Trail: Essential Classes
Lesson: Concurrency
Section: High Level Concurrency Objects
Atomic Variables
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Atomic Variables

The java.util.concurrent.atomic package defines classes that support atomic operations on single variables. All classes have get and set methods that work like reads and writes on volatile variables. That is, a set has a happens-before relationship with any subsequent get on the same variable. The atomic compareAndSet method also has these memory consistency features, as do the simple atomic arithmetic methods that apply to integer atomic variables.

To see how this package might be used, let's return to the Counter class we originally used to demonstrate thread interference:


class Counter {
    private int c = 0;

    public void increment() {
        c++;
    }

    public void decrement() {
        c--;
    }

    public int value() {
        return c;
    }

}

One way to make Counter safe from thread interference is to make its methods synchronized, as in SynchronizedCounter:


class SynchronizedCounter {
    private int c = 0;

    public synchronized void increment() {
        c++;
    }

    public synchronized void decrement() {
        c--;
    }

    public synchronized int value() {
        return c;
    }

}

For this simple class, synchronization is an acceptable solution. But for a more complicated class, we might want to avoid the liveness impact of unnecessary synchronization. Replacing the int field with an AtomicInteger allows us to prevent thread interference without resorting to synchronization, as in AtomicCounter:


import java.util.concurrent.atomic.AtomicInteger;

class AtomicCounter {
    private AtomicInteger c = new AtomicInteger(0);

    public void increment() {
        c.incrementAndGet();
    }

    public void decrement() {
        c.decrementAndGet();
    }

    public int value() {
        return c.get();
    }

}

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