Monday, May 11, 2009


A new section of the Javamex web site looks at the CyclicBarrier class. In case you haven't come across it, CyclicBarrier is a construct that makes coordinating threads easier. Unlike CountDownLatch, which is designed for "one-off" coordinated actions, CyclicBarrier is designed to be re-used, so that it is suitable for iterative processes where the participating threads need to repeatedly perform a parallel operation, but periodically "converge" so that their results can be amalgamated.

In the article, we discuss the example of using a CyclicBarrier to coordinate a parallel sort algorithm. Essentially, the sort takes place in three stages. Each of the stages occurs in parallel, but at the end of each stage, a small single-threaded step must take place to amalgamate the results of the previous parallel operation.

Essentially, the code for a worker thread involved in the operation repeatedly carries out an operation and then calls the barrier's await() method. The latter method blocks until all participating threads have also called await() (we sometimes call this "arriving at the barrier"). At that point, CyclicBarrier executes our pre-determined "amalgamation" routine on one of the threads (the last one to arrive at the barrier, in fact), and then relases all the threads to move on to the next stage. Overall, the class takes out a lot of the actual thread coordination work, although, as we discuss in the article, we must still think about regular concurrency issues such as data synchronization and lock contention.

An additional feature of CyclicBarrier which we discuss is that it handles propagation of interruptions to all participating threads. In other words, if any thread involved in the operation is interrupted, then the whole operation will cease once all threads have called the await() method.

Whilst definitely one of the lesser used of the Java 5 concurrency utilities, CyclicBarrier is definitely a useful class that should not be overlooked.

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