Understanding Thread Priority

As mentioned briefly in the previous section, most computer configurations have a single CPU. Hence, threads run one at a time in such a way as to provide an illusion of concurrency. Execution of multiple threads on a single CPU in some order is called scheduling. The Java runtime environment supports a very simple, deterministic scheduling algorithm called fixed-priority scheduling. This algorithm schedules threads on the basis of their priority relative to other Runnable threads.

When a thread is created, it inherits its priority from the thread that created it. You also can modify a thread's priority at any time after its creation by using the setPriority method. Thread priorities are integers ranging between MIN_PRIORITY and MAX_PRIORITY (constants defined in the Thread class). The higher the integer, the higher the priority. At any given time, when multiple threads are ready to be executed, the runtime system chooses for execution the Runnable thread that has the highest priority. Only when that thread stops, yields, or becomes Not Runnable will a lower-priority thread start executing. If two threads of the same priority are waiting for the CPU, the scheduler arbitrarily chooses one of them to run. The chosen thread runs until one of the following conditions is true:

  • A higher-priority thread becomes Runnable.
  • It yields or its run method exits.
  • On systems that support time slicing, its time allotment has expired.

Then the second thread is given a chance to run, and so on, until the interpreter exits.

The Java runtime environment's thread-scheduling algorithm is also preemptive. If at any time a thread with a priority higher than that of all other Runnable threads becomes Runnable, the runtime system chooses the new higher-priority thread for execution. This new thread is said to preempt the other threads.

Rule of Thumb

At any given time, the highest-priority thread is running. However, this is not guaranteed. The thread scheduler may choose to run a lower-priority thread to avoid starvation. For this reason, use thread priority only to affect scheduling policy for efficiency purposes. Do not rely on it for algorithm correctness.

 

The 400,000-Micron Thread Race

graphics/intfig04.gif

The applet shown in Figure 83, called RaceApplet, [1] animates a race between two "runner" threads of different priorities. Clicking the mouse on the applet starts the two runners. Runner 2 has a priority of 2; runner 3 has a priority of 3.

[1] RaceApplet.java is included on the CD and is available online. See Code Samples (page 310).

Figure 83. A snapshot of RaceApplet with runners of different priorities.

graphics/08fig05.gif

Try This

Go to the online version of this section and run the applet. Note that this applet may not work as intended in browsers that have security restrictions regarding setting a thread's priority. If this is true for your browser, try running this applet in an applet viewer instead.

graphics/intfig04.gif

The runners are implemented by a Thread subclass called Runner. [2] Here is the run method for the Runner class, which simply counts from 1 to 400,000:

[2] Runner.java is included on the CD and is available online. See Code Samples (page 310).

public int tick = 1; 
public void run() { 
 while (tick < 400000) { 
 tick++; 
 } 
} 

This applet has a third thread, which handles the drawing. The drawing thread's run method loops until the applet stops. During each iteration of the loop, the thread draws a line for each runner, whose length is computed from the runner's tick variable; the thread then sleeps for 10 milliseconds. The drawing thread has a thread priority of 4higher than that of either runner. Thus, whenever the drawing thread wakes up after 10 milliseconds, it becomes the highest-priority thread, preempting whichever runner is currently running, and draws the lines. You can see the lines inch their way across the page.

This is not a fair race, because one runner has a higher priority than the other. Each time the drawing thread yields the CPU by going to sleep for 10 milliseconds, the scheduler chooses the highest-priority Runnable thread to run; in this case, it's always runner 3.

Figure 84 is another snapshot of the applet, one that implements a fair race, in which both runners have the same priority and an equal chance of being chosen to run.

Figure 84. A snapshot of RaceApplet with runners of the same priority.

graphics/08fig06.gif

Try This

Go to the online version of this section and run the applet. [1]

[1] http://java.sun.com/docs/books/tutorial/essential/threads/priority.html

In this race, each time the drawing thread yields the CPU by going to sleep, there are two Runnable threads of equal prioritythe runnerswaiting for the CPU. The scheduler must choose one of the threads to run. In this case, the scheduler arbitrarily chooses one.

Selfish Threads

The Runner class used in the previous races implements "socially impaired" thread behavior. Recall the run method from the Runner class used in the races:

public int tick = 1; 
public void run() { 
 while (tick < 400000) { 
 tick++; 
 } 
} 

The while loop in the run method is in a tight loop. Once the scheduler chooses a thread with this thread body for execution, the thread never voluntarily relinquishes control of the CPU; it just continues to run until the while loop terminates naturally or until the thread is preempted by a higher-priority thread. This thread is called a selfish thread.

In some cases, having selfish threads doesn't cause any problems, because a higher-priority thread preempts the selfish one, just as the drawing thread in RaceApplet preempts the selfish runners. However, in other cases, threads with CPU-greedy run methods can take over the CPU and cause other threads to wait for a long time, even forever, before getting a chance to run.

Time Slicing

graphics/intfig04.gif

Some systems, such as Win32, fight selfish-thread behavior with a strategy known as time slicing. Time slicing comes into play when multiple Runnable threads of equal priority are the highest-priority threads competing for the CPU. For example, a standalone program based on RaceApplet creates two equal-priority selfish threads that have this run method: [1]

[1] RaceDemo.java is included on the CD and is available online. See Code Samples (page 310).

public void run() { 
 while (tick < 400000) { 
 tick++; 
 if ((tick % 50000) == 0) { 
 System.out.println("Thread #" + num + ", tick = " + tick); 
 } 
 } 
} 

This run method contains a tight loop that increments the integer tick. Every 50,000 ticks prints out the thread's identifier and its tick count.

When running this program on a time-sliced system, you will see messages from both threads intermingled, like this:

Thread #1, tick = 50000 
Thread #0, tick = 50000 
Thread #0, tick = 100000 
Thread #1, tick = 100000 
Thread #1, tick = 150000 
Thread #1, tick = 200000 
Thread #0, tick = 150000 
Thread #0, tick = 200000 
Thread #1, tick = 250000 
Thread #0, tick = 250000 
Thread #0, tick = 300000 
Thread #1, tick = 300000 
Thread #1, tick = 350000 
Thread #0, tick = 350000 
Thread #0, tick = 400000 
Thread #1, tick = 400000 

This output is produced because a time-sliced system divides the CPU into time slots and gives each equal-and-highest priority thread a time slot in which to run. The time-sliced system iterates through the equal-and-highest priority threads, allowing each one a bit of time to run, until one or more finishes or until a higher-priority thread preempts them. Note that time slicing makes no guarantees as to how often or in what order threads are scheduled to run.

When running this program on a system that is not time sliced, you will see messages from one thread finish printing before the other thread ever gets a chance to print one message. The output will look like this:

Thread #0, tick = 50000 
Thread #0, tick = 100000 
Thread #0, tick = 150000 
Thread #0, tick = 200000 
Thread #0, tick = 250000 
Thread #0, tick = 300000 
Thread #0, tick = 350000 
Thread #0, tick = 400000 
Thread #1, tick = 50000 
Thread #1, tick = 100000 
Thread #1, tick = 150000 
Thread #1, tick = 200000 
Thread #1, tick = 250000 
Thread #1, tick = 300000 
Thread #1, tick = 350000 
Thread #1, tick = 400000 

The reason is that a system that is not time sliced chooses one of the equal-and-highest priority threads to run and allows that thread to run until it relinquishes the CPU (by sleeping, yielding, or finishing its job) or until a higher-priority preempts it.

Purity Tip

The Java platform does not implement (and therefore does not guarantee) time slicing. However, some platforms do support time slicing. Your programs should not rely on time slicing, as it may produce different results on different systems.

As you can imagine, writing CPU-intensive code can have negative repercussions on other threads running in the same process. In general, try to write well-behaved threads that voluntarily relinquish the CPU periodically and give other threads an opportunity to run.

A thread can voluntarily yield the CPU by calling the yield method. The yield method gives other threads of the same priority a chance to run. If no equal-priority threads are Runnable, the yield is ignored.

Summarizing Thread Priority

  • Most computers have only one CPU, so threads must share the CPU with other threads. The execution of multiple threads on a single CPU, in some order, is called scheduling. The Java platform supports a simple, deterministic scheduling algorithm called fixed-priority scheduling.
  • Each thread has a numeric priority between MIN_PRIORITY and MAX_PRIORITY (constants defined in the Thread class). At any given time, when multiple threads are ready to be executed, the highest-priority thread is chosen for execution. Only when that thread stops or is suspended will a lower-priority thread start executing.
  • Scheduling of the CPU is fully preemptive. If a thread with a priority higher than that of the currently executing thread needs to execute, the higher-priority thread is immediately scheduled.
  • The Java platform does not directly time slice. However, the system implementation of threads underlying the Thread class may support time slicing. Do not write code that relies on time slicing.
  • A given thread may, at any time, give up its right to execute by calling the yield method. Threads can yield the CPU only to other threads of the same priority. Attempts to yield to a lower-priority thread are ignored.
  • When all the Runnable threads in the system have the same priority, the scheduler arbitrarily chooses one of them to run.

Getting Started

Object-Oriented Programming Concepts

Language Basics

Object Basics and Simple Data Objects

Classes and Inheritance

Interfaces and Packages

Handling Errors Using Exceptions

Threads: Doing Two or More Tasks at Once

I/O: Reading and Writing

User Interfaces That Swing

Appendix A. Common Problems and Their Solutions

Appendix B. Internet-Ready Applets

Appendix C. Collections

Appendix D. Deprecated Thread Methods

Appendix E. Reference



The Java Tutorial(c) A Short Course on the Basics
The Java Tutorial: A Short Course on the Basics, 4th Edition
ISBN: 0321334205
EAN: 2147483647
Year: 2002
Pages: 125

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