David M. Lloyd

Software Engineer at Red Hat, Inc.

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23 February 2010

Safely downgrading a write lock with ReadWriteLock


A simple pattern to downgrade a write lock to a read lock safely:

   ReadWriteLock rwl = getLock();
   Lock lock = rwl.writeLock();
   try {
       ... Perform write operation ...
       // downgrade lock safely
       final Lock readLock = rwl.readLock();
       readLock.lock(); // Possible failure #1
       try {
           lock.unlock(); // Possible failure #2
       } finally {
           lock = readLock;
   } finally {

The reason this works is as follows: 1. Anything which fails before possible failure #1 will cause the original lock to unlock, due to the finally block. 2. If possible failure #1 occurs, the read lock is never locked, thus the write lock is still unlocked in the outer finally block. 3. If possible failure #2 occurs, the now-locked read lock is stashed into lock thanks to the inner finally block, thus the read lock is released in the outer finally block. At this point, no matter what, the write lock is released. 4. Any failure after possible failure #2 will cause the outer finally block to release the read lock. The nice thing about this approach is that you can even downgrade the lock inside of a conditional and the structure is not broken.