Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Using ThreadLocal to pass in dummy components

Synchronization of data access across multiple threads is tricky.  While Java's threading primitives are fairly easy to understand and use, there can be unintended performance consequences of making an object thread safe. Depending on how objects synchronize other objects, you can also end up with deadlocks that are no fun to debug. For example if object1 tries to lock object2 while object2 is trying to lock object1, you're in for a long night.

In general, anything that reduces synchronization of data across threads reduces the potential for unintended consequences. An alternative to making an object threadsafe is to make it thread-local. Thread local objects provide a separate copy of themselves for all threads. Each thread can only see it's local instance of that object, and is free to modify it at will, without needing to synchronize.

Thread-local variables used to have significant performance issues, and there have been bugs in previous to 1.6 versions. Also, it is possible to easily run out of memory with large numbers of threads using large thread-local objects. But assuming you go in with your eyes open, reducing synchronization across the threads in your application is good for performance and can significantly reduce complexity.

Another benefit of thread-local variables (as if simplification and performance gains aren't enough) is that they make it easy to swap in stub components at unit test time. Why would you do this instead of passing in the component? I ended up using thread-local variables for my components when I had to instantiate an object via the Class.forName() method, and didnt know/want to know about how to wire up dependent components. It's a trick I want to remember (so I'm writing it down :)

I implement the component as a thread-local variable is via an anonymous inner class:

ThreadLocal sequenceClientLocal = new ThreadLocal() {
        protected SequenceClient initialValue() {
            SequenceClient sequenceClient =  null;
            try {
                sequenceClient = SequenceClientImpl.getInstance(hosts,hexIdNode);
            } catch (Exception e) {
                sequenceClient = null;
            return sequenceClient;

In order to swap this default value out for a stub file, I add a setter to override it:

public void setSequenceClientLocal(ThreadLocal sequenceClientLocal) {
        this.sequenceClientLocal = sequenceClientLocal;

At unit test time, I can stub in a dummy class by calling the setter:

public class TestCollapserAgent {

  public void setUp() throws Exception {

    sequenceClient = new DummySequenceClientImpl(1);

    collapserAgent.setSequenceClientLocal(new ThreadLocal() {
            protected SequenceClient initialValue() {
                return sequenceClient;

  // unit tests follow....


1 comment:

  1. In a J2EE application server, a method of passing context information among transactions in a hierarchical parent-child transaction chain executing in a single thread of execution. The method comprises generating a correlator corresponding to a top level transaction spawning a plurality of child transactions in the parent-child transaction chain.