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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. The analysis of the JDK 1.6.0 source code unveiled 31 bugs that fell into this category. [[Pugh 08]]

Noncompliant Code Example

A String constant is interned in Java. According to [[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.

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

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

Noncompliant Code Example

This noncompliant code example synchronizes on a mutable field instead of an object and is bound to demonstrate no mutual exclusion properties, whatsoever. This is because the thread that holds a lock on the field can modify the referenced object's value which in turn will allow another thread that is blocked on the old value to resume, at the same time, granting access to a third thread that is blocked on the modified value. When aiming to modify a field, it is incorrect to synchronize on the same (or another) field as this is equivalent to synchronizing on the field's contents.

private Integer semaphore = new Integer(0);
synchronized(semaphore) { ... }

This is a mutual exclusion problem as opposed to the sharing issue discussed in the previous noncompliant example. Note that only the boxed Integer primitive is shared as shown below and not the Integer object (new Integer(value)) itself.

int lock = 0;
Integer Lock = lock;  // boxed primitive Lock will be shared

In general, holding a lock on any data structure that contains a boxed value can be dangerous.

Compliant Solution

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

private final Object lock = new Object();

Noncompliant Code Example

Synchronizing on getClass() rather than a class literal can also be counterproductive. Whenever the implementing class is subclassed, the subclass will end up locking on a completely different Class object.

synchronized(getClass()) { ... }

Compliant Solution

Explicitly define the name of the class (superclass here) in the synchronization block.

synchronized(SuperclassName.class) { ... }

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

Risk Assessment

Synchronizing on an incorrect variable can provide a false sense of thread safety.

Rule

Severity

Likelihood

Remediation Cost

Priority

Level

CON36-J

medium

probable

low

P12

L1

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"


CON35-J. Do not try to force thread shutdown      08. Concurrency (CON)      08. Concurrency (CON)

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