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Refcard #061

Core Java Concurrency

Understanding the Core Concurrency Concepts

This Refcard will help Java developers working with multi-threaded programs to understand core concurrency concepts and how to apply them. Overview the key aspects of the Java language and get references on the core library.

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Written By

author avatar Igor Sorokin
Senior Java Developer, S&P Global
author avatar Alex Miller
Tech Lead, Terracotta
Section 1


From its creation, Java has supported key concurrency concepts such as threads and locks. This Refcard will help Java developers working with multi-threaded programs to understand core concurrency concepts and how to apply them.

Section 2


Concept Description
Atomicity An atomic operation is one which is executed in an all or nothing fashion, therefore partial state is impossible.
Visibility The conditions when one thread sees changes made by another thread

Table 1: Concurrency concepts

Race condition

A race condition occurs when more than one thread is performing a series of actions on shared resources, and several possible outcomes can exist based on the order of the actions from each thread. The below code is not thread-safe and the value could be initialized more than once, as check-then-act (check for null, then initialize) that lazily initialized field is not atomic:

class Lazy <T> {
  private volatile T value;

  T get() {
    if (value == null)
      value = initialize();
    return value;

Data race

A data race occurs when 2 or more threads try to access the same non-final variable without synchronization. Not using synchronization may lead to making changes which are not visible to other threads, so reading the stale data is possible, which in turn may have consequences such as infinite loops, corrupted data structures, or inaccurate computations. This code might result in an infinite loop, because the reader thread may never observe the changes made by the writer threads:

class Waiter implements Runnable {
  private boolean shouldFinish;

  void finish() { shouldFinish = true; }

  public void run() {
    long iteration = 0;
    while (!shouldFinish) {
    System.out.println("Finished after: " + iteration);

class DataRace {

  public static void main(String[] args) throws InterruptedException {
    Waiter waiter = new Waiter();
    Thread waiterThread = new Thread(waiter);

Section 3

Java Memory Model: happens-before relationship

The Java memory model is defined in terms of actions like reading and writing fields, and synchronizing on a monitor. Actions can be ordered by a happens-before relationship, that can be used to reason about when a thread sees the result of another thread’s actions, and what constitutes a properly synchronized program.

Happens-before relationships have the following properties:
  • The Invocation of Thread#start happens before any action in this thread.
  • Releasing a monitor happens before any subsequent acquisition of the same monitor.
  • A write to a volatile variable happens before any subsequent read of a volatile variable.
  • A write to a final variable happens before the reference of the object is published.
  • All actions in a thread happen before returning from a Thread#join on that thread.

In Image 1, Action X happens before Action Y, therefore in Thread 2 all operations to the right of Action Y will see all the operations to the left of Action X in Thread 1.

Image 1:Happens-before illustration

Section 4

Standard synchronization features

The synchronized keyword

The synchronized keyword is used to prevent different threads executing the same code block simultaneously. It guarantees that since you acquire a lock (by entering the synchronized block), data, which is protected by this lock, can be manipulated in exclusive mode, so the operation can be atomic. Also, it guarantees that other threads will observe the result of the operation after they acquire the same lock.

class AtomicOperation {
  private int counter0;
  private int counter1;

  void increment() {
    synchronized (this) {

The synchronized keyword can be also specified on a method level.

Type of method Reference which is used as a monitor
static The class object of the class with the method
non-static The this reference

Table 2: Monitors, which are used when the whole method is synchronized

The lock is reentrant, so if the thread already holds the lock, it can successfully acquire it again.

class Reentrantcy {

  synchronized void doAll() {

  synchronized void doFirst() {
    System.out.println("First operation is successful.");

  synchronized void doSecond() {
    System.out.println("Second operation is successful.");

The level of contention affects how the monitor is acquired:

State Description
init Just created, never acquired.
biased There is no contention and the code protected by the lock is executed only by one thread. The cheapest one to acquire.
thin Monitor is acquired by several threads with no contention. Relatively cheap CAS is used for taking the lock.
fat There is contention. The JVM requests an OS mutex and lets the OS scheduler handle thread-parking and wake ups.

Table 3: Monitor states


wait/notify/notifyAll methods are declared in the Object class. wait is used to make a thread to advance to the WAITING or TIMED_WAITING (if the time-out value is passed) status. In order to wake up a thread, any of these actions can be done:

  • Another thread invokes notify, which wakes up an arbitrary thread waiting on the monitor.
  • Another thread invokes notifyAll, which wakes up all the threads waiting on the monitor.
  • Thread#interrupt is invoked. In this case, InterruptedException is thrown.

The most common pattern is a condition loop:

class ConditionLoop {
  private boolean condition;

  synchronized void waitForCondition() throws InterruptedException {
    while (!condition) {

  synchronized void satisfyCondition() {
    condition = true;
  • Keep in mind that in order to use wait/notify/notifyAll on an object, you need to acquire the lock on this object first.
  • Always wait inside a loop that checks the condition being waited on – this addresses the timing issue if another thread satisfies the condition before the wait begins. Also, it protects your code from spurious wake-ups that can (and do) occur.
  • Always ensure that you satisfy the waiting condition before calling notify/notifyAll. Failing to do so will cause a notification but no thread will ever be able to escape its wait loop.

The volatile keyword

volatile solves the problem of visibility, and makes changes the value to be atomic, because there is a happens-before relationship: write to a volatile variable happens before any subsequent read from the volatile variable. Therefore, it guarantees that any subsequent reads of the field will see the value, which was set by the most recent write.

class VolatileFlag implements Runnable {

  private volatile boolean shouldStop;

  public void run() {
    while (!shouldStop) {
      //do smth

  void stop() {
    shouldStop = true;

  public static void main(String[] args) throws InterruptedException {
    VolatileFlag flag = new VolatileFlag();
    Thread thread = new Thread(flag);



The java.util.concurrent.atomic package contains a set of classes that support atomic compound actions on a single value in a lock-free manner similar to volatile.

Using AtomicXXX classes, it is possible to implement an atomic check-then-act operation:

class CheckThenAct {
  private final AtomicReference<String> value = new AtomicReference<>();

  void initialize() {
    if (value.compareAndSet(null, "Initialized value")) {
      System.out.println("Initialized only once.");

Both AtomicInteger and AtomicLong have atomic increment/decrement operation:

class Increment {
  private final AtomicInteger state = new AtomicInteger();

  void advance() {
    int oldState = state.getAndIncrement();
    System.out.println("Advanced: '" + oldState + "' -> '" + (oldState + 1) + "'.");

If you want to have a counter and do not need to get its value atomically, consider using LongAdder instead of AtomicLong/AtomicInteger. LongAdder maintains the value across several cells and grows their number if it’s needed, consequently it performs better under high contention.


One way to contain data within a thread and make locking unnecessary is to use ThreadLocal storage. Conceptually, ThreadLocal acts as if there is a variable with its own version in every Thread. ThreadLocals are commonly used for stashing per-Thread values like the “current transaction” or other resources. Also, they are used to maintain per-thread counters, statistics, or ID generators.

class TransactionManager {
  private final ThreadLocal<Transaction> currentTransaction 
      = ThreadLocal.withInitial(NullTransaction::new);

  Transaction currentTransaction() {
    Transaction current = currentTransaction.get();
    if (current.isNull()) {
      current = new TransactionImpl();
    return current;
Section 5

Safe publication

Publishing an object is making its reference available outside of the current scope (for example: return a reference from a getter). Ensuring that object is published safely (only when it is fully constructed) may require synchronization. The safe publication could be achieved using:

  • Static initializers. Only one thread can initialize static variables because initialization of the class is done under an exclusive lock.
class StaticInitializer {
  // Publishing an immutable object without additional initialization
  public static final Year year = Year.of(2017); 
  public static final Set<String> keywords;

  // Using static initializer to construct a complex object
  static {
    // Creating mutable set
    Set<String> keywordsSet = new HashSet<>(); 
    // Initializing state
    // Making set unmodifiable 
    keywords = Collections.unmodifiableSet(keywordsSet); 
  • Volatile field. The reader thread will always read the most recent value because a write to a volatile variable happens before any subsequent read.
class Volatile {
  private volatile String state;

  void setState(String state) {
    this.state = state;

  String getState() {
    return state; 
  • Atomics. For example, AtomicInteger stores the value in a volatile field, so the same rule for volatile variables is applicable here.
class Atomics {
  private final AtomicInteger state = new AtomicInteger();

  void initializeState(int state) {
    this.state.compareAndSet(0, state);

  int getState() {
    return state.get();
  • Final fields.
class Final {
  private final String state;

  Final(String state) {
    this.state = state;

  String getState() {
    return state;

Make sure that this reference is not escaped during construction.

class ThisEscapes {
 private final String name;

 ThisEscapes(String name) {
   this.name = name;

 String getName() { return name; }

class Cache {
 private static final Map<String, ThisEscapes> CACHE = new ConcurrentHashMap<>();

 static void putIntoCache(ThisEscapes thisEscapes) {
   // 'this' reference escaped before the object is fully constructed.
   CACHE.putIfAbsent(thisEscapes.getName(), thisEscapes);
  • Correctly synchronized field.
class Synchronization {

  private String state;

  synchronized String getState() {
    if (state == null)
      state = "Initial";
    return state;
Section 6

Immutable objects

A great property of immutable objects is that they are thread-safe, so no synchronization is necessary. The requirements for an object to be immutable are:

  • All fields are final.
  • All fields must be either mutable or immutable objects too, but do not escape the scope of the object so the state of the object cannot be altered after construction.
  • this reference does not escape during construction.
  • The class is final, so it is not possible to override this behavior in subclasses.

Example of an immutable object:

// Marked as final - subclassing is forbidden
public final class Artist {
  // Immutable object, field is final
  private final String name; 
  // Collection of immutable objects, field is final
  private final List<Track> tracks; 

  public Artist(String name, List<Track> tracks) {
    this.name = name;
    // Defensive copy
    List<Track> copy = new ArrayList<>(tracks); 
    // Making mutable collection unmodifiable
    this.tracks = Collections.unmodifiableList(copy); 
    // 'this' is not passed to anywhere during construction
  // Getters, equals, hashCode, toString

// Marked as final - subclassing is forbidden
public final class Track { 
  // Immutable object, field is final
  private final String title; 

  public Track(String title) {
    this.title = title;
  // Getters, equals, hashCode, toString
Section 7


The java.lang.Thread class is used to represent an application or JVM thread. The code is always being executed in the context of some Thread class (use Thread#currentThread() to obtain your own Thread).

State Description
NEW Not started.
RUNNABLE Up and running.
BLOCKED Waiting on a monitor — it is trying to acquire the lock and enter the critical section.
WAITING Waiting for another thread to perform a particular action (notify/notifyAll, LockSupport#unpark).
TIMED_WAITING Same as WAITING, but with a timeout.

Table 4: Thread states

Thread Method Description
start Starts a Thread instance and execute its run() method.
join Blocks until the Thread finishes.
interrupt Interrupts the thread. If the thread is blocked in a method that responds to interrupts, an InterruptedException will be thrown in the other thread, otherwise the interrupt status is set.
stop, suspend, resume, destroy These methods are all deprecated. They perform dangerous operations depending on the state of the thread in question. Instead, use Thread#interrupt() or a volatile flag to indicate to a thread what it should do

Table 5: Thread coordination methods

How to handle InterruptedException?

  • Clean up all resources and finish the thread execution if it is possible at the current level.
  • Declare that the current method throws InterruptedException.
  • If a method is not declared to throw InterruptedException, the interrupted flag should be restored to true by calling Thread.currentThread().interrupt() and an exception, which is more appropriate at this level, should be thrown. It is highly important to set the flag back to true in order to give a chance to handle interruptions at a higher level.

Unexpected exception handling

Threads can specify an UncaughtExceptionHandler that will receive a notification of any uncaught exception that causes a thread to abruptly terminate.

Thread thread = new Thread(runnable);
thread.setUncaughtExceptionHandler((failedThread, exception) -> {
  logger.error("Caught unexpected exception in thread '{}'.",
      failedThread.getName(), exception);
Section 8



A deadlock occurs when there is more than one thread, each waiting for a resource held by another, such that a cycle of resources and acquiring threads is formed. The most obvious kind of resource is an object monitor but any resource that causes blocking (such as wait/notify) can qualify.

Potential deadlock example:

class Account {
  private long amount;

  void plus(long amount) { this.amount += amount; }

  void minus(long amount) {
    if (this.amount < amount)
      throw new IllegalArgumentException();
      this.amount -= amount;

  static void transferWithDeadlock(long amount, Account first, Account second){
    synchronized (first) {
      synchronized (second) {

The deadlock happens if at the same time:

  • One thread is trying to transfer from the first account to the second, and has already acquired the lock on the first account.
  • Another thread is trying to transfer from the second account to the first one, and has already acquired the lock on the second account.

Techniques for avoiding deadlock:

  • Lock ordering — always acquire the locks in the same order.
class Account {
  private long id;
  private long amount;
  // Some methods are omitted

  static void transferWithLockOrdering(long amount, Account first, Account second){
    boolean lockOnFirstAccountFirst = first.id < second.id;
    Account firstLock = lockOnFirstAccountFirst  ? first  : second;
    Account secondLock = lockOnFirstAccountFirst ? second : first;
    synchronized (firstLock) {
      synchronized (secondLock) {
  • Lock with timeout — do not block indefinitely upon acquiring the lock, but rather release all locks and try again.
class Account {
  private long amount;
  // Some methods are omitted

  static void transferWithTimeout(
      long amount, Account first, Account second, int retries, long timeoutMillis
  ) throws InterruptedException {
    for (int attempt = 0; attempt < retries; attempt++) {
      if (first.lock.tryLock(timeoutMillis, TimeUnit.MILLISECONDS))
        try {

          if (second.lock.tryLock(timeoutMillis, TimeUnit.MILLISECONDS))
            try {
            finally {

        finally {

The JVM can detect monitor deadlocks and will print deadlock information in thread dumps.

Livelock and thread starvation

Livelock occurs when threads spend all of their time negotiating access to a resource or detecting and avoiding deadlock such that no thread actually makes progress. Starvation occurs when threads hold a lock for long periods such that some threads “starve” without making progress.

Section 9


Thread pools

The core interface for thread pools is ExecutorService. java.util.concurrent also provides a static factory class Executors, which contains factory methods for the creation of a thread pool with the most common configurations.

Method Description
newSingleThreadExecutor Returns an ExecutorService with exactly one thread.
newFixedThreadPool Returns an ExecutorService with a fixed number of threads.
newCachedThreadPool Returns an ExecutorService with a varying size thread pool.
newSingleThreadScheduledExecutor Returns a ScheduledExecutorService with a single thread.
newScheduledThreadPool Returns a ScheduledExecutorService with a core set of threads.
newWorkStealingPool Returns an work-stealing ExecutorService.

Table 6: Static factory methods

When sizing thread pools, it is often useful to base the size on the number of logical cores in the machine running the application. In Java, you can get that value by calling Runtime.getRuntime().availableProcessors().

Implementation Description
ThreadPoolExecutor Default implementation with an optionally resizing pool of threads, a single working queue and configurable policy for rejected tasks (via RejectedExecutionHandler), and thread creation (via ThreadFactory).
ScheduledThreadPoolExecutor An extension of ThreadPoolExecutor that provides the ability to schedule periodical tasks.
ForkJoinPool Work stealing pool: all threads in the pool try to find and run either submitted tasks or tasks created by other active tasks.

Table 7: Thread pool implementations

Tasks are submitted with ExecutorService#submit, ExecutorService#invokeAll, or ExecutorService#invokeAny, which have multiple overloads for different types of tasks.

Interface Description
Runnable Represent a task without a return value.
Callable Represents a computation with a return value. It also declares to throw raw Exception, so no wrapping for a checked exception is necessary.

Table 8: Tasks’ functional interfaces


Future is an abstraction for asynchronous computation. It represents the result of the computation, which might be available at some point: either a computed value or an exception. Most of the methods of the ExecutorService use Future as a return type. It exposes methods to examine the current state of the future or block until the result is available.

ExecutorService executorService = Executors.newSingleThreadExecutor();
Future<String> future = executorService.submit(() -> "result");

try {
  String result = future.get(1L, TimeUnit.SECONDS);
  System.out.println("Result is '" + result + "'.");
catch (InterruptedException e) {
  throw new RuntimeException(e);
catch (ExecutionException e) {
  throw new RuntimeException(e.getCause());
catch (TimeoutException e) {
  throw new RuntimeException(e);
assert future.isDone();



The java.util.concurrent.locks package has a standard Lock interface. The ReentrantLock implementation duplicates the functionality of the synchronized keyword but also provides additional functionality such as obtaining information about the state of the lock, non-blocking tryLock(), and interruptible locking. Example of using an explicit ReentrantLock instance:

class Counter {
  private final Lock lock = new ReentrantLock();
  private int value;

  int increment() {
    try {
      return ++value;
    } finally {


The java.util.concurrent.locks package also contains a ReadWriteLock interface (and ReentrantReadWriteLock implementation) which is defined by a pair of locks for reading and writing, typically allowing multiple concurrent readers but only one writer.

class Statistic {
  private final ReadWriteLock lock = new ReentrantReadWriteLock();
  private int value;

  void increment() {
    try {
    } finally {

  int current() {
    try {
      return value;
    } finally {


The CountDownLatch is initialized with a count. Threads may call await() to wait for the count to reach 0. Other threads (or the same thread) may call countDown() to reduce the count. Not reusable once the count has reached 0. Used to trigger an unknown set of threads once some number of actions has occurred.


CompletableFuture is an abstraction for async computation. Unlike plain Future, where the only possibility to get the result is to block, it's encouraged to register callbacks to create a pipeline of tasks to be executed when either the result or an exception is available. Either during creation (via CompletableFuture#supplyAsync/runAsync) or during adding callbacks (*async family’s methods), an executor, where the computation should happen, can be specified (if it is not specified standard global ForkJoinPool#commonPool).

Take into consideration that if the CompletableFuture is already completed, the callbacks registered via non *async methods are going to be executed in the caller’s thread.

If there are several futures you can use CompletableFuture#allOf to get a future, which is completed when all futures are completed, or CompletableFuture#anyOf, which is completed as soon as any future is completed.

ExecutorService executor0 = Executors.newWorkStealingPool();
ExecutorService executor1 = Executors.newWorkStealingPool();

//Completed when both of the futures are completed
CompletableFuture<String> waitingForAll = CompletableFuture
        CompletableFuture.supplyAsync(() -> "first"),
        CompletableFuture.supplyAsync(() -> "second", executor1)
    .thenApply(ignored -> " is completed.");

CompletableFuture<Void> future = CompletableFuture.supplyAsync(() -> "Concurrency Refcard", executor0)
    //Using same executor
    .thenApply(result -> "Java " + result)

    //Using different executor
    .thenApplyAsync(result -> "Dzone " + result, executor1)

    //Completed when this and other future are completed
    .thenCombine(waitingForAll, (first, second) -> first + second)

    //Implicitly using ForkJoinPool#commonPool as the executor
    .thenAcceptAsync(result -> {
      System.out.println("Result is '" + result + "'.");

    //Generic handler
    .whenComplete((ignored, exception) -> {
      if (exception != null)

//First blocking call - blocks until it is not finished.

    //Executes in the current thread (which is main).
    .thenRun(() -> System.out.println("Current thread is '" + Thread.currentThread().getName() + "'."))

    //Implicitly using ForkJoinPool#commonPool as the executor
    .thenRunAsync(() -> System.out.println("Current thread is '" + Thread.currentThread().getName() + "'."));

Concurrent collections

The easiest way to make a collection thread-safe is to use Collections#synchronized* family methods. Because this solution performs poorly under high contention, java.util.concurrent provides a variety of data structures which are optimized for concurrent usage.


Implementation Description
CopyOnWriteArrayList It provides copy-on-write semantics where each modification of the data structure results in a new internal copy of the data (writes are thus very expensive, whereas reads are cheap). Iterators on the data structure always see a snapshot of the data from when the iterator was created.

Table 9: Lists injava.util.concurrent


Implementation Description
ConcurrentHashMap It usually acts as a bucketed hash table. Read operations, generally, do not block and reflect the results of the most recently completed write. The write of the first node in an empty bin is performed by just CASing (compare-and-set) it to the bin, whereas other writes require locks (the first node of a bucket is used as a lock).
ConcurrentSkipListMap It provides concurrent access along with sorted map functionality similar to TreeMap. Performance bounds are similar to TreeMap although multiple threads can generally read and write from the map without contention as long as they are not modifying the same portion of the map.

Table 10: Maps injava.util.concurrent


Implementation Description
CopyOnWriteArraySet Similar to CopyOnWriteArrayList, it uses copy-on-write semantics to implement the Set interface.
ConcurrentSkipListSet Similar to ConcurrentSkipListMap, but implements the Set interface.

Table 11: Sets injava.util.concurrent

Another approach to create a concurrent set is to wrap a concurrent map:

Set<T> concurrentSet = Collections.newSetFromMap(new ConcurrentHashMap<T, Boolean>());


Queues act as pipes between “producers” and “consumers.” Items are put in one end of the pipe and emerge from the other end of the pipe in the same “first-in first-out” (FIFO) order. The BlockingQueue interface extends Queue to provide additional choices of how to handle the scenario where a queue may be full (when a producer adds an item) or empty (when a consumer reads or removes an item). In these cases, BlockingQueue provides methods that either block forever or block for a specified time period, waiting for the condition to change due to the actions of another thread.

Implementation Description
ConcurrentLinkedQueue An unbounded non-blocking queue backed by a linked list.
LinkedBlockingQueue An optionally bounded blocking queue backed by a linked list.
PriorityBlockingQueue An unbounded blocking queue backed by a min heap. Items are removed from the queue in an order based on the Comparator associated with the queue (instead of FIFO order).
DelayQueue An unbounded blocking queue of elements, each with a delay value. Elements can only be removed when their delay has passed and are removed in the order of the oldest expired item.
SynchronousQueue A 0-length queue where the producer and consumer block until the other arrives. When both threads arrive, the value is transferred directly from producer to consumer. Useful when transferring data between threads.

Table 12: Queues injava.util.concurrent

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