();
    public static void main(String args[]){
    	MyPortal mp =new MyPortal();
    	// Spawn the threads and pass them the referennce
    	// to the instance of MyPortal
    	NewsServer myNews = new NewsServer(mp);
    	Thread newsThread = new Thread(myNews);

    	StockServer myStocks = new StockServer(mp);
    	Thread stockThread = new Thread(myStocks);

    	//Start the threads
    	newsThread.start();
    	stockThread.start();

    	try {
    		System.out.println("MyPortal is sleeping...!");
			Thread.sleep(10000); // wait for 10 sec 
		} catch (InterruptedException e) {
			e.printStackTrace();
		}

		System.out.println("Good bye!");
	}

    // Add the data returned by a thread to collection
    public void submitResult(String data){
    	dataToDisplay.add(data);

    	// Print the data if both threads have submitted the data
    	// (a buggy version)
    	if (dataToDisplay.size()==2){
        	System.out.println(dataToDisplay);
    	}
    }
}

The output of this program looks as follows:

MyPortal is sleeping...
[The stock market is on the rise!, We have good and bad news]
Good bye!

The first line will be printed almost immediately, the second line in 4 seconds and the third one in 10 seconds.

Listing 2. The source code of the class StockServer


public class StockServer implements Runnable {
    MyPortal papa;
    // Constructor
    StockServer(MyPortal parent){
       	papa=parent;
    }

    public void run() {
	// Sleep for 3 seconds to emulate some processing
	// and return a string with the market data to the parent
 	try {
		Thread.sleep(3000);
		papa.submitResult("The stock market is on the rise!");
	} catch (InterruptedException e) {
			e.printStackTrace();
	}
    }
}

Listing 3. The source code of the class NewsServer


public class NewsServer implements Runnable {
    MyPortal papa;

    // Constructor
    NewsServer(MyPortal parent){
       	papa=parent;
    }

	public void run() {
	// Sleep for 4 seconds to emulate some processing
	// and return a string with the news to the parent

		try {
			Thread.sleep(4000);
			papa.submitResult("We have  good and bad news");
		} catch (InterruptedException e) {
			e.printStackTrace();
		}
	}
}

The thread classes from Listing 2 and Listing 3 store the references to the parent class MyPortal in the variable papa. Each of the threads just sleeps for a specified number of seconds, wakes up and passes an appropriate text to papa.

Please note, that even on a single processor's machine the total execution time of our example is just a little more than 4 seconds. The reason is that our threads where "sleeping in parallel" and did not compete for the processor's time. But if you replace the sleeping part with a loop that performs some calculations, the timing will be different on a single processor machine: the program will run about 7 seconds. If you have a dual processor machine, you'll cut the processing time to 4 seconds again.

Thread Synchronization. A Race Condition.

When you write a multithreaded application you should consider possibility of a so-called race condition. This is a situation when you may get unpredictable results because multiple threads access a resource (i.e. a variable) at the same time. In our example two threads are calling the same method submitResult() which in turn accesses the variable dataToDisplay to add some data to it and check the size of this collection. Imagine that two or more threads finish their work at the same time. Let's look at a possible sequence of events:

  1. The NewsServer calls the method submitResult(). The size of dataToDisplay is 0.
  2. The StockServer calls the method submitResult() a split second later. The size of dataToDisplay is 0.
  3. The NewsServer grabs a zero-element dataToDisplay and starts adding its string there as a first element.
  4. The StockServer grabs a zero-element dataToDisplay (because the NewsServer has not finished adding its first the element yet) and starts adding its string there as a first element.
  5. After both threads are done, the dataToDisplay may wind up with having one element because the first thread's string has been overwritten by the second one. In this is the case, the size of the dataToDisplay will remain one and MyPortal will never print the news and stock data.
Since the probability of this situation is really small, your program may work properly for years and all of a sudden produce unexpected results. Bugs like this one are not easy to discover.

To avoid race conditions, the code that needs to access a "sensitive" variable must be locked (become unavailable for other threads) for the time when one thread works with it. When the first thread completes, the lock is released and another thread can get a hold of this variable/resource. You can arrange such locking either by using a Java keyword synchronized, or by using Java objects that are internally synchronized.

In our portal example, you can simply use the class Vector instead of ArrayList:

Vector dataToDisplay = new Vector();

Vector objects are internally synchronized in Java, and the second thread won't be able to add a string to the dataToDisplay collection until the first thread is done. Obviously, there is a price to pay for this convenience: synchronized objects are a little bit slower than non-synchronized ones.

The other solution is to put an explicit lock for a piece of code that must be completed without any interruption by other threads. For example, if you'll add the keyword synchronized to the signature of the method submitResult(), the second thread will not be able to call this method, if the first one is still executing it:

public synchronized void submitResult(String data){?}

You can also say that a lock is placed on the entire method submitResult().

You should try to minimize the locking time to avoid slowing down your programs. Java allows you to synchronize just a small portion of the code, which is more preferable than synchronizing an entire method.:


    public void submitResult(String data){
 
    	synchronized (this){
    	  dataToDisplay.add(data);
    	}

    	if (dataToDisplay.size()==2){
        	System.out.println(dataToDisplay);
    	}
    }

When a synchronized block is executed, the object in parenthesis is locked and cannot be used by any other thread until the lock is released.

Each Java thread has its own memory and the JVM copies there variables from the main program memory. The keyword synchronize means to synch up the content of the main and thread's portions of memory. This ensures that each thread works with the most current value of the resource (in our case its dataToDisplay).

If you spot a group of Java programmers in a bar, after a couple of beers they may start using some mysterious words: monitor and mutex.

A monitor is just a piece of a synchronized code. We can say that one of our threads can enter a monitor and safely modify the variable dataToDisplay. While the first thread is working, another thread(s) may start waiting for this monitor.

Mutex means mutually exclusive, and this term also refers to the fact that threads may take turns accessing some program variable(s).

In this lesson you've learned one of the ways of treating more than one thread as a group, but this is not the only way. Java has a class java.lang.ThreadGroup that allows you to create and start a group of threads, control the threads within the group and check which threads are still active. You may also consider the method join() of the class Thread if one thread needs to wait for completion of another.

Threads can communicate with other Java objects using special methods wait(), notify() and notifyAll(), but this is going to be a topic of another lesson. Meanwhile, you can read more about threads in the Java Tutorial over here: http://java.sun.com/docs/books/tutorial/essential/threads/

More Stories By Yakov Fain

Yakov Fain is a co-founder of two software companies: Farata Systems and SuranceBay. He authored several technical books and lots of articles on software development. Yakov is Java Champion (https://java-champions.java.net). He leads leads Princeton Java Users Group. Two of Yakov's books will go in print this year: "Enterprise Web Development" (O'Reilly) and "Java For Kids" (No Starch Press).

Comments (3) View Comments

Share your thoughts on this story.

Add your comment
You must be signed in to add a comment. Sign-in | Register

In accordance with our Comment Policy, we encourage comments that are on topic, relevant and to-the-point. We will remove comments that include profanity, personal attacks, racial slurs, threats of violence, or other inappropriate material that violates our Terms and Conditions, and will block users who make repeated violations. We ask all readers to expect diversity of opinion and to treat one another with dignity and respect.


Most Recent Comments
Slava Pestov 02/18/05 07:57:05 PM EST

Yakov, your last threads example has a race condition.

Consider this:

thread 1 executes: synchronized (this){ dataToDisplay.add(data); }.

then thread 2 executes: synchronized (this){ dataToDisplay.add(data); }.

then thread 1 executes: if (dataToDisplay.size()==2){ System.out.println(dataToDisplay); }

then thread 2 executes: if (dataToDisplay.size()==2){ System.out.println(dataToDisplay); }

That last System.out.println(dataToDisplay); executes twice, which is not what you intended.

Yakov Fain 02/04/05 11:41:26 AM EST

Yes, J2EE spec does not recommend it, but if you do it right everything works fine. Here's how this could be done

To control threads in a J2EE container use a thread pool (it's a singleton) and get threads from there. If you use J2SE 5.0, use the package java.util.concurrent (in particular, ThreadPoolExecutor). In J2SE 1.4 and below use an excellent concurrent package created by Doug Lea.

Disclaimer: It's just my personal opinion based on my prior experience with a pretty serious financial application. But I do not recommend you to violate J2EE spec.

Feldhacker 02/04/05 08:35:41 AM EST

Is a J2EE version of this example available? Since J2EE forbids explicit thread management, how would this be done on a web server?

@ThingsExpo Stories
SYS-CON Events announced today that Windstream, a leading provider of advanced network and cloud communications, has been named “Silver Sponsor” of SYS-CON's 16th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on June 9–11, 2015, at the Javits Center in New York, NY. Windstream (Nasdaq: WIN), a FORTUNE 500 and S&P 500 company, is a leading provider of advanced network communications, including cloud computing and managed services, to businesses nationwide. The company also offers broadband, phone and digital TV services to consumers primarily in rural areas.
"There is a natural synchronization between the business models, the IoT is there to support ,” explained Brendan O'Brien, Co-founder and Chief Architect of Aria Systems, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at the 15th International Cloud Expo®, held Nov 4–6, 2014, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA.
The major cloud platforms defy a simple, side-by-side analysis. Each of the major IaaS public-cloud platforms offers their own unique strengths and functionality. Options for on-site private cloud are diverse as well, and must be designed and deployed while taking existing legacy architecture and infrastructure into account. Then the reality is that most enterprises are embarking on a hybrid cloud strategy and programs. In this Power Panel at 15th Cloud Expo (http://www.CloudComputingExpo.com), moderated by Ashar Baig, Research Director, Cloud, at Gigaom Research, Nate Gordon, Director of T...
The definition of IoT is not new, in fact it’s been around for over a decade. What has changed is the public's awareness that the technology we use on a daily basis has caught up on the vision of an always on, always connected world. If you look into the details of what comprises the IoT, you’ll see that it includes everything from cloud computing, Big Data analytics, “Things,” Web communication, applications, network, storage, etc. It is essentially including everything connected online from hardware to software, or as we like to say, it’s an Internet of many different things. The difference ...

ARMONK, N.Y., Nov. 20, 2014 /PRNewswire/ --  IBM (NYSE: IBM) today announced that it is bringing a greater level of control, security and flexibility to cloud-based application development and delivery with a single-tenant version of Bluemix, IBM's platform-as-a-service. The new platform enables developers to build ap...

Cloud Expo 2014 TV commercials will feature @ThingsExpo, which was launched in June, 2014 at New York City's Javits Center as the largest 'Internet of Things' event in the world.
An entirely new security model is needed for the Internet of Things, or is it? Can we save some old and tested controls for this new and different environment? In his session at @ThingsExpo, New York's at the Javits Center, Davi Ottenheimer, EMC Senior Director of Trust, reviewed hands-on lessons with IoT devices and reveal a new risk balance you might not expect. Davi Ottenheimer, EMC Senior Director of Trust, has more than nineteen years' experience managing global security operations and assessments, including a decade of leading incident response and digital forensics. He is co-author of t...
Explosive growth in connected devices. Enormous amounts of data for collection and analysis. Critical use of data for split-second decision making and actionable information. All three are factors in making the Internet of Things a reality. Yet, any one factor would have an IT organization pondering its infrastructure strategy. How should your organization enhance its IT framework to enable an Internet of Things implementation? In his session at Internet of @ThingsExpo, James Kirkland, Chief Architect for the Internet of Things and Intelligent Systems at Red Hat, described how to revolutioniz...
Technology is enabling a new approach to collecting and using data. This approach, commonly referred to as the "Internet of Things" (IoT), enables businesses to use real-time data from all sorts of things including machines, devices and sensors to make better decisions, improve customer service, and lower the risk in the creation of new revenue opportunities. In his General Session at Internet of @ThingsExpo, Dave Wagstaff, Vice President and Chief Architect at BSQUARE Corporation, discuss the real benefits to focus on, how to understand the requirements of a successful solution, the flow of ...
The security devil is always in the details of the attack: the ones you've endured, the ones you prepare yourself to fend off, and the ones that, you fear, will catch you completely unaware and defenseless. The Internet of Things (IoT) is nothing if not an endless proliferation of details. It's the vision of a world in which continuous Internet connectivity and addressability is embedded into a growing range of human artifacts, into the natural world, and even into our smartphones, appliances, and physical persons. In the IoT vision, every new "thing" - sensor, actuator, data source, data con...
"BSQUARE is in the business of selling software solutions for smart connected devices. It's obvious that IoT has moved from being a technology to being a fundamental part of business, and in the last 18 months people have said let's figure out how to do it and let's put some focus on it, " explained Dave Wagstaff, VP & Chief Architect, at BSQUARE Corporation, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at @ThingsExpo, held Nov 4-6, 2014, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA.
Focused on this fast-growing market’s needs, Vitesse Semiconductor Corporation (Nasdaq: VTSS), a leading provider of IC solutions to advance "Ethernet Everywhere" in Carrier, Enterprise and Internet of Things (IoT) networks, introduced its IStaX™ software (VSC6815SDK), a robust protocol stack to simplify deployment and management of Industrial-IoT network applications such as Industrial Ethernet switching, surveillance, video distribution, LCD signage, intelligent sensors, and metering equipment. Leveraging technologies proven in the Carrier and Enterprise markets, IStaX is designed to work ac...
C-Labs LLC, a leading provider of remote and mobile access for the Internet of Things (IoT), announced the appointment of John Traynor to the position of chief operating officer. Previously a strategic advisor to the firm, Mr. Traynor will now oversee sales, marketing, finance, and operations. Mr. Traynor is based out of the C-Labs office in Redmond, Washington. He reports to Chris Muench, Chief Executive Officer. Mr. Traynor brings valuable business leadership and technology industry expertise to C-Labs. With over 30 years' experience in the high-tech sector, John Traynor has held numerous...
Bit6 today issued a challenge to the technology community implementing Web Real Time Communication (WebRTC). To leap beyond WebRTC’s significant limitations and fully leverage its underlying value to accelerate innovation, application developers need to consider the entire communications ecosystem.
The 3rd International @ThingsExpo, co-located with the 16th International Cloud Expo - to be held June 9-11, 2015, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY - announces that it is now accepting Keynote Proposals. The Internet of Things (IoT) is the most profound change in personal and enterprise IT since the creation of the Worldwide Web more than 20 years ago. All major researchers estimate there will be tens of billions devices - computers, smartphones, tablets, and sensors - connected to the Internet by 2020. This number will continue to grow at a rapid pace for the next several decades.
The Internet of Things is not new. Historically, smart businesses have used its basic concept of leveraging data to drive better decision making and have capitalized on those insights to realize additional revenue opportunities. So, what has changed to make the Internet of Things one of the hottest topics in tech? In his session at @ThingsExpo, Chris Gray, Director, Embedded and Internet of Things, discussed the underlying factors that are driving the economics of intelligent systems. Discover how hardware commoditization, the ubiquitous nature of connectivity, and the emergence of Big Data a...
Almost everyone sees the potential of Internet of Things but how can businesses truly unlock that potential. The key will be in the ability to discover business insight in the midst of an ocean of Big Data generated from billions of embedded devices via Systems of Discover. Businesses will also need to ensure that they can sustain that insight by leveraging the cloud for global reach, scale and elasticity.
SYS-CON Events announced today that IDenticard will exhibit at SYS-CON's 16th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on June 9-11, 2015, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY. IDenticard™ is the security division of Brady Corp (NYSE: BRC), a $1.5 billion manufacturer of identification products. We have small-company values with the strength and stability of a major corporation. IDenticard offers local sales, support and service to our customers across the United States and Canada. Our partner network encompasses some 300 of the world's leading systems integrators and security s...
IoT is still a vague buzzword for many people. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Mike Kavis, Vice President & Principal Cloud Architect at Cloud Technology Partners, discussed the business value of IoT that goes far beyond the general public's perception that IoT is all about wearables and home consumer services. He also discussed how IoT is perceived by investors and how venture capitalist access this space. Other topics discussed were barriers to success, what is new, what is old, and what the future may hold. Mike Kavis is Vice President & Principal Cloud Architect at Cloud Technology Pa...
Cloud Expo 2014 TV commercials will feature @ThingsExpo, which was launched in June, 2014 at New York City's Javits Center as the largest 'Internet of Things' event in the world. The next @ThingsExpo will take place November 4-6, 2014, at the Santa Clara Convention Center, in Santa Clara, California. Since its launch in 2008, Cloud Expo TV commercials have been aired and CNBC, Fox News Network, and Bloomberg TV. Please enjoy our 2014 commercial.