Guide to using ThreadLocalRandom with examples.

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The class java.util.concurrent.ThreadLocalRandom is derived from java.util.Random and generates random numbers much more efficiently than java.util.Random in multithreaded scenarios. Interestingly, Random is thread-safe and can be used by multiple threads without malfunction, just not efficiently.

To understand why an instance of the Random class experiences overhead and contention in concurrent programs, we’ll delve into the code for one of the most commonly used methods nextInt() of the Random class. The code is reproduced verbatim from the Java source code below:

     * Generates the next pseudorandom number. Subclasses should
     * override this, as this is used by all other methods.
     * <p>The general contract of {@code next} is that it returns an
     * {@code int} value and if the argument {@code bits} is between
     * {@code 1} and {@code 32} (inclusive), then that many low-order
     * bits of the returned value will be (approximately) independently
     * chosen bit values, each of which is (approximately) equally
     * likely to be {@code 0} or {@code 1}. The method {@code next} is
     * implemented by class {@code Random} by atomically updating the seed to
     *  <pre>{@code (seed * 0x5DEECE66DL + 0xBL) & ((1L << 48) - 1)}</pre>
     * and returning
     *  <pre>{@code (int)(seed >>> (48 - bits))}.</pre>
     * This is a linear congruential pseudorandom number generator, as
     * defined by D. H. Lehmer and described by Donald E. Knuth in
     * <i>The Art of Computer Programming,</i> Volume 2:
     * <i>Seminumerical Algorithms</i>, section 3.2.1.
     * @param  bits random bits
     * @return the next pseudorandom value from this random number
     *         generator's sequence
     * @since  1.1
    protected int next(int bits) {
        long oldseed, nextseed;
        AtomicLong seed = this.seed;
        do {
            oldseed = seed.get();
            nextseed = (oldseed * multiplier + addend) & mask;
        } while (!seed.compareAndSet(oldseed, nextseed));
        return (int)(nextseed >>> (48 - bits));

Examine the code above and realize the do-while loop uses the compareAndSet() method to atomically set the seed variable to a new value in its predicate. Imagine several threads invoking the next() method on a shared instance of Random, only one thread will successfully exit the loop and the rest will re-execute the loop, until all of them exit one by one. This mechanism to update the seed variable is precisely what makes the Random class inefficient for highly concurrent programs, when several threads want to generate random numbers in parallel.

The performance issues faced by Random are addressed by the ThreadLocalRandom class which is isolated in its effects to a single thread. A random number generated by one thread using ThreadLocalRandom has no bearing on random numbers generated by other threads, unlike an instance of Random that generates random numbers globally. Furthermore, ThreadLocalRandom differs from Random in that the former doesn’t allow setting a seed value unlike the latter. In summary, ThreadLocalRandom is more performant than Random as it eliminates concurrent access to shared state.

The astute reader would question if maintaining a distinct Random object per thread is equivalent to using the ThreadLocalRandom class? The ThreadLocalRandom class is singleton and uses state held by the Thread class to generate random numbers. In particular the Thread class houses the following fields for ThreadLocalRandom to use for generating random numbers and related book-keeping.

class Thread implements Runnable {

    // The following three initially uninitialized fields are exclusively
    // managed by class java.util.concurrent.ThreadLocalRandom. These
    // fields are used to build the high-performance PRNGs in the
    // concurrent code, and we can not risk accidental false sharing.
    // Hence, the fields are isolated with @Contended.

    /** The current seed for a ThreadLocalRandom */
    long threadLocalRandomSeed;

    /** Probe hash value; nonzero if threadLocalRandomSeed initialized */
    int threadLocalRandomProbe;

    /** Secondary seed isolated from public ThreadLocalRandom sequence */
    int threadLocalRandomSecondarySeed;


Each thread stores the seed itself in the field threadLocalRandomSeed. As the seed is not shared among threads anymore, performance improves.


The idiomatic usage for generating random numbers takes the form of ThreadLocalRandom.current().nextInt() and is demonstrated in the widget below:

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