Welcome!

Java IoT Authors: Pat Romanski, Elizabeth White, Liz McMillan, Carmen Gonzalez, Yeshim Deniz

Related Topics: Java IoT

Java IoT: Article

Java Basics: Introduction to Java Threads, Part 1

Lesson 8, Java Basics

A program can perform its actions either in a sequence (one after another) or in parallel. In a sequential mode, if a program needs to call two methods of a class, the second method is called after the first one completes. In other words, such programs have only one thread of execution. In some cases, when a second method does not depend on the results of the first one, you can substantially speed up the processing by executing these methods at the same time in a multi-threaded mode.

A good example of a program that creates multiple threads is your Web browser. You can browse the Internet while downloading some files - one program runs two threads of execution. If these two tasks would have run sequentially, the browser's screen would have been frozen until the download is complete. In case of a one-processor computer, each thread gets a slice of the processor's time. Since this happens pretty fast, a user can't notice small delays. If you run a multi-threaded program on a computer that has two or more processors, performance of such program can be increased dramatically.

Multi-threading is used in most of the graphical games: while one thread displays GUI components on the screen, the second thread calculates coordinates of the next image based on the player's move.

A Sample Program Without Threads

When I teach classes, I usually start with some theory and then show sample programs to illustrate the subject, but in this case I believe it's better to start by writing two very simple programs to give you a better feeling of why threads are needed. I'll give you some explanations as we go.

 Each of these sample programs will use Swing components - a button and a text field. When a user hits the button Kill Time, the program starts a loop that increments a counter thirty thousand times. The current value of the variable-counter will be displayed on the title bar of the window. The class NoThreadsSample has only one thread of execution and you won't be able to type anything in the text field until the loop is done. This loop exclusively takes all processor's time, that's why the window is locked.

For those of you who did not have a chance to create GUI screens with Swing, let me just say that the constructor of the class NoThreadsSample creates a button and a text field and registers this class with so called ActionListener that will process button clicks. Whenever a user clicks on the button, JVM will call the method actionPerformed(), and we start our kill-time-loop there. This class is inherited from JFrame that comes with Swing and the ActionListener interface is needed for this program to process clicks on the button.


import javax.swing.*;
import java.awt.GridLayout;
import java.awt.event.ActionListener;
import java.awt.event.ActionEvent;

public class NoThreadsSample extends JFrame implements ActionListener{
  // Constructor
  NoThreadsSample(){
  // Create a frame with a button and a text field
	GridLayout gl =new GridLayout(2,1);
	this.getContentPane().setLayout(gl);
	JButton myButton = new JButton("Kill Time");
	myButton.addActionListener(this);
	this.getContentPane().add(myButton);
	this.getContentPane().add(new JTextField());
  }
  // Process button clicks
  public void actionPerformed(ActionEvent e){
  // Just  kill some time to show
  // that window controls are locked
    	for (int i=0; i<30000;i++){
    	  this.setTitle("i="+i);
    	}
    }

  public static void main(String[] args) {
    // Create an instance of the frame
    NoThreadsSample myWindow = new NoThreadsSample();
    // Ensure that the window can be closed
    // by pressing a little cross in its corner
    myWindow.setDefaultCloseOperation(
	  WindowConstants.EXIT_ON_CLOSE);

    // Set the frame's size - top left corner
    // coordinates, width and height
	myWindow.setBounds(0,0,150, 100);
    //Make the window visible
    myWindow.setVisible(true);
  }
}

Compile and run this class and see for yourself that the window is locked for some time and that you can't use the text field until the loop is over.

Re-writing our Sample Program With Threads

The next version of this little window will create and start a separate thread for the loop, and the main window's thread will allow you to type in the text field.

In Java, you can create a thread using one of the following ways:

1.  Create an instance of the Java class Thread and pass to this instance an object that implements Runnable interface. For example, if a class SomeGameProcessor implements Runnable interface the code may look as follows:


SomeGameProcessor sgp = new SomeGameProcessor();
Thread worker = new Thread(sgp);

The Runnable interface requires that a class has to implement the code that must be running as a separate thread in the method run(). But to start the thread, you have to call the Thread's method start(), that will actually call your method run(). I agree, it's a bit confusing, but this is how you start a thread:


worker.start();

2.  Create a subclass of the class Thread and implement the method run() there. To start the thread call the method start().


public class MyThread extends Thread{

  public static void main(String[] args) {
	MyThread worker = new MyThread();
	worker.start();
  }
  public void run(){
    // your code goes here
  }
}

In my class ThreadsSample I'll create a thread using the first method because this class already extends JFrame, and you can't inherit a Java class from more than one parent.


import javax.swing.*;
import java.awt.GridLayout;
import java.awt.event.ActionListener;
import java.awt.event.ActionEvent;

public class ThreadsSample extends JFrame
             implements ActionListener, Runnable{

  // Constructor
  ThreadsSample(){
   // Create a frame with a button and a text field
	GridLayout gl =new GridLayout(2,1);
	this.getContentPane().setLayout(gl);
	JButton myButton = new JButton("Kill Time");
	myButton.addActionListener(this);
	this.getContentPane().add(myButton);
	this.getContentPane().add(new JTextField());
  }

  public void actionPerformed(ActionEvent e){
  // Create a thread and execute the kill-time-code
  // without blockiing the window
    Thread worker = new Thread(this);
    worker.start();  // this calls the method run()
  }

  public void run(){
  // Just  kill some time to show that
  // window controls are NOT locked
	for (int i=0; i<30000;i++){
  	  this.setTitle("i="+i);
	}
   }

  public static void main(String[] args) {

	ThreadsSample myWindow = new ThreadsSample();
  // Ensure that the window can be closed
  // by pressing a little cross in the corner
  	myWindow.setDefaultCloseOperation(
	       WindowConstants.EXIT_ON_CLOSE);

  // Set the frame's size and make it visible
	myWindow.setBounds(0,0,150, 100);
	myWindow.setVisible(true);
  }
}

The class ThreadsSample starts a new thread in the method actionPerformed(), which is called whenever you click on the button Kill Time. After this, the thread with a loop and the main thread take turns in getting slices of the processor's time. Now you can type in the text field (the main thread), while the other thread runs the loop! Try it out.

After calling the method worker.start(), our program does not wait until the code in the method run() completes, but runs this code in a separate thread of execution. Since the GUI part runs in a different thread, the screen is not locked.

Note - There are special requirements for using Java threads in Swing, and you can find more here: http://java.sun.com/products/jfc/tsc/articles/threads/threads1.html

Sleeping Threads

One of the ways for a tread to step aside and let the processor continue working with other threads is by using the method sleep()of the class Thread. This method takes one parameter that specifies (in milliseconds) how log the thread has to sleep. For example, if your program needs to refresh the screen with stock quotes every five seconds (see an example of how to get stock quotes in the lesson Reading Data from the Internet), you can do it like this:

  public void run(){

  try{
   while (true)
     // call the code that gets the price quote here
     // and display the current price of the stok(s)
     sleep (5000);  // sleep for 5 second
   }
  }catch(InterruptedException e ){
    System.out.println(Thread.currentThread().getName()
	  + e.toString());
  }
}   

In our endless loop this thread will "wake up" every five seconds, execute the code that gets the stock quote and will go to sleep again for another five seconds. The method sleep() may throw the InterruptedException, that's why we handle it in a try/catch block. A thread can be interrupted not only because of an error condition, but a program can try to interrupt a running thread by calling its method interrupt:


worker.interrupt();

How to Stop a Thread

Ideally, a thread should die after completing the code in its method run(). But what if you'd like to stop it earlier? The class Thread has a method stop() that was deprecated a long time ago, because in some cases it was making programs unstable (the methods suspend() and resume() were deprecated as well). I'm not planning to elaborate on this topic here, but you can read about this at the following Web page : java.sun.com/j2se/1.5.0/docs/guide/misc/ threadPrimitiveDeprecation.html.

So, we need to find some other way to stop unwanted threads.

The class ThreadStopSample is a slightly modified version of the class ThreadsSample, and it will show you how to stop a thread by declaring a flag variable and setting it to true when the thread has to be killed. We declare a boolean variable stopThreadFlag and the GUI button will work as a toggle to start or stop the thread. The method actionPerformed(), is called whenever the user clicks on the button, and we check there if the thread is currently running ( the method Thread.isAlive() returns true), and set the stopThreadFlag to true in this case. On the other hand, the code in the method run() is enclosed in the loop while (!stopThreadFlag). As soon as the variable stopThreadFlag is set to true, the loop (read Thread) will end.


import javax.swing.*;
import java.awt.GridLayout;
import java.awt.event.ActionListener;
import java.awt.event.ActionEvent;

public class ThreadStopSample extends JFrame
              implements ActionListener, Runnable{

   private volatile boolean stopThreadFlag = false;
   Thread worker=null ;

    // Constructor
   ThreadStopSample(){
	// Create a frame with a button and a text field
	GridLayout gl =new GridLayout(2,1);
	this.getContentPane().setLayout(gl);
	JButton myButton = new JButton("Start/Stop Thread");
	myButton.addActionListener(this);
	this.getContentPane().add(myButton);
	this.getContentPane().add(new JTextField());
   }

    public void actionPerformed(ActionEvent e){
    	// If the thread is running, turn the flag to stop it.
    	// Otherwise, start the thread
        if (worker!=null && worker.isAlive()){
        	setStopThreadFlag(true);
        }else{
        	setStopThreadFlag(false);
        	worker = new Thread(this);
        	worker.start();  // this calls the method run()
        }

    }

    public void run(){
       // Run the thread until the stop flag is on
       int i=0;
       while (!stopThreadFlag){
		this.setTitle("i="+i);
		i++;
       }
    }

     public void setStopThreadFlag(boolean flag)
    {
    	 stopThreadFlag = flag;
    }

    public static void main(String[] args) {
	// Create an instance of the frame
	ThreadStopSample myWindow = new ThreadStopSample();
	// Ensure that the window can be closed
	// by pressing a little cross in the corner
	myWindow.setDefaultCloseOperation(
	         WindowConstants.EXIT_ON_CLOSE);

	// Set the frame's size ang make it visible
	myWindow.setBounds(0,0,150, 100);
	myWindow.setVisible(true);
   }

}

Please note that the variable stopThreadFlag is declared as volatile. This is done to make sure that if the value of this variable is changed by one of the threads in a multi-threaded application, the running thread will see its latest value. This basically forces JVM to always refresh the local copies of such variables, i.e. in a CPU register

Our method run() just increments the counter, but in real-world applications a running thread may use some other resources, for example work with files, databases, or maintain connections to remote computers. When you stop such thread, make sure that it closes all opened resources - the finally clause of the try block is the right place to do this (see the lessons on working with streams).

Threads are used in most of the Java applications one way or the other. Either your program explicitly creates and handles threads, or an application server where your program may be deployed can create multiple threads without any additional programming required on your part. For example, hundreds of users may work at the same time with an online store that may be implemented as a Web application using Java Servlets. Each user's request will be processed by the same servlet, but the servlet container will create a separate thread of execution for each of these requests.

In this lesson you've learned the basics of threads. In a follow up article I'll show you how to create a more useful multi-threaded program than our kill-time sample.

More Stories By Yakov Fain

Yakov Fain is a Java Champion and a co-founder of the IT consultancy Farata Systems and the product company SuranceBay. He wrote a thousand blogs (http://yakovfain.com) and several books about software development. Yakov authored and co-authored such books as "Angular 2 Development with TypeScript", "Java 24-Hour Trainer", and "Enterprise Web Development". His Twitter tag is @yfain

Comments (7) View Comments

Share your thoughts on this story.

Add your comment
You must be signed in to add a comment. Sign-in | Register

In accordance with our Comment Policy, we encourage comments that are on topic, relevant and to-the-point. We will remove comments that include profanity, personal attacks, racial slurs, threats of violence, or other inappropriate material that violates our Terms and Conditions, and will block users who make repeated violations. We ask all readers to expect diversity of opinion and to treat one another with dignity and respect.


Most Recent Comments
Simon 08/27/04 01:55:16 PM EDT

Jeff, the article states:
"The class NoThreadsSample has only one thread of execution and you won''t be able to type anything in the text field until the loop is done. This loop exclusively takes all processor''s time, that''s why the window is locked"

What happens if I have a 2 CPU box ? One CPU will be 100%, but the other will be 0%, plenty of resource to type in the text field.
The fact that you cannot type in the text field is absolutely not related to the fact that the "loop exclusively takes all processor''s time", but more to Swing''s architecture.
For further info, read the links I gave. They will explain the Swing "freeze" problem (the author refer to it as "the window is locked"), and the Swing architecture as well.

Jeff 08/27/04 01:41:24 PM EDT

Simon, you stated:

"First of all, the single thread rule of Swing is violated (setTitle() is called from outside the event dispatch thread). This is a gross mistake, especially when there is no explanation on why it has been done. Second, it is said that the reason why it is not possible to type in the textfield is that because the CPU is 100% busy. This is clearly false, and shows bad understanding of how Swing works."

Can you please explain your answers here? I''m a noob so saying something is "clearly false" without a "why" doesn''t help me. Thanks!

Simon 08/27/04 09:21:34 AM EDT

Read again - carefully this time - the article you mention, and you''ll see that your example *does* violate the single thread rule.

Also, I suggest you to read the second and third continuations of the same article.
For interested readers, since those resources are not mentioned by your article, here are the links:
http://java.sun.com/products/jfc/tsc/articles/threads/threads1.html
http://java.sun.com/products/jfc/tsc/articles/threads/threads2.html
http://java.sun.com/products/jfc/tsc/articles/threads/threads3.html

Another good reference for Swing threading is this:
http://foxtrot.sourceforge.net/
especially here:
http://foxtrot.sourceforge.net/docs/toc.php

About the catch 22 situation, I would say you shoot in your foot, since 99% of thread tutorials out there do not use Swing as a first thread example, exactly because it requires too much background. Noone forced you to use a wrong example, to talk about wrong problems (the 100% CPU thing) and to suggest wrong solutions for them.

Once more, not good.

It''s just unfortunate that only few readers, after reading the article, take the time to read the comments.

Yakov 08/27/04 06:50:01 AM EDT

1. Calling setTitle() from the actionPerformed is fine and does not violate Swing''s single thread rule because actionPerformed() method is automatically invoked in the dispath-thread (see http://java.sun.com/products/jfc/tsc/articles/threads/threads1.html)

2. I agree that calling another thread from the actionPerformed() should have been done using invokeLater(), but it''s a catch 22 situation: I can''t explain this without explaining thread basics first. Probably I should have mention that Swing has its special way of working with threads.
But again, I just try to explain one Java feature at a time...

Simon 08/27/04 04:36:23 AM EDT

Hi,
while I understand this is a simple example and an introductory article on threads, I am surprised by the errors it contains.
First of all, the single thread rule of Swing is violated (setTitle() is called from outside the event dispatch thread). This is a gross mistake, especially when there is no explanation on why it has been done.
Second, it is said that the reason why it is not possible to type in the textfield is that because the CPU is 100% busy. This is clearly false, and shows bad understanding of how Swing works. Furthermore, it is proposed as a solution to move the code in another thread, which is even worse (see previous point).
Third, it is possible to start more than one worker but the example does not seem to handle this situation.
Fourth, as already noted by Marc, catching an InterruptedException without re-interrupting the current thread is bad practice.

I think stating right things from the beginning, especially if the goal of the article is to be an introduction to threads for people that don''t know them, is a better approach.
Correcting things lately will always be too late, and when people will violate Swing''s single thread rule as a normal coding style, they will always have the justification that they read an article that did so. Not good.

Yakov 08/25/04 04:44:09 PM EDT

Marc,

This is a just a first light intro to threads and my sample code is written properly. At the end of the article I''ve also mentioned that you may need to close all io resources when killing a thread.

Your suggestion with interrupt() may not always work with threads that have opened streams. It''s recommended to stop such threads by simple closing these streams, connections, etc.

Let''s keep things simple for now :)

Marc 08/25/04 03:48:02 PM EDT

If your while loop launches more threads, or does blocking IO operations, the main thread (with the invariant while (!stopThreadFlag)) will end but you still have open resouces and other threads that may still be running.

A better (albeit not as elegant) mechanism to use would be the interrupt() method.

Here is a rewritten version using it. I''m sure this comment box will screw up formatting.

import java.awt.*;
import java.awt.event.*;
import javax.swing.*;

public class ThreadStopSample extends JFrame implements ActionListener, Runnable {

Thread worker = null;

// Constructor
ThreadStopSample() {
// Create a frame with a button and a text field
GridLayout gl = new GridLayout(2, 1);
this.getContentPane().setLayout(gl);
JButton myButton = new JButton("Start/Stop Thread");
myButton.addActionListener(this);
this.getContentPane().add(myButton);
this.getContentPane().add(new JTextField());
}

public void actionPerformed(ActionEvent e) {
if (worker != null && worker.isAlive()) {
worker.interrupt();
} else {
worker = new Thread(this);
worker.start();
}
}

public void run() {
int i = 0;
while (true) {
try {
this.setTitle("i=" + i);
i++;
Thread.sleep(1);
} catch (InterruptedException ie) {
Thread.currentThread().interrupt();
break;
}
}
}

public static void main(String[] args) {
ThreadStopSample myWindow = new ThreadStopSample();
myWindow.setDefaultCloseOperation(WindowConstants.EXIT_ON_CLOSE);
myWindow.setBounds(0, 0, 150, 100);
myWindow.setVisible(true);
}

}

@ThingsExpo Stories
DevOps is often described as a combination of technology and culture. Without both, DevOps isn't complete. However, applying the culture to outdated technology is a recipe for disaster; as response times grow and connections between teams are delayed by technology, the culture will die. A Nutanix Enterprise Cloud has many benefits that provide the needed base for a true DevOps paradigm.
Existing Big Data solutions are mainly focused on the discovery and analysis of data. The solutions are scalable and highly available but tedious when swapping in and swapping out occurs in disarray and thrashing takes place. The resolution for thrashing through machine learning algorithms and support nomenclature is through simple techniques. Organizations that have been collecting large customer data are increasingly seeing the need to use the data for swapping in and out and thrashing occurs ...
SYS-CON Events announced today that Progress, a global leader in application development, has been named “Bronze Sponsor” of SYS-CON's 20th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on June 6-8, 2017, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY. Enterprises today are rapidly adopting the cloud, while continuing to retain business-critical/sensitive data inside the firewall. This is creating two separate data silos – one inside the firewall and the other outside the firewall. Cloud ISVs ofte...
SYS-CON Events announced today that Outscale, a global pure play Infrastructure as a Service provider and strategic partner of Dassault Systèmes, will exhibit at SYS-CON's 20th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on June 6-8, 2017, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY. Founded in 2010, Outscale simplifies infrastructure complexities and boosts the business agility of its customers. Outscale delivers a secure, reliable and industrial strength solution for its customers, which in...
SYS-CON Events announced today that DivvyCloud will exhibit at SYS-CON's 20th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on June 6-8, 2017, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY. DivvyCloud software enables organizations to achieve their cloud computing goals by simplifying and automating security, compliance and cost optimization of public and private cloud infrastructure. Using DivvyCloud, customers can leverage programmatic Bots to identify and remediate common cloud problems in rea...
Amazon started as an online bookseller 20 years ago. Since then, it has evolved into a technology juggernaut that has disrupted multiple markets and industries and touches many aspects of our lives. It is a relentless technology and business model innovator driving disruption throughout numerous ecosystems. Amazon’s AWS revenues alone are approaching $16B a year making it one of the largest IT companies in the world. With dominant offerings in Cloud, IoT, eCommerce, Big Data, AI, Digital Assis...
SYS-CON Events announced today that delaPlex will exhibit at SYS-CON's @CloudExpo, which will take place on June 6-8, 2017, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY. delaPlex pioneered Software Development as a Service (SDaaS), which provides scalable resources to build, test, and deploy software. It’s a fast and more reliable way to develop a new product or expand your in-house team.
In order to meet the rapidly changing demands of today’s customers, companies are continually forced to redefine their business strategies in order to meet these needs, stay relevant and continue to see profitable growth. IoT deployment and development is integral in this transformation, and today businesses are increasingly seeing the value of investing their resources into IoT deployments. These technologies are able increase ROI through projects such as connecting supply chains or enabling sm...
SYS-CON Events announced today that Cloudistics, an on-premises cloud computing company, has been named “Bronze Sponsor” of SYS-CON's 20th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on June 6-8, 2017, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY. Cloudistics delivers a complete public cloud experience with composable on-premises infrastructures to medium and large enterprises. Its software-defined technology natively converges network, storage, compute, virtualization, and management into a ...
New competitors, disruptive technologies, and growing expectations are pushing every business to both adopt and deliver new digital services. This ‘Digital Transformation’ demands rapid delivery and continuous iteration of new competitive services via multiple channels, which in turn demands new service delivery techniques – including DevOps. In this power panel at @DevOpsSummit 20th Cloud Expo, moderated by DevOps Conference Co-Chair Andi Mann, panelists will examine how DevOps helps to meet th...
A strange thing is happening along the way to the Internet of Things, namely far too many devices to work with and manage. It has become clear that we'll need much higher efficiency user experiences that can allow us to more easily and scalably work with the thousands of devices that will soon be in each of our lives. Enter the conversational interface revolution, combining bots we can literally talk with, gesture to, and even direct with our thoughts, with embedded artificial intelligence, whic...
Every successful software product evolves from an idea to an enterprise system. Notably, the same way is passed by the product owner's company. In his session at 20th Cloud Expo, Oleg Lola, CEO of MobiDev, will provide a generalized overview of the evolution of a software product, the product owner, the needs that arise at various stages of this process, and the value brought by a software development partner to the product owner as a response to these needs.
SYS-CON Events announced today that A&I Solutions has been named “Bronze Sponsor” of SYS-CON's 20th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on June 6-8, 2017, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY. Founded in 1999, A&I Solutions is a leading information technology (IT) software and services provider focusing on best-in-class enterprise solutions. By partnering with industry leaders in technology, A&I assures customers high performance levels across all IT environments including: mai...
Most technology leaders, contemporary and from the hardware era, are reshaping their businesses to do software in the hope of capturing value in IoT. Although IoT is relatively new in the market, it has already gone through many promotional terms such as IoE, IoX, SDX, Edge/Fog, Mist Compute, etc. Ultimately, irrespective of the name, it is about deriving value from independent software assets participating in an ecosystem as one comprehensive solution.
SYS-CON Events announced today that EARP will exhibit at SYS-CON's 20th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on June 6-8, 2017, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY. "We are a software house, so we perfectly understand challenges that other software houses face in their projects. We can augment a team, that will work with the same standards and processes as our partners' internal teams. Our teams will deliver the same quality within the required time and budget just as our partn...
SYS-CON Events announced today that delaPlex will exhibit at SYS-CON's @ThingsExpo, which will take place on June 6-8, 2017, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY. delaPlex pioneered Software Development as a Service (SDaaS), which provides scalable resources to build, test, and deploy software. It’s a fast and more reliable way to develop a new product or expand your in-house team.
SYS-CON Events announced today that Tappest will exhibit MooseFS at SYS-CON's 20th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on June 6-8, 2017, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY. MooseFS is a breakthrough concept in the storage industry. It allows you to secure stored data with either duplication or erasure coding using any server. The newest – 4.0 version of the software enables users to maintain the redundancy level with even 50% less hard drive space required. The software func...
In his keynote at @ThingsExpo, Chris Matthieu, Director of IoT Engineering at Citrix and co-founder and CTO of Octoblu, focused on building an IoT platform and company. He provided a behind-the-scenes look at Octoblu’s platform, business, and pivots along the way (including the Citrix acquisition of Octoblu).
SYS-CON Events announced today that Outscale will exhibit at SYS-CON's 20th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on June 6-8, 2017, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY. Outscale's technology makes an automated and adaptable Cloud available to businesses, supporting them in the most complex IT projects while controlling their operational aspects. You boost your IT infrastructure's reactivity, with request responses that only take a few seconds.
SYS-CON Events announced today that Systena America will exhibit at SYS-CON's 20th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on June 6-8, 2017, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY. Systena Group has been in business for various software development and verification in Japan, US, ASEAN, and China by utilizing the knowledge we gained from all types of device development for various industries including smartphones (Android/iOS), wireless communication, security technology and IoT serv...