Chapter: Java The Complete Reference - The Java Language - Multithreaded Programming

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Creating a Thread - Java

In the most general sense, you create a thread by instantiating an object of type Thread. Java defines two ways in which this can be accomplished:

Creating a Thread

 

In the most general sense, you create a thread by instantiating an object of type Thread. Java defines two ways in which this can be accomplished:

 

        You can implement the Runnable interface.

 

        You can extend the Thread class, itself.

 

The following two sections look at each method, in turn.

Implementing Runnable

The easiest way to create a thread is to create a class that implements the Runnable interface. Runnable abstracts a unit of executable code. You can construct a thread on any object that implements Runnable. To implement Runnable, a class need only implement a single method called run( ), which is declared like this:

 

public void run( )

Inside run( ), you will define the code that constitutes the new thread. It is important to understand that run( ) can call other methods, use other classes, and declare variables, just like the main thread can. The only difference is that run( ) establishes the entry point for another, concurrent thread of execution within your program. This thread will end when run( ) returns.

 

After you create a class that implements Runnable, you will instantiate an object of type Thread from within that class. Thread defines several constructors. The one that we will use is shown here:

 

Thread(Runnable threadOb, String threadName)

 

In this constructor, threadOb is an instance of a class that implements the Runnable interface. This defines where execution of the thread will begin. The name of the new thread is specified by threadName.

After the new thread is created, it will not start running until you call its start( ) method, which is declared within Thread. In essence, start( ) executes a call to run( ). The start( ) method is shown here:

 

void start( )

 

Here is an example that creates a new thread and starts it running:

 

// Create a second thread.

 

class NewThread implements Runnable { Thread t;

 

NewThread() {

 

// Create a new, second thread

 

t = new Thread(this, "Demo Thread"); 

System.out.println("Child thread: " + t); 

t.start(); // Start the thread

 

}

 

// This is the entry point for the second thread. 

public void run() {

 

try {

 

for(int i = 5; i > 0; i--) { 

System.out.println("Child Thread: " + i); 

Thread.sleep(500);

 

}

 

} catch (InterruptedException e) { 

System.out.println("Child interrupted.");

}

 

System.out.println("Exiting child thread.");

}

 

class ThreadDemo {

 

public static void main(String args[ ] ) {

 

new NewThread(); // create a new thread

 

try {

 

for(int i = 5; i > 0; i--) {

 

System.out.println("Main Thread: " + i);

 

Thread.sleep(1000);

 

}

 

} catch (InterruptedException e) {

 

System.out.println("Main thread interrupted.");

 

}

 

System.out.println("Main thread exiting.");

 

}

 

}

 

Inside NewThread’s constructor, a new Thread object is created by the following statement:

 

t = new Thread(this, "Demo Thread");

 

Passing this as the first argument indicates that you want the new thread to call the run( ) method on this object. Next, start( ) is called, which starts the thread of execution beginning at the run( ) method. This causes the child thread’s for loop to begin. After calling start( ), NewThread’s constructor returns to main( ). When the main thread resumes, it enters its for loop. Both threads continue running, sharing the CPU in single-core systems, until their loops finish. The output produced by this program is as follows. (Your output may vary based upon the specific execution environment.)

 

Child thread: Thread[Demo Thread,5,main]

 

Main Thread: 5

 

Child Thread: 5

 

Child Thread: 4

 

Main Thread: 4

 

Child Thread: 3

 

Child Thread: 2

 

Main Thread: 3

 

Child Thread: 1

 

Exiting child thread.

 

Main Thread: 2

 

Main Thread: 1

 

Main thread exiting.

 

As mentioned earlier, in a multithreaded program, often the main thread must be the last thread to finish running. In fact, for some older JVMs, if the main thread finishes before a child thread has completed, then the Java run-time system may “hang.” The preceding program ensures that the main thread finishes last, because the main thread sleeps for 1,000 milliseconds between iterations, but the child thread sleeps for only 500 milliseconds. This causes the child thread to terminate earlier than the main thread. Shortly, you will see a better way to wait for a thread to finish.

Extending Thread

 

The second way to create a thread is to create a new class that extends Thread, and then to create an instance of that class. The extending class must override the run( ) method, which is the entry point for the new thread. It must also call start( ) to begin execution of the new thread. Here is the preceding program rewritten to extend Thread:

 

// Create a second thread by extending Thread 


class NewThread extends Thread {

 

NewThread() {

 

// Create a new, second thread 

super("Demo Thread");

 

System.out.println("Child thread: " + this); 

start(); // Start the thread

 

}

 

// This is the entry point for the second thread. 


public void run() {

 

try {

 

for(int i = 5; i > 0; i--) { 

System.out.println("Child Thread: " + i); 

Thread.sleep(500);

 

}

 

} catch (InterruptedException e) { 

System.out.println("Child interrupted.");

}

 

System.out.println("Exiting child thread.");

 

}

 

}

class ExtendThread {

 

public static void main(String args[]) { new NewThread(); // create a new thread

 

try {

 

for(int i = 5; i > 0; i--) { System.out.println("Main Thread: " + i); 

Thread.sleep(1000);

 

}

 

} catch (InterruptedException e) { 

System.out.println("Main thread interrupted.");

}

 

System.out.println("Main thread exiting.");

 

}

 

}

This program generates the same output as the preceding version. As you can see, the child thread is created by instantiating an object of NewThread, which is derived from Thread.

Notice the call to super( ) inside NewThread. This invokes the following form of the Thread constructor:

 

public Thread(String threadName)

 

Here, threadName specifies the name of the thread.

 

Choosing an Approach

 

At this point, you might be wondering why Java has two ways to create child threads, and which approach is better. The answers to these questions turn on the same point. The Thread class defines several methods that can be overridden by a derived class. Of these methods, the only one that must be overridden is run( ). This is, of course, the same method required when you implement Runnable. Many Java programmers feel that classes should be extended only when they are being enhanced or modified in some way. So, if you will not be overriding any of Thread’s other methods, it is probably best simply to implement Runnable. Also, by implementing Runnable, your thread class does not need to inherit Thread, making it free to inherit a different class. Ultimately, which approach to use is up to you. However, throughout the rest of this chapter, we will create threads by using classes that implement Runnable.


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