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ThreadPoolExecutor

Introduced in Java 5, the ThreadPoolExecutor class provides a fairly flexible implementation of a Java thread pool as outlined in our introduction. In the simplest case, the class is used as follows:

  • we construct an instance of ThreadPoolExecutor somewhere fairly "early on" in our program's life cycle (e.g. when our server starts up), passing in parameters such as the numbe of threads;
  • when we need a job executing in another thread, we call the ThreadPoolExecutor's execute() method, passing in the Runnable which is the task to be executed.

For example, the pattern of a simple server that used one threaded job to handle each incoming connection would look as follows. Note that there are some details here that for simplicity we have omitted— such as how the thread pool is shut down or what to do if it is "overloaded"— but we'll come to these issues in a moment:

import java.util.concurrent.*;
...
ExecutorService exec = Executors.newFixedThreadPool(4);

private void runServer() {
  ServerSocket sock = new ServerSocket(portNo);
  while (!stopRequested) {
    Socket s = sock.accept();
    exec.execute(new ConnectionRunnable(s));
  }
}

private static class ConnectionRunnable implements Runnable {
  private final Socket s;
  ConnectionRunnable(Socket s) {
    this.s = s;
  }
  public void run() {
    // handle connection
  }
}

Constructing a ThreadPoolExecutor: the Executors helper class

In the first line, exec will in practice be a ThreadPoolExecutor or some subclass thereof. We could have called the ThreadPoolExecutor constructor directly, but it has a number of parameters which can be a bit unwieldy in the simplest case. The Executors class is a placeholder for a number of static utility methods to facilitate construction and use of thread pools (and in principle, other types of executors— see below). Utility methods such as newFixedThreadPool() in fact declare that they return an implementation of ExecutorService: an interface that ThreadPoolExecutor, and potentially other classes in the future, implements. So in practice, that is how we will refer to our thread pool. As you see, here we construct a thread pool that will always have exactly four threads, but we'll see that ThreadPoolExecutor and the Executors utility class are actually more versatile.

Our simple server then sits in a loop in some "main" thread (which calls runServer(), continually waiting for connections. Each time a connection comes in, it is passed to the thread pool to be executed in another thread when one is free to take on the job. Meanwhile, the main thread can immediately get back to accepting further incoming connections. At some point in the near future, and in one of the threads managed by the ThreadPoolExecutor, the run() method of the passed-in ConnectionRunnable will be executed.

Next: ThreadPoolExecutor options

This example shows a very simple case of using a ThreadPoolExecutor with default options. In some cases, we will need to set a few more options to make the thread pool behave in the desired way:


Note that although we declared s final in this example (just because we "may as well" if it won't be modified), that isn't necessary for variable visibility: the synchronization inside ThreadPoolExecutor will ensure that the fields of the constructed object are correctly seen by the executing thread (in the terms of Goetz et al., that the runnable is "correctly published" in other words).

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