In this article, we will find something about synchronization such as what is synchronization, how to use wait, notify inside a synchronized block code.

Let’s get started.

Table of contents

Understanding about synchronization

Synchronization is used to prevent a block of code to be executed by more than one thread at the same time. From a technical point of view, it prevents the thread scheduler to give the hand to a thread that wants to execute the synchronized portion of code that has already been executed by another thread.

In Understanding basic concepts in Java’s multithreading, we talked about race condition and the solution for it. So, in this section, we will use synchronization do deal with it.

public class Singleton {

    private static Singleton instance;

    private Singleton() {}

    public static synchronized Singleton getInstance() {
        if (instance == null) {
            instance = new Singleton();

        return instance;

So, to move on about synchronization, we need to answer a question - How does synchronization work under the hood?

Our Singleton class is a class with a getInstance() method that we want to synchronize. If it is not, any thread can run this method freely. Synchronizing means protecting this method by a fence, declared with the synchronized keyword.

Under the hood, the Java virtual machine uses a special object, called a lock object, that has a key. In fact, every object in the Java language, has this key, that is used for synchronization. So, what does it change our code?

When a thread - T1 want to enter this protected method - getInstance() method, this protected method or block of code, it will make a request on this lock object, give me your key. If the lock object has the key available, it will give it to this thread, and this thread will be able to run the getInstance() method freely. If another thread - T2 wants to enter this synchronized block of code, it will make the same request on the lock object, but this time, the lock object has no key available for him. Why? Just because the lock object gave its key to the T1 thread. The lock object has only one single key. So the T2 thread has to wait for the key to be available.

At some point, the T1 thread will finish to run the getInstance() method, it will give back the key to the lock object, so this lock object will be able to give the key to the T2 thread and the T2 thread will be allowed to run a getInstance() method. When it has finished running this method, it will give back the key to the lock object. This mechanism is very simple, and will prevent more than one thread to execute the getInstance() method at the same time.

So, for synchronization to work, we need a special, technical object that will hold the key.

In fact, every Java object can play this role. This key is defined internally in the objet class, thus making it available for all the Java objects we define in our applications. It is worth noting that sometimes this key is also called a monitor.

How do we know which object has been chosen to hold this key?

  • A synchronized static method uses the class as a synchronization object.

      public static synchronized Singleton getInstance() {
          if (instance == null) {
              instance = new Singleton();
          return instance;
  • A synchronized non-static method uses the instance as a synchronization object.

      public synchronized String getName() {
  • A third posibility is to use a dedicated object to synchronize

    It is a good idea to hide an object used for synchronization whether we are in a static context or not.

      public class Person {
          private final Object key = new Object();
          public String init() {
              synchronized(key) {
                  // do some stuff

    So, instead of synchronizing the init() method, we can create the synchronized block inside this method, and pass this key object as a parameter of this synchronized keyword.

Synchronizing more than one method

Suppose we have a Person class with two methods in this class, getName() and getAge(). And we added synchronized keyword on the declaration of those methods. The lock object used by the JVM is the object itself, it means that it is an instance of the class we are in.

So, what is going to happen if a T1 thread wants to execute getName(). It will take the key from the lock object, thus preventing a T2 thread from executing getAge() at the same time. Why? because since we did not declare any explicit object on the synchronization of our methods, the same key is used to synchronized both methods. This might not be what we need. If we need to synchronize getName() independently of getAge(), then we need to create two lock objects in the Person class, and synchronize the block of codes inside the methods on those two different objects.

But now suppose that we have two instances of our Person class like the below:

Mary instance John instance
public synchronized String getName(); public synchronized String getName();
public synchronized int getAge(); public synchronized int getAge();

Once again, the getName() and getAge() methods are synchronized using the synchronized keyword on the method declaration. It means that the instances Mary and John are used to synchronize those methods. So we have two lock objects with two key. The thread executing the getName() of the Mary instance object, does not prevent a thread from executing the getAge() from the John instance object. And it will not prevent another thread to execute this same getName() method on another object. We really need to keep in mind that, to understand how synchronization works, we need to identify which object is used as a lock and what are the keys used in our application.

Remember that using the synchronized keyword on a method declaration, uses an implicit lock object, which is the class object in the case of a static method, or the instance object itself in the case of a non-static method.

If we really want to prevent two threads to execute the getName() method at the same time, in all the instances of the Person class, then we need our lock object to be bound not to each instance of our class, but to the class itself. So, it has to be the static field of the Person class.

public class Person {

    private static Object monitor = new Object();

    private String name;

    private int age;

    public String getName() {
        synchronized(Person.monitor) {

    public int getAge() {
        synchronized(Person.monitor) {
            return this.age;

Understanding wait(), notify() and notifyAll() methods

  1. wait() method

    The wait() method is exposed on each Java object. Each java object can act as a condition variable.

    When a thread executes the wait() method, it releases the monitor for the object and is placed in the wait queue.


    • wait() method must occur insdie a synchronized block of code, if not, an IllegalMonitor exception is raised.
    • should occur in loop on the wait condition.

        synchronized(lock) {
            while (!conditional) {

      Because we will encounter the Spurious Wakeups problem. It means that a thread is woken up even though no signal has been received. Spurious wakeups are a reality and are one of the reasons why the pattern for waiting on a condition variable happens in a while loop.

  2. notify() method

    Like the wait() method, notify() method can only be called by the thread which owns the monitor for the object on which notify() is being called else an IllegalMonitor exception is thrown.

    The notify() method will awaken one of the threads in the associated wait queue.

    However, this thread will not be scheduled for execution immediately and will compete with other active threads that are trying to synchronize on the same object. The thread which executed notify will also need to give up the object’s monitor, before any one of the competing threads can acquire the monitor and proceed forward.

    It means that the released thread is chosen randomly among those threads.


    • Nothing happens to the current thread that calls notify() method, it continues to run until it’s natural end.

      The wait() and notify() methods must be called within a synchronized context. As soon as the synchronized block that contains the notify() call finishes, the lock is then available and the block containing the wait() call in another thread can then continue.

      Calling notify() method simply moves the waiting thread back into the runnable thread pool. That thread can then continue as soon as the lock is available.

  3. notifyAll() method

    This method will wake up all the threads that are waiting on the object’s monitor.

Some types of errors when not using synchronization

  1. Thread Interference Error

    Thread interference happens when there are multiple threads working at the same time. They work on the same shared resource. Each thread performs different operations on the same shared resource, the operations can be overlapped, and create inconsistent data.

    In order to understand deepper this concept, we can read about this article Thread Interference.

  2. Memory Consistency Error

    In multithreading environment, the changes of a thread on the same shared resources is not visible to the other threads. So threads will get the different values of that same shared resources.

Benefits and drawbacks

  1. Benefits

    • Prevent race condition in critical section or shared resources.

      Because of only one thread will access in critical section with synchronized keyword.

  2. Drawbacks

    • It does not allow concurrent read, which can potentially limit scalability. By using the concept of lock stripping and using different locks for reading and writing, we can overcome this limitation of synchronized in Java.

      The ReentrantReadWriteLock provides ready-made implementation of ReadWriteLock in Java.

    • synchronized keyword can only used to control access to a shared object within the same JVM. If we have more than one JVM and need to synchronize access to a shared file system or database, the Java synchronized keyword is not at all sufficient. We need to implement a kind of global lock for that.

    • synchronized keyword incurs a performance cost when using synchronized method. Because it makes our application slow and degrade performance.

    • synchronized keyword could make deadlock or starvation.

Common questions for synchronized block

  1. When working with wait() method, we known that wait() method releases lock that is relevant to the current thread, and push the current thread into wait queue. But after reading some post that had content - Invoking wait() inside a synchronized method is a simple way to acquire the intrinsic lock.

    We can find that the above content of the posts that is false, an error in documentation.

    Thread acquires the intrinsic lock when it enters a synchronized method. Thread inside the synchronized method is set as the owner of the lock and is in RUNNABLE state. Any thread that attempts to enter the locked method becomes BLOCKED.

    When thread calls wait(), it releases the current object lock (it keeps all locks from other objects) and than goes to WAITING state.

    When some other thread calls notify() or notifyAll() on that same object, the first thread changes state from WAITING to BLOCKED, Notified thread does NOT automatically reacquire the lock or become RUNNABLE, in fact it must fight for the lock with all other blocked threads.

    WAITING and BLOCKED states both prevent thread from running, but they are very different.

    WAITING threads must be explicitly transformed to BLOCKED threads by a notify from some other thread.

    WAITING never goes directly to RUNNABLE.

    When RUNNABLE thread releases the lock (by leaving monitor or by waiting) one of BLOCKED threads automatically takes its place.

    So to summarize, thread acquires the lock when it enters synchronized method or when it reenters the synchronized method after the wait.

     public synchronized guardedJoy() {
         // must get lock before entering here
         while(!joy) {
             try {
                 wait(); // releases lock here
                 // must regain the lock to reentering here
             } catch (InterruptedException e) {}
         System.out.println("Joy and efficiency have been achieved!");
  2. What does a thread do after calling wait() in Java?

    The wait() method has two purposes:

    • It will tell the currently executing thread go to sleep (not use any cpu).
    • It will release the lock so other threads can wake up and take the lock.

    Whenever a method does something inside a synchronized block, whatever is in the block must wait for the locked object to be released.

     synchronized (lockObject) {
         // someone called notify() after taking the lock on
         // lockObject or entered wait() so now it's my turn
         while (whatineedisnotready) {
             wait(); // release the lock so others can enter their check
             // now, if there are others waiting to run, they 
             // will have a chance at doing so.

Wrapping up

  • Understanding how does synchronization work under the hood.
  • Some types of lock object in synchronization.

    • Synchronized method
    • Synchronized block
    • Static synchronization
  • synchronized keyword involve locking and unlocking. Before entering into synchronized method or block, thread need to acquired the lock, at this point it reads data from the main memory than cache. When it releases the lock, it flushes write operation into main memory which eliminates memory inconsistency errors.

  • Instead of synchronized keyword, we have volatile variable, that JVM threads will read the value of the volatile variable from main memory and do not cache it locally.

  • Java synchronized keyword is reentrant in nature. It means that if a java synchronized method calls another synchronized method which requires the same lock then the current thread which is holding lock can enter into that method without acquiring the lock.

  • If we synchronized a static method, the lock will be on the class, not on the object. So no matter how many instances it may have, only one thread can run within a class of static synchronized methods.


Appying Concurrency and Multithreading to Common Java patterns in