Synchronized Methods

The Java programming language provides two basic synchronization idioms: synchronized methods and synchronized statements. The more complex of the two, synchronized statements, are described in the next section. This section is about synchronized methods.

To make a method synchronized, simply add the synchronized keyword to its declaration:

public class SynchronizedCounter {
    private int c = 0;

    public synchronized void increment() {
        c++;
    }

    public synchronized void decrement() {
        c--;
    }

    public synchronized int value() {
        return c;
    }
}

If count is an instance of SynchronizedCounter, then making these methods synchronized has two effects:

  • First, it is not possible for two invocations of synchronized methods on the same object to interleave. When one thread is executing a synchronized method for an object, all other threads that invoke synchronized methods for the same object block (suspend execution) until the first thread is done with the object.
  • Second, when a synchronized method exits, it automatically establishes a happens-before relationship with any subsequent invocationof a synchronized method for the same object. This guarantees that changes to the state of the object are visible to all threads.

Note that constructors cannot be synchronized — using the synchronized keyword with a constructor is a syntax error. Synchronizing constructors doesn’t make sense, because only the thread that creates an object should have access to it while it is being constructed.


Warning: When constructing an object that will be shared between threads, be very careful that a reference to the object does not “leak” prematurely. For example, suppose you want to maintain a List called instances containing every instance of class. You might be tempted to add the following line to your constructor:

instances.add(this);

But then other threads can use instances to access the object before construction of the object is complete.


Synchronized methods enable a simple strategy for preventing thread interference and memory consistency errors: if an object is visible to more than one thread, all reads or writes to that object’s variables are done through synchronized methods. (An important exception: finalfields, which cannot be modified after the object is constructed, can be safely read through non-synchronized methods, once the object is constructed) This strategy is effective, but can present problems with liveness, as we’ll see later in this lesson.

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