Wednesday, May 30, 2012

ThreadLocal in Java - Example Program and Tutorial

ThreadLocal in Java is another way to achieve thread-safety apart from writing immutable classes. If you have been writing multi-threaded or concurrent code in Java then you must be familiar with cost of synchronization or locking which can greatly affect Scalability of application, but there is no choice other than synchronize if you are sharing objects between multiple threads. ThreadLocal in Java is a different way to achieve thread-safety, it doesn't address synchronization requirement, instead it eliminates sharing by providing explicitly copy of Object to each thread. Since Object is no more shared there is no requirement of Synchronization which can improve scalability and performance of application. In this Java ThreadLocal tutorial we will see important points about ThreadLocal in Java, when to use ThreadLocal in Java and a simple Example of ThreadLocal in Java program.

When to use ThreadLocal in Java

ThreadLocal Code Example in JavaMany Java Programmer question where to use ThreadLocal in Java and some even argue benefit of ThreadLocal variable, but ThreadLocal has many genuine use cases and that's why its added in to standard Java Platform Library. I agree though until you are not in concurrent programming, you will rarely use ThreadLocal. below are some well know usage of ThreadLocal class in Java:

1) ThreadLocal are fantastic to implement Per Thread Singleton classes or per thread context information like transaction id.

2) You can wrap any non Thread Safe object in ThreadLocal and suddenly its uses becomes Thread-safe, as its only being used by Thread Safe. One of the classic example of ThreadLocal is sharing SimpleDateForamt. Since SimpleDateFormat is not thread safe, having a global formatter may not work but having per Thread formatter will certainly work.

3) ThreadLocal provides another way to extend Thread. If you want to preserve or carry information from one method call to another you can carry it by using ThreadLocal. This can provide immense flexibility as you don't need to modify any method.

On basic level ThreadLocal provides Thread Confinement which is extension of local variable. while local variable only accessible on block they are declared, ThreadLocal are visible only in Single Thread. No two Thread can see each others ThreadLocal variable. Real Life example of ThreadLocal are in J2EE application servers which uses java ThreadLocal variable to keep track of transaction and security Context. It makes lot of sense to share heavy object like Database Connection as ThreadLocal in order to avoid excessive creation and cost of locking in case of sharing global instance.

Java ThreadLocal Example – Code

import java.text.DateFormat;
import java.text.SimpleDateFormat;
import java.util.Date;

 * @author

public class ThreadLocalTest {

    public static void main(String args[]) throws IOException {
        Thread t1 = new Thread(new Task());  
        Thread t2 = new Thread( new Task());
     * Thread safe format method because every thread will use its own DateFormat

    public static String threadSafeFormat(Date date){
        DateFormat formatter = PerThreadFormatter.getDateFormatter();
        return formatter.format(date);

 * Thread Safe implementation of SimpleDateFormat
 * Each Thread will get its own instance of SimpleDateFormat which will not be shared between other threads. *

class PerThreadFormatter {

    private static final ThreadLocal<SimpleDateFormat> dateFormatHolder = new ThreadLocal<SimpleDateFormat>() {

         * initialValue() is called

        protected SimpleDateFormat initialValue() {
            System.out.println("Creating SimpleDateFormat for Thread : " + Thread.currentThread().getName());
            return new SimpleDateFormat("dd/MM/yyyy");

     * Every time there is a call for DateFormat, ThreadLocal will return calling
     * Thread's copy of SimpleDateFormat

    public static DateFormat getDateFormatter() {
        return dateFormatHolder.get();

class Task implements Runnable{
    public void run() {
        for(int i=0; i<2; i++){
            System.out.println("Thread: " + Thread.currentThread().getName() + " Formatted Date: " + ThreadLocalTest.threadSafeFormat(new Date()) );

Creating SimpleDateFormat for Thread : Thread-0
Creating SimpleDateFormat for Thread : Thread-1
Thread: Thread-1 Formatted Date: 30/05/2012
Thread: Thread-1 Formatted Date: 30/05/2012
Thread: Thread-0 Formatted Date: 30/05/2012
Thread: Thread-0 Formatted Date: 30/05/2012

If you look the output of above program than you will find that when different thread calls getFormatter() method of ThreadLocal class than its call its initialValue() method which creates exclusive instance of SimpleDateFormat for that Thread. Since SimpleDateFormat is not shared between thread and essentially local to the thread which creates its our threadSafFormat() method is completely thread-safe.

Important points on Java ThreadLocal Class

1. ThreadLocal in Java is introduced on JDK 1.2 but it later generified in JDK 1.4 to introduce type safety on ThreadLocal variable.

2. ThreadLocal can be associated with Thread scope, all the code which is executed by Thread has access to ThreadLocal variables but two thread can not see each others ThreadLocal variable.

3. Each thread holds an exclusive copy of ThreadLocal variable which becomes eligible to Garbage collection after thread finished or died, normally or due to any Exception, Given those ThreadLocal variable doesn't have any other live references.

4. ThreadLocal variables in Java are generally private static fields in Classes and maintain its state inside Thread.

We saw how ThreadLocal in Java opens another avenue for thread-safety. Though concept of thread-safety by confining object to Thread is there from JDK 1.0 and many programmer has there own custom ThreadLocal classes, having ThreadLocal in Java API makes it a lot more easy and standard. Think about ThreadLocal variable while designing concurrency in your application. Don't misunderstood that ThreadLocal is alternative of Synchronization, it all depends upon design. If design allows each thread to have there own copy of object than ThreadLocal is there to use.

Other Java tutorials on Threading you may find useful


Anonymous said...

Using ThreadLocal inside web application is very dangerous as it can cause memory leak if you failed to remove ThreadLocal variable when web application stopped. so just beware of that. ThreadLocal's remove() method can be used to remove variable.

Prabhu said...

Out of many ThreadLocal example in Java I have seen yours is most practical, real world and reusable. Can you please suggest how to properly use ThreadLocal in web applications to avoid memory leak as well ?

Anonymous said...

Be careful while using ThreadLocal in J2EE code or web applications especially which you deploy. ThreadLocal can cause ClassLoader memory leak in web application as JVM manages threads in Thread Pool and they live longer than web app itself. If ThreadLocal holds object of your class than it may prevent to clear permgen space during undeployment.

Anonymous said...

ThreadLocal as static? That beats the whole purpose of it isn't it?

Anonymous said...

I have read some blogs and even saw the implementation of ThreadLocal in my project. One point I am confused is that should we call set() on ThreadLocal from Synchronized context? In my project we have

public static synchronized void initThisThread(FeMasterLog log)
if (null == log) throw new IllegalArgumentException();

where _logs is defined as

private static ThreadLocal _logs = new ThreadLocal();

I believe making the above method synchronized is unnecessary. Is my assumption right?

Srikanth said...

I think so Anonymous
As the example states that each thread has it's own copy of ThreadLocal
_logs.set is called for their respective threads. So, I don't see a reason why it should be in synchronized blocks

Please correct me if I am wrong.

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