Guide to understanding and using AtomicIntegerFieldUpdater.

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The class AtomicIntegerFieldUpdater is one of the three field updater classes. The field updater classes exist primarily for performance reasons. Instead of using atomic variables, one can use ordinary variables that occasionally need to be get and then set atomically. Another reason can be to avoid having atomic fields in objects that are short-lived and frequently created e.g. the next pointer of nodes in a concurrent linked list.

The atomicity guarantees for the updater classes are weaker than those of regular atomic classes because the underlying fields can still be modified directly i.e. without using the updater object. Additionally, the atomicity guarantees for arithmetic methods and compareAndSet method stand only with respect to other threads using the updater’s methods. The atomic fields present a reflection-based view of an existing volatile field that an updater can execute the compare and set method against. Note, that the updater instance isn’t tied to any one instance of the target class; rather the updater object can be used to update the target field of any instance of the target class.


As an example consider a Counter class that is very infrequently incremented or decremented but supports a very high number of read operations. For such a class, we may choose to track the count in an ordinary int variable instead of an AtomicInteger as we expect the Counter instance to be very infrequently updated. If such Counter objects are created in very large numbers then the cost savings in terms of space can be significant.

The code for the Counter class appears below along with comments.

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