Monday Jan 27, 2014

Picking up the threads in ADF Mobile

There is a huge difference between the actual performance of an application and the user's perception of that performance. Typically, developers will try to improve the latter by delegating time-consuming tasks to background threads; in other words: asynchronous processing makes it possible to keep the user interface responsive at all times. This is especially important in mobile applications, where network bandwidth and latency can fluctuate wildly in a short time frame. Users are not necessarily aware of changes in network conditions, and thus will readily ascribe any slowdown to the application itself. Consequently, multithreaded programming is an essential part of the mobile developer's tool set.

ADF Mobile applications run on a Java virtual machine. Therefore, they can start threads that will exist in the context of the JVM process. In the current release, the ADF Mobile JVM follows the JavaME CDC specification, which is based on Java 1.4. This means that, unfortunately, the improvements brought by JSR 166 (java.util.concurrent)  are not available. On the other hand, threads are well integrated in the ADF Mobile framework. They can invoke AdfmfJavaUtilities.invokeDataControlMethod or AdfmfJavaUtilities.setELValue, for example. This makes it possible for you to update the user interface or refresh a bound collection in memory from a thread among other things.

The Apple iOS and Google Android operating systems manage application-related resources themselves. In iOS, when you switch to another application, the current application is suspended. On the other hand, Android's behavior in the same scenario will vary depending on the free memory available on the device. Typically, the processes belonging to an application will continue to run in the background after the switch; when memory is scarce, the operating system may force-kill the process. What happens when you switch away from an ADF Mobile application is thus dependent on the underlying OS. Any threads started by the application process will behave in the same way as the process itself.  By default, threads will suspend and resume by themselves on iOS; they will still run in the background on Android. 

If you want to implement multithreading in your application, my recommendation is to always manage the state of your threads explicitly and to interrupt them when the application is deactivated or suspended. This will ensure the integrity of your data and will make the application behave the same way independently of the operating system. Interrupting a thread is done by calling the interrupt() method of the Thread class and by checking the return values of the interrupted() or isInterrupted() methods inside the run() method of the thread or of the runnable.  The proper location for the call to interrupt() is a listener class implementing the oracle.adfmf.application.LifeCycleListener interface; such listeners must be registered in  adfmf-application.xml. The activate() and deactivate() methods it specifies will be invoked even if the application is killed through the Android task manager. Typically, in addition to interrupt the threads, the application will need to do the following in order to ensure a proper deactivation:

  • Write any restorable state to an appropriate store
  • Close database cursors and connections
  • Defer pending web service requests
  • Release resources such as files

These tasks can be performed by the threads themselves, by their associated java.lang.Runnable instances, or somewhere else. Be careful, though, since activate() and deactivate()will not be called if the application is terminated. It is also possible to implement listeners at the feature level if more granularity is needed. Such listeners implement the oracle.adfmf.feature.LifeCycleListener interface instead. Please note calls to activate() and deactivate() are blocking; you will need to be careful to ensure the application doesn't look unresponsive to the user.

Resource contention is without a doubt one of the greatest challenges any multithreaded application must solve. In ADF Mobile, each local database corresponds to a single file; the SQLite database engine thus implements a complex but reliable locking system.  Fortunately, ADF Mobile encapsulates all the complexity. If two threads - each possessing its own JDBC connection to the database - try to write at the same time, no exception will be thrown. One of the threads will own the write lock and will be able to proceed, while the other will wait. In other words: there can be only one database connection in write mode at any given time. All other connections will be in read-only mode until they can acquire the write lock. This will influence the design of your application. For example: if you have to insert a sizable number of records in a background thread, you will perform the operation in smaller batches in order to yield the lock to other threads of higher priority. 

Writing a good application is not easy, nor is writing a good performing one.  Multithreading can help with the latter, but you must be careful not to waste resources when the application is not in the foreground. After all, performance is not the only component in the user's perception of your application; battery life counts as well... 

About

Frédéric Desbiens

The musings of a member of the ADF Product Management team.

I focus here on my favorite development framework but also have a strong interest in Mobile Development, Oracle WebCenter and Oracle SOA Suite.

Attentive readers will even find posts about IT Strategy from time to time, an interest of mine since I completed my MBA in 2006.

The views expressed on this blog are my own and do not necessarily reflect the views of Oracle.

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