[concurrency-interest] synchronized constructors

Yuval Shavit yshavit at akiban.com
Thu Dec 15 16:10:13 EST 2011

Hi all,

This came up a few days ago on stackoverflow.com -- I forget the exact
post, but someone referenced the JLS section concerning why constructors
can't be synchronized:

There is no practical need for a constructor to be synchronized, because it
> would lock the object under construction, which is normally not made
> available to other threads until all constructors for the object have
> completed their work.

If synchronization were only about mutual exclusion, this would make sense;
but it also has memory visibility guarantees. For instance, say I have this
really simple class:

    public class MyPoint {
        private int x;
        private int y;

        public MyPoint() {
            x = -1; // init to (-1,-1) for some reason
            y = -1;

        public synchronized void setX(int x, int y) {
            this.x = x;
            this.y = y;

        public synchronized String toString() {
            return "(" + x + ", " + y + ")";

There's a thread safety issue there, right? There was no synchronization
during construction time, and thus no happens-before between ctor ending
and toString() starting, so with reordering etc, you could observe the
initial state as "(0, 0)", "(-1, 0)", "(-1, -1)" or "(-1, 0)".  You could
get around this by calling setX from the constructor, but if setX is
non-final, that has its own issues. You could also put the x and y
initialization within a synchronized (this) { ... } -- but at that point,
why not just allow the constructor to be synchronized?

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