Trail: Deployment
Lesson: Applets
Section: Practical Considerations When Writing Applets
Threads in Applets
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Threads in Applets

Note:  This page assumes that you know what a thread is. If you don't, please read Processes and Threads before reading this page.

Every applet can run in multiple threads. The applet's GUI is created on the event-dispatching thread. The threads that the major milestone methods — init, start, stop, and destroy — are called from depends on the application that's running the applet. But no application ever calls them from the event handling thread.

Many browsers allocate a thread for each applet on a page, using that thread for all calls to the applet's major milestone methods. Some browsers allocate a thread group for each applet, so that it's easy to kill all the threads that belong to a particular applet. In any case, you're guaranteed that every thread that any of an applet's major milestone methods creates belongs to the same thread group.

Below is a PrintThread applet. PrintThread is a modified version of SimpleApplet that prints the thread and thread group that its init, start, stop, destroy, and update methods are called from. Here's the code for the PrintThread example.

As usual, to see the output for the methods such as destroy that are called during unloading, you need to look at the standard output. For standard output for an applet run in a browser, open the Java Console from the browser's Tools menu. See Displaying Diagnostics to the Standard Output and Error Streams for information about the standard output stream.

Note: If you don't see the applet running above, you need to install Java Plug-in, which happens automatically when you install the Java(TM) SE JRE or JDK. This applet requires JDK 1.4 or later. You can find more information on the Java Plug-in home page.

So why would an applet need to create and use its own threads? Imagine an applet that performs some time-consuming initialization — loading images, for example — in its init method. The thread that invokes init can not do anything else until init returns. In some browsers, this might mean that the browser can't display the applet or anything after it until the applet has finished initializing itself. So if the applet is at the top of the page, for example, then nothing would appear on the page until the applet has finished initializing itself.

Even in browsers that create a separate thread for each applet, it makes sense to put any time-consuming tasks into an applet-created thread, so that the applet can perform other tasks while it waits for the time-consuming ones to be completed.

Rule of Thumb:  If an applet performs a time-consuming task, it should create and use its own thread to perform that task.

Applets typically perform two kinds of time-consuming tasks: tasks that they perform once, and tasks that they perform repeatedly. The next page gives an example of both.

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