I just lOvE new toys, and Java 8 has a bunch of them. This time around I want to talk about one of my favourites – concurrent adders. This is a new set of classes for managing counters written and read by multiple threads. The new API promises significant performance gains, while still keeping things simple and straightforward.
As people have been managing concurrent counters since the dawn of multi-core architectures, let’s take a look and see what are some of the options Java offered up until now, and how they perform compared to this new API.
Dirty counters – this approach means you’re writing / reading from a regular object or static field across multiple threads. Unfortunately, this doesn’t work for two reasons. The first is that in Java, an A += B operation isn’t Atomic. If you open up the output bytecode, you’ll see at least four instructions – one for loading the field value from the heap into the thread stack, a second for loading the delta, a third to add them and the fourth to set the result into the field.
If more than one thread is doing this at the same time for the same memory location, you run a high chance of missing out on a write operation, as one thread can override the value of another (AKA “read-modify-write”). There’s also another nasty angle to this which has to do with the volatility of the value. More on that below.