It would be nice if we could perform one action at a time and perform it well, but that is usually difficult to do. The human body performs a great variety of operations in parallelor, as we will say throughout this chapter, concurrently. Respiration, blood circulation, digestion, thinking and walking, for example, can occur concurrently. All the sensessight, touch, smell, taste and hearingcan be employed at once. Computers, too, can perform operations concurrently. It is common for personal computers to compile a program, send a file to a printer and receive electronic mail messages over a network concurrently. Only computers that have multiple processors can truly execute operations concurrently. Operating systems on single-processor computers use various techniques to simulate concurrency, but on such computers only a single operation can execute at once.
Most programming languages do not enable programmers to specify concurrent activities. Rather, the languages generally provide control statements that only enable programmers to perform one action at a time, proceeding to the next action after the previous one has finished. Historically, concurrency has been implemented with operating system primitives available only to experienced systems programmers.
The Ada programming language, developed by the United States Department of Defense, made concurrency primitives widely available to defense contractors building military command-and-control systems. However, Ada has not been widely used in academia and commercial industry.
Java makes concurrency available to the applications programmer through its APIs. The programmer specifies that applications contain threads of execution, where each thread designates a portion of a program that may execute concurrently with other threads. This capability, called multithreading, gives the Java programmer powerful capabilities not available in the core C and C++ languages on which Java is based.
Performance Tip 23.1
A problem with single-threaded applications is that lengthy activities must complete before other activities can begin. In a multithreaded application, threads can be distributed across multiple processors (if they are available) so that multiple tasks are performed concurrently and the application can operate more efficiently. Multithreading can also increase performance on single-processor systems that simulate concurrencywhen one thread cannot proceed, another can use the processor.
Portability Tip 23.1
Unlike languages that do not have built-in multithreading capabilities (such as C and C++) and must therefore make nonportable calls to operating system multithreading primitives, Java includes multithreading primitives as part of the language itself and as part of its libraries. This facilitates manipulating threads in a portable manner across platforms.
We will discuss many applications of concurrent programming. For example, when programs download large files, such as audio clips or video clips, over the Internet, users may not want to wait until an entire lengthy clip downloads before starting the playback. To solve this problem, we can put multiple threads to workone thread downloads the clip, and another plays it. These activities proceed concurrently. To avoid choppy playback, we synchronize the threads so that the player thread does not begin until there is a sufficient amount of the clip in memory to keep the player thread busy.
Another example of multithreading is Java's garbage collection. C and C++ require the programmer to reclaim dynamically allocated memory explicitly. Java provides a garbage-collector thread that reclaims memory which is no longer needed.
Writing multithreaded programs can be tricky. Although the human mind can perform functions concurrently, people find it difficult to jump between parallel trains of thought. To see why multithreading can be difficult to program and understand, try the following experiment: Open three books to page 1, and try reading the books concurrently. Read a few words from the first book, then read a few words from the second book, then read a few words from the third book, then loop back and read the next few words from the first book, and so on. After this experiment, you will appreciate the challenges of multithreadingswitching between books, reading briefly, remembering your place in each book, moving the book you are reading closer so you can see it and pushing books you are not reading asideand, amid all this chaos, trying to comprehend the content of the books!
Programming concurrent applications is a difficult and error-prone undertaking. Even some of the simplest concurrent applications are beyond the capability of beginner programmers. If you find that you must use synchronization in a program, you should follow some simple guidelines. First, use existing classes from the Java API (such as the ArrayBlockingQueue class discussed in Section 23.9, Producer/Consumer Relationship: ArrayBlockingQueue) that manage synchronization for you. The classes in the Java API have been fully tested and debugged and help you avoid common traps and pitfalls. Second, if you find that you need more custom functionality than that provided in the Java APIs, you should use the synchronized keyword and Object methods wait, notify and notifyAll (discussed in Section 23.12, Monitors and Monitor Locks). Finally, if you need even more complex capabilities, then you should use the Lock and Condition interfaces that are introduced in Section 23.5, Thread Synchronization).
The Lock and Condition interfaces are advanced tools and should be used only by advanced programmers who are familiar with the common traps and pitfalls of concurrent programming with synchronization. We explain these topics in this chapter for a number of reasons. For one, they provide a solid basis for understanding how concurrent applications synchronize access to shared memory. Even, if an application does not use these tools explicitly, the concepts are still important to understand. We have also discussed these topics to highlight the new concurrency features introduced by J2SE 5.0. Finally, by showing you the complexity involved in using these low-level features, we hope to impress upon you the importance of using prepackaged concurrent capabilities whenever possible.
Introduction to Computers, the Internet and the World Wide Web
Introduction to Java Applications
Introduction to Classes and Objects
Control Statements: Part I
Control Statements: Part 2
Methods: A Deeper Look
Classes and Objects: A Deeper Look
Object-Oriented Programming: Inheritance
Object-Oriented Programming: Polymorphism
GUI Components: Part 1
Graphics and Java 2D™
Files and Streams
Searching and Sorting
Introduction to Java Applets
Multimedia: Applets and Applications
GUI Components: Part 2
Accessing Databases with JDBC
JavaServer Pages (JSP)
Strings, Characters and Regular Expressions
Appendix A. Operator Precedence Chart
Appendix B. ASCII Character Set
Appendix C. Keywords and Reserved Words
Appendix D. Primitive Types
Appendix E. (On CD) Number Systems
Appendix F. (On CD) Unicode®
Appendix G. Using the Java API Documentation
Appendix H. (On CD) Creating Documentation with javadoc
Appendix I. (On CD) Bit Manipulation
Appendix J. (On CD) ATM Case Study Code
Appendix K. (On CD) Labeled break and continue Statements
Appendix L. (On CD) UML 2: Additional Diagram Types
Appendix M. (On CD) Design Patterns
Appendix N. Using the Debugger
Inside Back Cover