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Functional Programming in Java: multi-threading?  RSS feed

 
Adam Mason
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Does/Will the Book have a chapter or two on multi-threading and how to optimize this process? This is a real weak area for me and one I am having trouble with is the reason for the question.
 
Pierre-Yves Saumont
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Yes, the book has two chapters talking about multithreading. One is chapter 8, "Advanced list handling" which explain how to automatically parallelize the map and foldLeft functions of the singly linked list. This is more or less like automatic parallelization of streams in Java 8. The other one is chapter 14 which explains how to build an actor system. This is not strictly functional, since sending messages between actors is done asynchronously, and thus is not a function but an effect, but it is a very practical way to handle multithreading without any need for synchronization and locks.
 
Adam Mason
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Thank you, I am really looking forward to reading those chapters. I need all the help I can get!
 
Campbell Ritchie
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Remember that you can parallelise a Stream object and that will sort out all its own multithreading for you.
 
Pierre-Yves Saumont
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Adam Mason wrote:Thank you, I am really looking forward to reading those chapters. I need all the help I can get!


I'll be very happy if you read my book, but be aware that you will not find in it details about how to handle general problems related to multi-threading, such as synchronization locking and avoiding lock contention. What I explain is how to parallelize tasks while avoiding those problems, rather than solving them. If you want to learn about concurrency and parallelization in traditional Java, you should read a book on that subject. Java Concurrency in Practice is a very good book, but a bit outdated (2006). To start with, I would recommend chapter 4 of The well grounded Java developper. It is titled "Modern concurrency" and can be downloaded in pdf for free.
 
Campbell Ritchie
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Adam Mason wrote:Does/Will the Book have a chapter or two on multi-threading and how to optimize this process? . . .
Threading and optimisation are different fields and both need care. You can do no end of damage if you get either wrong. There is a chapter about optimising Streams in a book which was previously promoted on this forum.
 
Pierre-Yves Saumont
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Campbell Ritchie wrote:Remember that you can parallelise a Stream object and that will sort out all its own multithreading for you.


Sure you can. Streams are an awesome feature that work very well for some uses. They might however have some problems. Java 8 streams mix three different concepts: laziness, monadic structures and automatic parallelization.

Automatic parallelization is related to streams in the sense that it consists in breaking a collection in chunks that can be processed in parallel. This could be applied to Java lists. The stream implementation of parallelization has some problems. It is simple if you use it with the default configuration. It will break a collection of tasks in smaller tasks and feed them to worker threads, using the fork/join framework to resynchronize the result. It uses work stealing in order to balance the load among the workers. How many workers? As many as you computer as virtual cores less one (for the main thread). And there is a unique pool for the application. Does this make sense? Most often not. If you are writing a single threaded application, this solution is very powerful. But in a multithreaded application, you may have trouble. If one tasks is very long lasting, it could block not only the other tasks that where part of the parallelization, but all the tasks belonging to any other automatically paralellized process. To avoid this, you would have to provide your own pool of threads for each parallelization, which is much less simple because it has not been designed for this.

Stream is one of the most important monadic structure in Java 8. Java lists are not monadic, so if you want to use a List as a monad, you simply call the stream() method on it t get a Stream. Generally, you don't care about the fact that it could be parallelized, since you won't bet any performance improvement for small collections. But some very useful methods are missing for this kind of use, for example takeWhile. From the answers that I could obtain about the reason for omitting this method (and many others) it seems that it would have made automatic parallelization much more problematic. It would certainly have, but this is a real problem since we can't add any method to Stream.

In my opinion, the main interest of streams is laziness and not paralellization. Everybody knows that laziness allows handling infinite lists, but this might not be the main interest. Streams allow chaining functions such as:



where f, p, g, h are respectively functions from A to B, B to Boolean, B to Stream<C> and C to D, and c is a Consumer<D>

If this would be applied to a (monadic) list, it would involve traversing the list five times. Due to laziness, the stream will be traversed only once. We could compare this to iterating with a loop in imperative programming. Given the following functions:



this would be the imperative equivalent for a monadic list:




And here is the equivalent for a stream:



This is of course much more efficient. The functional version using stream would imply using a slightly different g function:



This is of course a huge improvement, but I feel that having put the three concepts (monadic structure, laziness and automatic parallelization) in the same class is not a good choice because it limits the power of stream as a lazy monadic collection. This is why I present these concepts separately in my book.
 
Adam Mason
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Thank you, I did not understand all of your post, but I am going over it line by line (I have not been writing code long) and I am really looking forward to reading your book!
 
Don't get me started about those stupid light bulbs.
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