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Posts tagged ‘Java’

Cancelor – a java task cancelation service

Lately I need to support task cancellation in a Java process I’m working on. The straightforward options I know to implement this are:

  1. Thread.interrupt() – the caller interrupts the worker thread (either directly or using Future.cancel()). Some say this is an erroneous approach, but I still haven’t figured out why. However, it is buggy on some recent versions on the JDK, and it is a bit fragile (what if the worker threads create worker threads that also need to be canceled?).
  2. Passing some object (AtomicBoolean?) down to every object you would like to support cancellation. These objects will check the value of this boolean, and should stop if it is false. They can pass the boolean to other objects / tasks. While this works, this boolean cannot be injected, and so must be manually passed along the call stack.

If you want the advantages of the second method, but don’t want to break IOC, here’s how:

First, the usage:

The listener object adds a dependency on ICancelor

public class Foo {
  public Foo(ICancelor cancelor) {
    this.cancelor = cancelor;

It then checks the cancellation state every now and then:

if (cancelor.wasTaskCanceled("TakeOverTheWorld"))

The top-level thread that wishes to cancel a task simply calls


And whenever a task is started, you should call


I’ll admit using strings for task names is a bit ugly, but this is not a terrible price to pay, assuming you have a few core tasks you intend to support. All that remains is the cancellation service itself:

 * A cancellation service.
public interface ICancelor {
     * Resets a task to "Not canceled" state
    void resetTask(String name);
     * Returns true iff the a cancelTask was called, and no resetTask was called afterwards.
    boolean wasTaskCanceled(String name);
     * Cancel a task
    void cancelTask(String name);
public class Cancelor implements ICancelor {
  private final ConcurrentHashMap tasks = new ConcurrentHashMap();
    public void resetTask(String name) {
        tasks.put(name, true);
    public boolean wasTaskCanceled(String name) {
        Boolean value = tasks.get(name);
        return value != null & value;
    public void cancelTask(String name) {
        tasks.put(name, false);

Because we rely on task names, there is an assumption here that all classes that play in the cancellation game belong to the same task semantically. If a class is a common class that doesn’t belong to a single task or flow, this approach does not work – in fact, I cannot think of an approach that will work in this case with dependency injection. The common class has to accept the cancellation signal somehow, it must either get an boolean explicit and not from the IOC container, or must check its interrupted state (or some other thread-local state) itself. Any smart ideas on how to solve this problem?


I’ve posted a lot lately,  but I think this post is well deserved. Tomer has recently finished an open source project he’s been working on for quite some time – ant-intellij-tasks. It is an ant task that takes an intellij-format project structures, builds and tests it. We have been using it for the past two months or so, and I must say it has brought great joy to the CI. Before that, we used to maintain two separate sets of files – IntelliJ project files, because that’s our IDE of choice, and Eclipse files, because … that’s how the build system worked. Many a times the build broke because one did not apply a change to the eclipse file, and “it all worked on his machine“. No more (we still have broken builds, but usually not because of compilation errors).

In related news, JetBrains recently open-sourced IntelliJ itself. Tomer’s work is still worth while, simply because there is no other tool we know of that does what it does – however the code there might use some refactoring now that he can simply use portions of the IntelliJ codebase. If you want to help, go on to the project homepage.

Java is less magical than C#

I have been programming in C# for several years now, and recently made the switch to Java (at least for now). I noticed that Java, as a language, is “less magical” than C#.

What do I mean by that is that in C# things are usually done for you, behind the scenes, magically, while Java is much more explicit in the toolset it provides. For example, take thread-local storage. The concept is identical in both langauges – there is often a need for a copy of a member variable that’s unique to the current thread, so it can be used without any locks or fear of concurrency problems.

The implementation in C# is based on attributes. You basically take a static field, annotate it with [ThreadStatic], and that’s it:

private static ThreadUnsafeClass foo = null;
private ThreadUnsafeClass Foo
    if (foo != null)
      foo = new ThreadUnsafeClass(...);
    // no other thread will have access to this copy of foo
    // note - foo is still static, so it will be shared between instances of this class.
    return foo;

How does it work? Magic. Sure, one can find the implementation if he digs deep enough, but the first time I encountered it I just had to try it to make sure it actually works, because it seemed too mysterious.

Let’s take a look at Java’s equivalent, ThreadLocal. This is how it works (amusingly enough, from a documentation bug report):

public class SerialNum {
     // The next serial number to be assigned
     private static int nextSerialNum = 0;
     private static ThreadLocal<Integer> serialNum = new ThreadLocal<Integer>() {
         protected synchronized Integer initialValue() {
             return new Integer(nextSerialNum++);
     public static int get() {
         return serialNum.get();

No magic is involved here – get() gets the value from a map, stored on the calling Thread object (source code here, but the real beauty is that’s it’s available from inside your IDE without any special effort to install it).

Let’s look at another example – closures.

In C#, you can write this useful piece of code:

var list = new List<int>();
// find an element larger than 10
list.Find(x => x > 10);

You can also make this mistake:

var printers = new List<Action>();
foreach (var item in list)
  printers.Add(() => Console.WriteLine(item));
Parallel.Foreach(printers, p => p())

An innocent reader might think this prints all the items in list, but actually this only prints the last items list.Count times. This is how closures work. This happens because the item referred to in the closure is not a new copy of item, it’s actually the same item that’s being modified by the loop. A workaround is to add a new temporary variable like this:

foreach (var item in list)
  int tempItem = item;
  printers.add(() => Console.WriteLine(tempItem));

And in Java? Instead of closures, one uses anonymous classes. In fact, this is how they are implemented under the hood in C#. Here the same example, in Java:

for (Integer item : list)
  final int tempItem = item;
  printers.add(new Action(){
    public void doAction()
      // can't reference item here because it's not final.
      // this would have been a compilation error
      // system.out.println(item);

Notice it’s impossible to make the mistake and capture the loop variable instead of a copy of it, because Java requires it to be final. So … less powerful perhaps than C#, but more predictable. As a side note, Resharper catches the ill-advised capturing of local variables and warns about it.

I myself rather prefer the magic of C#, because it does save a lot of the trouble. Lambdas, properties, auto-typing variables… all these are so convenient it’s addictive. But I have to give Java a bit of credit, as the explicit way of doing stuff sometimes teaches you things that you just wouldn’t have learn cruising away in C# land.

Reading enviornment variables from external processes in C#

I was trying to discern which of 3 java processes is our Tomcat process, to kill rouge Tomcats in our unit tests. We have code that uses Process.GetProcessesByName(), and checks the returned StartInfo.

Apparently, Process.GetProcess() returns empty StartInfo.

Digging around, I failed to find a ready-out-of-the-box way to do this. This StackOverflow article pointed me in the right direction of this CodeProject page.

My final result includes:

  1. A small utility that reads either all enviornment variables from some process, or a specific one.
  2. A small C# wrapper

Here is the usage:

private static string GetJavaWorkingDir(int pid)
  string processEnvReader = @"Scripts\ReadProcessEnv\bin\ReadProcessEnv.exe";
  ProcessEnvReader reader = new ProcessEnvReader(processEnvReader);
  return reader.Read(pid, "catalina_base");

13 Reasons Java is Here to Stay

Over here (and here is the Google cached version after the website fell because of the Slashdot effect). This article discusses why the language family of java,C, C# and C++ are here to stay, and won’t be replaced any time soon by new contenders such as Ruby and Haskell.

I agree. While as Eli likes to say, it’s important to know functional languages / paradigms, I really believe that most programming tasks should be done in either the C# or java flavors of Java# (A future hybrid of the Java and C#? It’s really sad IMO that two almost identical languages don’t join forces and user bases). C# is my current favorite, but I can see benefits to Java as well, not the least of which is the huge open community and plethora of available tools for Java. I do like the fact the functional programming is included in C# 3.0 and will be supported in Resharper 4.0 – a strong code analysis and refactoring tool is essential for developing and maintaining large projects.

To be fair, I’ll admit that most of my programming experience, and what I find most interesting, is classical server-side programming (that’s what I currently do in Delver). Also, besides a brief encounter with LISP and Prolog in university courses, I haven’t had the time/motivation to truly learn families outside of the C family tree.