Tech and Media Labs
This site uses cookies to improve the user experience.


Creating and Starting Java Threads

Jakob Jenkov
Last update: 2018-10-11

Java threads are objects like any other Java objects. Threads are instances of class java.lang.Thread, or instances of subclasses of this class. In addition to being objects, java threads can also execute code. In this Java thread tutorial I will explain how to create and start threads.

Java Threads Video Tutorial

Here is a video version of this Java threads tutorial.

Creating and Starting Threads

Creating a thread in Java is done like this:

  Thread thread = new Thread();

To start the Java thread you will call its start() method, like this:

  thread.start();

This example doesn't specify any code for the thread to execute. The thread will stop again right away after it is started.

There are two ways to specify what code the thread should execute. The first is to create a subclass of Thread and override the run() method. The second method is to pass an object that implements Runnable (java.lang.Runnable to the Thread constructor. Both methods are covered below.

Thread Subclass

The first way to specify what code a thread is to run, is to create a subclass of Thread and override the run() method. The run() method is what is executed by the thread after you call start(). Here is an example of creating a Java Thread subclass:

  public class MyThread extends Thread {

    public void run(){
       System.out.println("MyThread running");
    }
  }

To create and start the above thread you can do like this:

  MyThread myThread = new MyThread();
  myTread.start();

The start() call will return as soon as the thread is started. It will not wait until the run() method is done. The run() method will execute as if executed by a different CPU. When the run() method executes it will print out the text "MyThread running".

You can also create an anonymous subclass of Thread like this:

  Thread thread = new Thread(){
    public void run(){
      System.out.println("Thread Running");
    }
  }

  thread.start();

This example will print out the text "Thread running" once the run() method is executed by the new thread.

Runnable Interface Implementation

The second way to specify what code a thread should run is by creating a class that implements the java.lang.Runnable interface. A Java object that implements the Runnable interface can be executed by a Java Thread. How that is done is shown a bit later in this tutorial.

The Runnable interface is a standard Java Interface that comes with the Java platform. The Runnable interface only has a single method run(). Here is basically how the Runnable interface looks:

public interface Runnable() {

    public void run();

}

Whatever the thread is supposed to do when it executes must be included in the implementation of the run() method. There are three ways to implement the Runnable interface:

  1. Create a Java class that implements the Runnable interface.
  2. Create an anonymous class that implements the Runnable interface.
  3. Create a Java Lambda that implements the Runnable interface.

All three options are explained in the following sections.

Java Class Implements Runnable

The first way to implement the Java Runnable interface is by creating your own Java class that implements the Runnable interface. Here is an example of a custom Java class that implements the Runnable interface:

  public class MyRunnable implements Runnable {

    public void run(){
       System.out.println("MyRunnable running");
    }
  }

All this Runnable implementation does is to print out the text MyRunnable running. After printing that text, the run() method exits, and the thread running the run() method will stop.

Anonymous Implementation of Runnable

You can also create an anonymous implementation of Runnable. Here is an example of an anonymous Java class that implements the Runnable interface:

Runnable myRunnable =
    new Runnable(){
        public void run(){
            System.out.println("Runnable running");
        }
    }

Apart from being an anononymous class, this example is quite similar to the example that used a custom class to implement the Runnable interface.

Java Lambda Implementation of Runnable

The third way to implement the Runnable interface is by creating a Java Lambda implementation of the Runnable interface. This is possible because the Runnable interface only has a single unimplemented method, and is therefore practically (although possibly unintentionally) a functional Java interface.

Here is an example of a Java lambda expression that implements the Runnable interface:

Runnable runnable =
        () -> { System.out.println("Lambda Runnable running"); };

Starting a Thread With a Runnable

To have the run() method executed by a thread, pass an instance of a class, anonymous class or lambda expression that implements the Runnable interface to a Thread in its constructor. Here is how that is done:

Runnable runnable = new MyRunnable(); // or an anonymous class, or lambda...

Thread thread = new Thread(runnable);
thread.start();

When the thread is started it will call the run() method of the MyRunnable instance instead of executing it's own run() method. The above example would print out the text "MyRunnable running".

Subclass or Runnable?

There are no rules about which of the two methods that is the best. Both methods works. Personally though, I prefer implementing Runnable, and handing an instance of the implementation to a Thread instance. When having the Runnable's executed by a thread pool it is easy to queue up the Runnable instances until a thread from the pool is idle. This is a little harder to do with Thread subclasses.

Sometimes you may have to implement Runnable as well as subclass Thread. For instance, if creating a subclass of Thread that can execute more than one Runnable. This is typically the case when implementing a thread pool.

Common Pitfall: Calling run() Instead of start()

When creating and starting a thread a common mistake is to call the run() method of the Thread instead of start(), like this:

  Thread newThread = new Thread(MyRunnable());
  newThread.run();  //should be start();

At first you may not notice anything because the Runnable's run() method is executed like you expected. However, it is NOT executed by the new thread you just created. Instead the run() method is executed by the thread that created the thread. In other words, the thread that executed the above two lines of code. To have the run() method of the MyRunnable instance called by the new created thread, newThread, you MUST call the newThread.start() method.

Thread Names

When you create a Java thread you can give it a name. The name can help you distinguish different threads from each other. For instance, if multiple threads write to System.out it can be handy to see which thread wrote the text. Here is an example:

   Thread thread = new Thread("New Thread") {
      public void run(){
        System.out.println("run by: " + getName());
      }
   };


   thread.start();
   System.out.println(thread.getName());

Notice the string "New Thread" passed as parameter to the Thread constructor. This string is the name of the thread. The name can be obtained via the Thread's getName() method. You can also pass a name to a Thread when using a Runnable implementation. Here is how that looks:

   MyRunnable runnable = new MyRunnable();
   Thread thread = new Thread(runnable, "New Thread");

   thread.start();
   System.out.println(thread.getName());

Notice however, that since the MyRunnable class is not a subclass of Thread, it does not have access to the getName() method of the thread executing it.

Thread.currentThread()

The Thread.currentThread() method returns a reference to the Thread instance executing currentThread() . This way you can get access to the Java Thread object representing the thread executing a given block of code. Here is an example of how to use Thread.currentThread() :

Thread thread = Thread.currentThread();

Once you have a reference to the Thread object, you can call methods on it. For instance, you can get the name of the thread currently executing the code like this:

   String threadName = Thread.currentThread().getName();

Java Thread Example

Here is a small example. First it prints out the name of the thread executing the main() method. This thread is assigned by the JVM. Then it starts up 10 threads and give them all a number as name ("" + i). Each thread then prints its name out, and then stops executing.

public class ThreadExample {

  public static void main(String[] args){
    System.out.println(Thread.currentThread().getName());
    for(int i=0; i<10; i++){
      new Thread("" + i){
        public void run(){
          System.out.println("Thread: " + getName() + " running");
        }
      }.start();
    }
  }
}

Note that even if the threads are started in sequence (1, 2, 3 etc.) they may not execute sequentially, meaning thread 1 may not be the first thread to write its name to System.out. This is because the threads are in principle executing in parallel and not sequentially. The JVM and/or operating system determines the order in which the threads are executed. This order does not have to be the same order in which they were started.

Pause a Thread

A thread can pause itself by calling the static method Thread.sleep() . The sleep() takes a number of milliseconds as parameter. The sleep() method will attempt to sleep that number of milliseconds before resuming execution. The Thread sleep() is not 100% precise, but it is pretty good still. Here is an example of pausing a Java thread for 3 seconds (3.000 millliseconds) by calling the Thread sleep() method:

try {
    Thread.sleep(10L * 1000L);
} catch (InterruptedException e) {
    e.printStackTrace();
}

The thread executing the Java code above, will sleep for approximately 10 seconds (10.000 milliseconds).

Stop a Thread

Stopping a Java Thread requires some preparation of your thread implementation code. The Java Thread class contains a stop() method, but it is deprecated. The original stop() method would not provide any guarantees about in what state the thread was stopped. That means, that all Java objects the thread had access to during execution would be left in an unknown state. If other threads in your application also has access to the same objects, your application could fail unexpectedly and unpredictably.

Instead of calling the stop() method you will have to implement your thread code so it can be stopped. Here is an example of a class that implements Runnable which contains an extra method called doStop() which signals to the Runnable to stop. The Runnable will check this signal and stop when it is ready to do so.

public class MyRunnable implements Runnable {

    private boolean doStop = false;

    public synchronized void doStop() {
        this.doStop = true;
    }

    private synchronized boolean keepRunning() {
        return this.doStop == false;
    }

    @Override
    public void run() {
        while(keepRunning()) {
            // keep doing what this thread should do.
            System.out.println("Running");

            try {
                Thread.sleep(3L * 1000L);
            } catch (InterruptedException e) {
                e.printStackTrace();
            }

        }
    }
}

Notice the doStop() and keepRunning() methods. The doStop() is intended to be called from another thread than the thread executing the MyRunnable's run() method. The keepRunning() method is called internally by the thread executing the MyRunnable's run() method. As long as doStop() has not been called the keepRunning() method will return true - meaning the thread executing the run() method will keep running.

Here is an example of starting a Java thread that executes an instance of the above MyRunnable class, and stopping it again after a delay:

public class MyRunnableMain {

    public static void main(String[] args) {
        MyRunnable myRunnable = new MyRunnable();

        Thread thread = new Thread(myRunnable);

        thread.start();

        try {
            Thread.sleep(10L * 1000L);
        } catch (InterruptedException e) {
            e.printStackTrace();
        }

        myRunnable.doStop();
    }
}

This example first creates a MyRunnable instance, then passes that instance to a thread and starts the thread. Then the thread executing the main() method (the main thread) sleeps for 10 seconds, and then calls the doStop() method of the MyRunnable instance. This will cause the thread executing the MyRunnable method to stop, because the keepRunning() will return true after doStop() is called.

Please keep in mind that if your Runnable implementation needs more than just the run() method (e.g. a stop() or pause() method too), then you can no longer create your Runnable implementation with a Java lambda expression. A Java lambda can only implement a single method. Instead you must use a custom class, or a custom interface that extends Runnable which has the extra methods, and which is implemented by an anonymous class.

Jakob Jenkov




Copyright  Jenkov Aps
Close TOC