Lock Interface

The Lock interface explained with examples.

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The Lock interface provides a tool for implementing mutual exclusion that is more flexible and capable than synchronized methods and statements. A single thread is allowed to acquire the lock and gain access to a shared resource, however, some implementing classes such as the ReentrantReadWriteLock allow multiple threads concurrent access to shared resource. The use of synchronized methods or statements provides access to the implicit monitor lock associated with every object, but requires all lock acquisitions and releases to proceed in a block-structured way. Locks acquired in a nested fashion must be released in the exact opposite order, and all locks must be released in the same lexical scope in which they were acquired. These requirements restrict how synchronized methods and statements can be used and Lock implementations can be used for more complicated use-cases.

The Lock interface has the following classes implementing it:

  1. ReentrantLock
  2. ReentrantReadWriteLock.ReadLock
  3. ReentrantReadWriteLock.WriteLock

Difference between Lock and Synchronized

If you have worked with synchronized you may be wondering why we need the Lock interface and its implementing classes. The answer - locks offer additional functionality and far more flexibility in usage than synchronized methods and statements. For instance:

  • A Lock can be tested for acquisition in a non-blocking fashion using the trylock() method
  • A Lock can be waited upon for acquisition with a specified timeout using the trylock(timeout) method. After the timeout the thread abandons its attempt to acquire the lock and moves-on.
  • A Lock can be waited upon for acquisition with the option to interrupt the acquiring thread using the lockInterruptibly method.
  • Some Lock implementations also provide monitoring and deadlock detection. Additionally, Lock implementation can provide fair-use mode for locks, guaranteed ordering and non-reentrant use.

The flexibility and functionality of Lock implementations come at the cost of higher chance of human error since the locks are not automatically released as is the case with synchronized blocks and statements. The developer must remember to unlock the Lock in a finally block and as many times as the lock has been acquired for in case reentrancy is supported. The idiomatic use of any Lock implmentation follows the below pattern:

        Lock ourLock = // ... instantiate a lock

        try {
            // ... Perform operations
        } finally {

Using Lock and synchronized

Finally, since Lock implementation is also an object it can be used as the argument to synchronized statement but such use is discouraged other than for internal implementation of the class. For example, the following is a bad practice:

        Lock ourLock = // ... instantiate a lock

            // ... Not a good idea

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