Lecture 02: Multithreading in Java

COSC 272: Parallel and Distributed Computing

Spring 2023


  1. What is multithreading?
  2. Writing multithreaded programs in Java
  3. Activity: Counter Example
  4. RAM and PRAM

Last Time: Motivation

Power of Parallelism


Writing multithreaded programs!

What is Multithreading?

Preliminary question. What is a program?

  • A sequence of operations to be performed
  • some operations may depend out the outcomes of other operations, others may be independent:

      a1 = b1 + c1;
      a2 = b2 - c2;
      p = a1 * a2

A thread is a sequence of operations—think subprogram

  • different threads specify logically independent sequences operations

Art of Multithreading

Goal. Partition a program into multiple (logically indpendent) threads.

Payoff. Different threads can be executed in parallel (on parallel computer architecture)

  • computer with $k$ cores could see up to a $k$-fold increase in throughput!


  • How to partition a program into threads?
  • How to synchronize resources that must be shared by threads? (e.g., memory)
  • How to ensure program always gives desired output?
    • OS ultimately decides how to allocate resources…

Multithreading in Java

Steps to writing a multithreaded program

  1. Define a Runnable object
    • class implements the Runnable interface
    • must implement a method void run()
    • run() defines what your thread should do
  2. Create a Thread instance initialized with an instance of your Runnable object
  3. Start the thread
  4. (optional) Wait for the thread to complete


A thread that increments a counter a bunch of times.

Step 1: Define Runnable Object

public class CounterThread implements Runnable {
    private Counter counter; private long times;

    public CounterThread (Counter counter, long times) {
	this.counter = counter; this.times = times;

    public void run () {
	for (long i = 0; i < times; i++) {

What about the Counter?

public class Counter {
    private long count = 0;

    // return the current counter value
    public long getCount () { return count; }

    // increment the counter
    public void increment () { ++count; }

    // reset the counter value to 0
    public void reset () { count = 0; }

Next Steps

Step 2. Create a Thread instance initialized with an instance of your Runnable object

Step 3. Start the thread

Step 4. (optional) Wait for the thread to complete

  • See CounterExample.java

Activity (Small Groups)

  1. Run CounterExample with NUM_THREADS set to 1. What happens?
  2. Run CounterExample with NUM_THREADS set to 2.
    • How does the final count change?
    • How does the running time change?
  3. Repeat 2 for NUM_THREADS set to 4, 8, 16, 1000, 1000…

What Happened?

  • What happened with final counts as number of threads increased?

  • What happend with running times?


Why did this behavior occur?

Understanding What Happened

Computer Architecture, Oversimplified

von Neuman Architechture

Computer has two main components

  • Central Processing Unit (CPU)
  • Memory Unit

CPU Capabilities:

  • perform fixed set of operations (e.g., arithmetic)
  • program control (e.g., branching)

Memory stores:

  • program instructions
  • data

CPU/Memory Interactions

Random Access Machine (RAM) model interactions:

  • read a value from memory address
    • load value into CPU register
  • write a value to memory address
    • copy value stored in CPU register

Counter Example, 1 thread

  • Counter object is stored in memory
    • Counter stores a value count
  • CountThread instructions stored in memory
  • When CounterThread is executed, it follows these instructions

    for (long i = 0; i < times; i++) {
  • In turn:

    public void increment () { ++count; }


What are CPU/Memory interactions when counter.increment() is executed?

public void increment () { ++count; }

Multicore Architecture

Modern computers:

  • multiple cores
    • think of them as separate, independent CPUs
    • different cores can execute different threads simultaneously
  • shared memory

Multicore Counter Example

  • two threads perform increment operation on different cores
  • threads both try to increment same Counter concurrently


Suppose: count = 7 & two threads both call increment() concurrently

What are the possible outcomes? What are results of different read/write operations?

PRAM model

Parallel Random Access Machine (PRAM)

  • Abstract model for parallel computing
  • Shared memory: cells w/ addresses
    • think one giant array
  • Multiple processors access memory
    • basic operations are read(i) and write(i, val)

PRAM Assumptions

  • read/write operations are atomic


  • if multiple threads access same memory location simultaneously all “consistent” outcomes are possible

    • two processes call write(i, a) and write(i, b)

    • one process calls read(i) another write(i, a)

Next Time

Consider: How could we avoid the CounterExample weirdness (nondeterminacy) and get a correct count with multiple threads?

More on nondeterminacy!