Monday, November 3, 2003

ThreadLocal and memory leaks

(imported from, read comments there)

Last day I realized that using ThreadLocal can be very dangerous when it comes to long running applications and garbage collections.

When you read the documentation of the ThreadLocal, you read that the object put in a ThreadLocal context is associated to the thread, and will be garbaged once the thread is dead.

Each thread holds an implicit reference to its copy of a ThreadLocal as long as the thread is alive and the ThreadLocal object is accessible; after a thread goes away, all of its copies of ThreadLocal variables are subject to garbage collection (unless other references to these copies exist).

So if you use ThreadLocal to store some object instance there is a high risk to have the object stored in the thread local never garbaged when your app runs inside an app server like WebLogic Server, which manage a pool of working thread - even when the class that created this ThreadLocal instance is garbage collected.

To solve this issue, you will probably have to check for it first with a memory profiler tool like JProfiler, and then wrap the value put in the ThreadLocal in a WeakReference.

That did not appears to be obvious while reading the javadoc. Isn't it ?