Java – In Java critical sections, what should I synchronize on


In Java, the idiomatic way to declare critical sections in the code is the following:

private void doSomething() {
  // thread-safe code
  synchronized(this) {
    // thread-unsafe code
  // thread-safe code

Almost all blocks synchronize on this, but is there a particular reason for this? Are there other possibilities? Are there any best practices on what object to synchronize on? (such as private instances of Object?)

Best Solution

As earlier answerers have noted, it is best practice to synchronize on an object of limited scope (in other words, pick the most restrictive scope you can get away with, and use that.) In particular, synchronizing on this is a bad idea, unless you intend to allow the users of your class to gain the lock.

A particularly ugly case arises, though, if you choose to synchronize on a java.lang.String. Strings can be (and in practice almost always are) interned. That means that each string of equal content - in the ENTIRE JVM - turns out to be the same string behind the scenes. That means that if you synchronize on any String, another (completely disparate) code section that also locks on a String with the same content, will actually lock your code as well.

I was once troubleshooting a deadlock in a production system and (very painfully) tracked the deadlock to two completely disparate open source packages that each synchronized on an instance of String whose contents were both "LOCK".