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Jakob Jenkov
Last update: 2014-06-23

A java.util.concurrent.locks.Lock is a thread synchronization mechanism just like synchronized blocks. A Lock is, however, more flexible and more sophisticated than a synchronized block.

By the way, in my Java Concurrency tutorial I have described how to implement your own locks, in case you are interested (or need it). See my text on Locks for more details.

Java Lock Example

Since Lock is an interface, you need to use one of its implementations to use a Lock in your applications. Here is a simple usage example:

Lock lock = new ReentrantLock();


//critical section


First a Lock is created. Then it's lock() method is called. Now the Lock instance is locked. Any other thread calling lock() will be blocked until the thread that locked the lock calls unlock(). Finally unlock() is called, and the Lock is now unlocked so other threads can lock it.

Java Lock Implementations

The java.util.concurrent.locks package has the following implementations of the Lock interface:

  • ReentrantLock

Main Differences Between Locks and Synchronized Blocks

The main differences between a Lock and a synchronized block are:

  • A synchronized block makes no guarantees about the sequence in which threads waiting to entering it are granted access.
  • You cannot pass any parameters to the entry of a synchronized block. Thus, having a timeout trying to get access to a synchronized block is not possible.
  • The synchronized block must be fully contained within a single method. A Lock can have it's calls to lock() and unlock() in separate methods.

Lock Methods

The Lock interface has the following primary methods:

  • lock()
  • lockInterruptibly()
  • tryLock()
  • tryLock(long timeout, TimeUnit timeUnit)
  • unlock()

The lock() method locks the Lock instance if possible. If the Lock instance is already locked, the thread calling lock() is blocked until the Lock is unlocked.

The lockInterruptibly() method locks the Lock unless the thread calling the method has been interrupted. Additionally, if a thread is blocked waiting to lock the Lock via this method, and it is interrupted, it exits this method calls.

The tryLock() method attempts to lock the Lock instance immediately. It returns true if the locking succeeds, false if Lock is already locked. This method never blocks.

The tryLock(long timeout, TimeUnit timeUnit) works like the tryLock() method, except it waits up the given timeout before giving up trying to lock the Lock.

The unlock() method unlocks the Lock instance. Typically, a Lock implementation will only allow the thread that has locked the Lock to call this method. Other threads calling this method may result in an unchecked exception (RuntimeException).

Jakob Jenkov

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