Safe Publication

So far we have focused on ensuring that an object not be published, such as when it is supposed to be confined to a thread or within another object. Of course, sometimes we do want to share objects across threads, and in this case we must do so safely. Unfortunately, simply storing a reference to an object into a public field, as in Listing 3.14, is not enough to publish that object safely.

Listing 3.13. Caching the Last Result Using a Volatile Reference to an Immutable Holder Object.

public class VolatileCachedFactorizer implements Servlet {
 private volatile OneValueCache cache =
 new OneValueCache(null, null);

 public void service(ServletRequest req, ServletResponse resp) {
 BigInteger i = extractFromRequest(req);
 BigInteger[] factors = cache.getFactors(i);
 if (factors == null) {
 factors = factor(i);
 cache = new OneValueCache(i, factors);
 encodeIntoResponse(resp, factors);

Listing 3.14. Publishing an Object without Adequate Synchronization. Don't Do this.

// Unsafe publication
public Holder holder;

public void initialize() {
 holder = new Holder(42);

You may be surprised at how badly this harmless-looking example could fail. Because of visibility problems, the Holder could appear to another thread to be in an inconsistent state, even though its invariants were properly established by its constructor! This improper publication could allow another thread to observe a partially constructed object.

3.5.1. Improper Publication: When Good Objects Go Bad

You cannot rely on the integrity of partially constructed objects. An observing thread could see the object in an inconsistent state, and then later see its state suddenly change, even though it has not been modified since publication. In fact, if the Holder in Listing 3.15 is published using the unsafe publication idiom in Listing 3.14, and a thread other than the publishing thread were to call assertSanity, it could throw AssertionError![15]

[15] The problem here is not the Holder class itself, but that the Holder is not properly published. However, Holder can be made immune to improper publication by declaring the n field to be final, which would make Holder immutable; see Section 3.5.2.

Listing 3.15. Class at Risk of Failure if Not Properly Published.

public class Holder {
 private int n;

 public Holder(int n) { this.n = n; }

 public void assertSanity() {
 if (n != n)
 throw new AssertionError("This statement is false.");

Because synchronization was not used to make the Holder visible to other threads, we say the Holder was not properly published. Two things can go wrong with improperly published objects. Other threads could see a stale value for the holder field, and thus see a null reference or other older value even though a value has been placed in holder. But far worse, other threads could see an up-todate value for the holder reference, but stale values for the state of the Holder.[16] To make things even less predictable, a thread may see a stale value the first time it reads a field and then a more up-to-date value the next time, which is why assertSanity can throw AssertionError.

[16] While it may seem that field values set in a constructor are the first values written to those fields and therefore that there are no "older" values to see as stale values, the Object constructor first writes the default values to all fields before subclass constructors run. It is therefore possible to see the default value for a field as a stale value.

At the risk of repeating ourselves, some very strange things can happen when data is shared across threads without sufficient synchronization.

3.5.2. Immutable Objects and Initialization Safety

Because immutable objects are so important, the JavaMemory Model offers a special guarantee of initialization safety for sharing immutable objects. As we've seen, that an object reference becomes visible to another thread does not necessarily mean that the state of that object is visible to the consuming thread. In order to guarantee a consistent view of the object's state, synchronization is needed.

Immutable objects, on the other hand, can be safely accessed even when synchronization is not used to publish the object reference. For this guarantee of initialization safety to hold, all of the requirements for immutability must be met: unmodi-fiable state, all fields are final, and proper construction. (If Holder in Listing 3.15 were immutable, assertSanity could not throw AssertionError, even if the Holder was not properly published.)

Immutable objects can be used safely by any thread without additional synchronization, even when synchronization is not used to publish them.

This guarantee extends to the values of all final fields of properly constructed objects; final fields can be safely accessed without additional synchronization. However, if final fields refer to mutable objects, synchronization is still required to access the state of the objects they refer to.

3.5.3. Safe Publication Idioms

Objects that are not immutable must be safely published, which usually entails synchronization by both the publishing and the consuming thread. For the moment, let's focus on ensuring that the consuming thread can see the object in its aspublished state; we'll deal with visibility of modifications made after publication soon.

To publish an object safely, both the reference to the object and the object's state must be made visible to other threads at the same time. A properly constructed object can be safely published by:

  • Initializing an object reference from a static initializer;
  • Storing a reference to it into a volatile field or AtomicReference;
  • Storing a reference to it into a final field of a properly constructed object; or
  • Storing a reference to it into a field that is properly guarded by a lock.

The internal synchronization in thread-safe collections means that placing an object in a thread-safe collection, such as a Vector or synchronizedList, fulfills the last of these requirements. If thread A places object X in a thread-safe collection and thread B subsequently retrieves it, B is guaranteed to see the state of X as A left it, even though the application code that hands X off in this manner has no explicit synchronization. The thread-safe library collections offer the following safe publication guarantees, even if the Javadoc is less than clear on the subject:

  • Placing a key or value in a Hashtable, synchronizedMap, or Concurrent-Map safely publishes it to any thread that retrieves it from the Map (whether directly or via an iterator);
  • Placing an element in a Vector, CopyOnWriteArrayList, CopyOnWrite-ArraySet, synchronizedList, or synchronizedSet safely publishes it to any thread that retrieves it from the collection;
  • Placing an element on a BlockingQueue or a ConcurrentLinkedQueue safely publishes it to any thread that retrieves it from the queue.

Other handoff mechanisms in the class library (such as Future and Exchanger) also constitute safe publication; we will identify these as providing safe publication as they are introduced.

Using a static initializer is often the easiest and safest way to publish objects that can be statically constructed:

public static Holder holder = new Holder(42);

Static initializers are executed by the JVM at class initialization time; because of internal synchronization in the JVM, this mechanism is guaranteed to safely publish any objects initialized in this way [JLS 12.4.2].

3.5.4. Effectively Immutable Objects

Safe publication is sufficient for other threads to safely access objects that are not going to be modified after publication without additional synchronization. The safe publication mechanisms all guarantee that the as-published state of an object is visible to all accessing threads as soon as the reference to it is visible, and if that state is not going to be changed again, this is sufficient to ensure that any access is safe.

Objects that are not technically immutable, but whose state will not be modified after publication, are called effectively immutable. They do not need to meet the strict definition of immutability in Section 3.4; they merely need to be treated by the program as if they were immutable after they are published. Using effectively immutable objects can simplify development and improve performance by reducing the need for synchronization.

Safely published effectively immutable objects can be used safely by any thread without additional synchronization.

For example, Date is mutable,[17] but if you use it as if it were immutable, you may be able to eliminate the locking that would otherwise be required when shared a Date across threads. Suppose you want to maintain a Map storing the last login time of each user:

[17] This was probably a mistake in the class library design.

public Map lastLogin =
 Collections.synchronizedMap(new HashMap());

If the Date values are not modified after they are placed in the Map, then the synchronization in the synchronizedMap implementation is sufficient to publish the Date values safely, and no additional synchronization is needed when accessing them.

3.5.5. Mutable Objects

If an object may be modified after construction, safe publication ensures only the visibility of the as-published state. Synchronization must be used not only to publish a mutable object, but also every time the object is accessed to ensure visibility of subsequent modifications. To share mutable objects safely, they must be safely published and be either thread-safe or guarded by a lock.

The publication requirements for an object depend on its mutability:

  • Immutable objects can be published through any mechanism;
  • Effectively immutable objects must be safely published;
  • Mutable objects must be safely published, and must be either threadsafe or guarded by a lock.


3.5.6. Sharing Objects Safely

Whenever you acquire a reference to an object, you should know what you are allowed to do with it. Do you need to acquire a lock before using it? Are you allowed to modify its state, or only to read it? Many concurrency errors stem from failing to understand these "rules of engagement" for a shared object. When you publish an object, you should document how the object can be accessed.

The most useful policies for using and sharing objects in a concurrent program are:

Thread-confined. A thread-confined object is owned exclusively by and confined to one thread, and can be modifled by its owning thread.

Shared read-only. A shared read-only object can be accessed concurrently by multiple threads without additional synchronization, but cannot be modified by any thread. Shared read-only objects include immutable and effectively immutable objects.

Shared thread-safe. A thread-safe object performs synchronization internally, so multiple threads can freely access it through its public interface without further synchronization.

Guarded. A guarded object can be accessed only with a specific lock held. Guarded objects include those that are encapsulated within other thread-safe objects and published objects that are known to be guarded by a specific lock.


Part I: Fundamentals

Thread Safety

Sharing Objects

Composing Objects

Building Blocks

Part II: Structuring Concurrent Applications

Task Execution

Cancellation and Shutdown

Applying Thread Pools

GUI Applications

Part III: Liveness, Performance, and Testing

Avoiding Liveness Hazards

Performance and Scalability

Testing Concurrent Programs

Part IV: Advanced Topics

Explicit Locks

Building Custom Synchronizers

Atomic Variables and Nonblocking Synchronization

The Java Memory Model

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Java Concurrency in Practice
Java Concurrency in Practice
ISBN: 0321349601
EAN: 2147483647
Year: 2004
Pages: 141
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