Java Language Concurrent Programming (Threads) Using ThreadLocal


A useful tool in Java Concurrency is ThreadLocal – this allows you to have a variable that will be unique to a given thread. Thus, if the same code runs in different threads, these executions will not share the value, but instead each thread has its own variable that is local to the thread.

For example, this is frequently used to establish the context (such as authorization information) of handling a request in a servlet. You might do something like this:

private static final ThreadLocal<MyUserContext> contexts = new ThreadLocal<>();

public static MyUserContext getContext() {
    return contexts.get(); // get returns the variable unique to this thread

public void doGet(...) {
    MyUserContext context = magicGetContextFromRequest(request); 
    contexts.put(context); // save that context to our thread-local - other threads
                           // making this call don't overwrite ours
    try {
        // business logic
    } finally {
        contexts.remove(); // 'ensure' removal of thread-local variable

Now, instead of passing MyUserContext into every single method, you can instead use MyServlet.getContext() where you need it. Now of course, this does introduce a variable that needs to be documented, but it’s thread-safe, which eliminates a lot of the downsides to using such a highly scoped variable.

The key advantage here is that every thread has its own thread local variable in that contexts container. As long as you use it from a defined entry point (like demanding that each servlet maintains its context, or perhaps by adding a servlet filter) you can rely on this context being there when you need it.