Tuesday, October 4, 2011


I had a debate over a beer with a friend about volatile arrays. I forgot who was trying to prove what but I did come across an interesting quirk.

We were talking about how adding the volatile keyword to a reference means that threads will always see the same thing once the reference had been set. But what if that reference were an array? Would the threads agree on the elements of the array? (The answer is "not necessarily" as pointed out in my blog last year).

But I had trouble demonstrating this with some simple, multi-threaded code. Annoyingly, my threads kept agreeing on the elements of the array. Maybe it was the chip architecture, I lazily thought.

Then it occurred to me. I was putting some System.out.println statements in my code to help me try to solve the problem. This, of course, was the problem. The reason why is that by introducing this logging, the threads are synchronizing on the same object - and as I mentioned in another blog post, this ensures "all threads see the most up-to-date values of shared mutable variables [when] the reading and writing threads ... synchronize on a common lock" (Java Concurrency in Practice, p37).

So, what was introducing this mysterious common lock? Why, System.out.println itself! The println method is synchronized so both threads synchronize on the common lock of the System.out object.

This reminded me of a time when a colleague was wondering why adding System.out.println appeared to be altering the behaviour of a piece of code. Stumped, I just thought it might have introduced a timing issue to his multi-threaded code. Now I know better.

But it begs the question: how much code is out there that is not properly multi-threaded with only some ad hoc logging holding it together?

No comments:

Post a Comment