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15 Apr 2012

Do you ever use the "volatile" keyword in Java?

I haven't ever :( I even haven't ever heard about it before reading this post on stackoverflow.com: http://stackoverflow.com/questions/698964/checking-if-a-clientsocket-has-disconnected-in-java-hangs
And here is something I've found on the net:

8.3.1.4. volatile Fields

The Java programming language allows threads to access shared variables (§17.1). As a rule, to ensure that shared variables are consistently and reliably updated, a thread should ensure that it has exclusive use of such variables by obtaining a lock that, conventionally, enforces mutual exclusion for those shared variables.
The Java programming language provides a second mechanism, volatile fields, that is more convenient than locking for some purposes.
A field may be declared volatile, in which case the Java Memory Model ensures that all threads see a consistent value for the variable (§17.4).
It is a compile-time error if a final variable is also declared volatile.

Example 8.3.1.4-1. volatile Fields
If, in the following example, one thread repeatedly calls the method one (but no more than Integer.MAX_VALUE times in all), and another thread repeatedly calls the method two:
class Test {
    static int i = 0, j = 0;
    static void one() { i++; j++; }
    static void two() {
        System.out.println("i=" + i + " j=" + j);
    }
}
then method two could occasionally print a value for j that is greater than the value of i, because the example includes no synchronization and, under the rules explained in §17.4, the shared values of i and j might be updated out of order.
One way to prevent this out-or-order behavior would be to declare methods one and two to be synchronized (§8.4.3.6):
class Test {
    static int i = 0, j = 0;
    static synchronized void one() { i++; j++; }
    static synchronized void two() {
        System.out.println("i=" + i + " j=" + j);
    }
}
This prevents method one and method two from being executed concurrently, and furthermore guarantees that the shared values of i and j are both updated before method one returns. Therefore method two never observes a value for j greater than that for i; indeed, it always observes the same value for i and j.
Another approach would be to declare i and j to be volatile:
class Test {
    static volatile int i = 0, j = 0;
    static void one() { i++; j++; }
    static void two() {
        System.out.println("i=" + i + " j=" + j);
    }
}
This allows method one and method two to be executed concurrently, but guarantees that accesses to the shared values for i and j occur exactly as many times, and in exactly the same order, as they appear to occur during execution of the program text by each thread. Therefore, the shared value for j is never greater than that for i, because each update to i must be reflected in the shared value for i before the update to j occurs. It is possible, however, that any given invocation of method two might observe a value for j that is much greater than the value observed for i, because method one might be executed many times between the moment when method two fetches the value of i and the moment when method two fetches the value of j.
See §17.4 for more discussion and examples.

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