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Code that uses synchronization can sometimes be enigmatic and tricky to debug. Misuse of synchronization primitives is a common source of implementation errors. An analysis of the JDK 1.6.0 source code unveiled at least 31 bugs that fell into this category. [[Pugh 08]]

Noncompliant Code Example (public nonfinal lock object)

This noncompliant code example locks on a public nonfinal object.

public Object publicLock = new Object();

private void doSomething() {
  synchronized(publicLock) { 
    // body
  }
}

It is possible for untrusted code to change the value of the lock object and foil all attempts to synchronize.

Compliant Solution (final lock object)

This compliant solution synchronizes on a private final object and is safe from malicious or inadvertent manipulation.

private final Object privateLock = new Object();

private void doSomething() {
  synchronized(privateLock) { 
    // body
  }
}

Noncompliant Code Example (String constant)

This noncompliant code example locks on a String literal.

// This bug was found in jetty-6.1.3 BoundedThreadPool
private final String _lock = "one";
synchronized(_lock) { /* ... */ }

A String literal is a constant and is interned. According to the Java API [[API 06]], class String documentation:

When the intern() method is invoked, if the pool already contains a string equal to this String object as determined by the equals(Object) method, then the string from the pool is returned. Otherwise, this String object is added to the pool and a reference to this String object is returned.

Consequently, a String constant behaves like a global variable in the JVM. As demonstrated in this noncompliant code example, even if each instance of an object maintains its own field lock, the field points to a common String constant in the JVM. Trusted code that locks on the same String constant renders all synchronization attempts inadequate. Likewise, hostile code from any other package can exploit this vulnerability.

Noncompliant Code Example (Boxed primitive)

This noncompliant code example locks on a boxed Integer object.

int lock = 0;
Integer Lock = lock; // Boxed primitive Lock will be shared
synchronized(Lock) { /* ... */ }

Boxed types are allowed to use the same instance for a range of integer values and consequently, suffer from the same problems as String constants. Note that the boxed Integer primitive is shared and not the Integer object (new Integer(value)) itself. In general, holding a lock on any data structure that contains a boxed value is insecure.

Noncompliant Code Example (Mutable lock object)

This noncompliant code example synchronizes on a mutable, nonfinal field and demonstrates no mutual exclusion properties.

private Integer lock = new Integer(0);

private void doSomething() {
  synchronized(lock) { /* ... */ }
}

public void setLock(Integer lockvalue) {
  lock = lockValue;
}

This is because the thread that holds a lock on the nonfinal field object can modify the field's value, allowing another thread that is blocked on the unmodified value to resume, at the same time, contending for the lock with a third thread that is blocked on the modified value. It is insecure to synchronize on a mutable field because this is equivalent to synchronizing on the field's contents. This is a lock mutability problem as opposed to the lock sharing issue specific to string literals and boxed primitives.

Compliant Solution (final lock object)

This compliant solution synchronizes using a lock object that is declared as final.

private final Integer lock = new Integer(0);

private void doSomething() {
  synchronized(lock) { /* ... */ }
}

// setValue() is disallowed

As long as the lock object is final, it is acceptable for the referenced object to be mutable. In this compliant solution, the Integer object happens to be immutable by definition.

Noncompliant Code Example (Boolean lock object)

This noncompliant code example uses a Boolean field to synchronize. However, there can only be two possible valid values (true and false, discounting null) that a Boolean can assume. Consequently, any other code that synchronizes on the same value can cause unresponsiveness and deadlocks [[Findbugs 08]].

private Boolean initialized = Boolean.FALSE;
synchronized(initialized) { 
  if (!initialized) {
    // Perform initialization
    initialized = Boolean.TRUE;
  }
}

Compliant Solution (raw Object lock object)

In the absence of an existing object to lock on, using a raw object to synchronize suffices.

private final Object lock = new Object();
synchronized(lock) { /* ... */ }

Note that the instance of the raw object should not be changed from within the synchronized block. For example, creating and storing the reference of a new object into the lock field is highly inadvisable. To prevent such modifications, declare the lock field as final.

Noncompliant Code Example (getClass() lock object)

Synchronizing on getClass() rather than a class literal can also be counterproductive. Whenever the implementing class is subclassed, the subclass locks on a completely different Class object (subclass's type).

synchronized(getClass()) { /* ... */ }

Section 4.3.2 "The Class Object" of the Java Language specification [[JLS 05]] describes how method synchronization works:

A class method that is declared synchronized synchronizes on the lock associated with the Class object of the class.

This does not mean that a subclass locking using getClass() can only synchronize on the Class object of the base class. In fact, it will lock on its own Class object, which may or may not be want the programmer had in mind.

Compliant Solution (1) (class name qualification)

Explicitly define the name of the class through name qualification (superclass in this example) in the synchronization block.

synchronized(SuperclassName.class) { 
  // ... 
}

Compliant Solution (2) (Class.forName())

This compliant solution uses the Class.forName() method to synchronize on the superclass's Class object.

synchronized(Class.forName("SuperclassName")) { 
  // ... 
}

Finally, it is more important to recognize the entities with whom synchronization is required rather than indiscreetly scavenging for variables or objects to synchronize on.

Noncompliant Code Example (collection view)

When using synchronization wrappers, the synchronization object must be the Collection object. The synchronization is necessary to enforce atomicity ([CON07-J. Do not assume that a grouping of calls to independently atomic methods is atomic]). This noncompliant code example demonstrates inappropriate synchronization resulting from locking on a Collection view instead of the Collection object itself [[Tutorials 08]].

Map<Integer, String> m = Collections.synchronizedMap(new HashMap<Integer, String>());
Set<Integer> s = m.keySet();
synchronized(s) {  // Incorrectly synchronizes on s
  for(Integer k : s) { 
    // Do something 
  }
}

Compliant Solution (collection lock object)

This compliant solution correctly synchronizes on the Collection object instead of the Collection view.

// ...
synchronized(m) {  // Synchronize on m, not s
  for(Integer k : s) { 
    // Do something  
  }
}

Noncompliant Code Example (nonstatic lock object for static data)

This noncompliant code example uses a nonstatic lock object to guard access to a static field. If two Runnable tasks, each consisting of a thread are started, they will create two instances of the lock object and lock on each separately. This does not prevent either thread from observing an inconsistent value of counter because the increment operation on volatile fields is not atomic in the absence of proper synchronization.

class CountBoxes implements Runnable {
  static volatile int counter;
  // ...

  Object lock = new Object();    

  public void run() {
    synchronized(lock) {
      counter++; 
      // ... 
    } 
  }

  public static void main(String[] args) {
    Runnable r1 = new CountBoxes();
    Thread t1 = new Thread(r1);
    Runnable r2 = new CountBoxes();
    Thread t2 = new Thread(r2);
    t1.start();
    t2.start();
  }
}

Noncompliant Code Example (method synchronization for static data)

This noncompliant code example uses method synchronization to protect access to a static class member.

class CountBoxes implements Runnable {
  static volatile int counter;
  // ...

  public synchronized void run() {
      counter++; 
      // ... 
  }
  // ...
}

The problem is that this lock is associated with each instance of the class and not with the class object itself. Consequently, threads constructed using different Runnable instances may observe inconsistent values of the counter.

Compliant Solution (1) (static lock object)

This compliant solution declares the lock object as static and consequently, ensures the atomicity of the increment operation.

class CountBoxes implements Runnable {
  static int counter;
  // ...

  static final Object lock = new Object();    
  // ...
}

There is no requirement of declaring the counter variable as volatile when synchronization is used.

Compliant Solution (2) (intrinsic lock of class)

This compliant solution uses the intrinsic lock of the class to synchronize the increment operation.

class CountBoxes implements Runnable {
  static int counter;
  // ...

  public void run() {
    synchronized(CountBoxes.class) {
      counter++; 
      // ... 
    } 
  }
  // ...
}

Noncompliant Code Example (ReentrantLock lock object)

This noncompliant code example incorrectly uses a ReentrantLock as the lock object.

final Lock lock = new ReentrantLock();
synchronized(lock) { /* ... */ }

This problem usually comes up in practice when refactoring from intrinsic locking to the java.util.concurrent utilities.

Compliant Solution (lock() and unlock())

This compliant solution uses the lock() and unlock() methods provided by the ReentrantLock class.

final Lock lock = new ReentrantLock();
lock.lock();
try {
  // ...
} finally {
  lock.unlock();
}

Risk Assessment

Synchronizing on an incorrect variable can provide a false sense of thread safety and result in nondeterministic behavior.

Rule

Severity

Likelihood

Remediation Cost

Priority

Level

CON02- J

medium

probable

medium

P8

L2

Automated Detection

TODO

Related Vulnerabilities

Search for vulnerabilities resulting from the violation of this rule on the CERT website.

References

[[API 06]] Class String
[[Pugh 08]] "Synchronization"
[[Miller 09]] Locking
[[Tutorials 08]] Wrapper Implementations


VOID CON00-J. Synchronize access to shared mutable variables      11. Concurrency (CON)      CON03-J. Do not use background threads during class initialization

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