Mike Schaeffer's Blog

July 22, 2013

One of the best things about writing code in the Java ecosystem is that so much of the underlying platform is open source. This makes it easy to get good answers to questions about how the platform actually works. To illustrate, I’ll walk through the JVM code to show why Java I/O isn’t interruptable. This will explain why threads performing Java I/O can’t be interrupted.

The core issue with interrupting a Java thread performing I/O is that the underlying system call is uninterruptable. Let’s see why that is, for a FileInputStream.

The start of the call stack is in the Java standard class library. In a traditional source tree, this is located under: ${JDK_SRC_ROOT}/jdk/src/share/classes/. In keeping with Java tradition, the class library code is structured with a directory per package. Looking at the code for FileInputStream, both bulk read operations delegate to a method readBytes:

public int read(byte b[]) throws IOException {
    return readBytes(b, 0, b.length);
// ...
public int read(byte b[], int off, int len) throws IOException {
    return readBytes(b, off, len);

readBytes, however, is declared to be native:

private native int readBytes(byte b[], int off, int len) throws IOException;

The native code for the class library is located in a parallel directory structure. ${JDK_SRC_ROOT}/jdk/src/share/native/.... Like the Java code, this native code is structured with a file-per-class and directory-per package. Looking at this code, you can see that the function name is structured to include the java class name, and the prototype contains extra parameters that the JVM uses to manage internal state. env stores a pointer to the current thread’s JVM environment, and this is an explicit declaration of the usual implicit Java this argument. The remaining three arguments are the arguments declared in the original source file.

Java_java_io_FileInputStream_readBytes(JNIEnv *env, jobject this,
    jbyteArray bytes, jint off, jint len) {
    return readBytes(env, this, bytes, off, len, fis_fd);

At this point, the class library is calling into another layer of code, outside the class library. Most of the Java policy surrounding File I/O is implemented in readBytes. (Note particularly the call to malloc in line 23…. traditional File I/O in Java is implemented by reading into a local buffer, and then copying from the local buffer into the Java byte[] initially passed into int read(byte buf[]). This double-copy is slow, but it also requires heap allocation of a second read buffer, if the read buffer is large than 8K. The last time I was reading this code, it was to diagnose an OutOfMemory caused by an over-large buffer size.)

readBytes(JNIEnv *env, jobject this, jbyteArray bytes,
          jint off, jint len, jfieldID fid)
    jint nread;
    char stackBuf[BUF_SIZE];
    char *buf = NULL;
    FD fd;
    if (IS_NULL(bytes)) {
        JNU_ThrowNullPointerException(env, NULL);
        return -1;
    if (outOfBounds(env, off, len, bytes)) {
        JNU_ThrowByName(env, "java/lang/IndexOutOfBoundsException", NULL);
        return -1;
    if (len == 0) {
        return 0;
    } else if (len > BUF_SIZE) {
        buf = malloc(len);
        if (buf == NULL) {
            JNU_ThrowOutOfMemoryError(env, NULL);
            return 0;
    } else {
        buf = stackBuf;
    fd = GET_FD(this, fid);
    if (fd == -1) {
        JNU_ThrowIOException(env, "Stream Closed");
        nread = -1;
    } else {
        nread = IO_Read(fd, buf, len);
        if (nread > 0) {
            (*env)->SetByteArrayRegion(env, bytes, off, nread, (jbyte *)buf);
        } else if (nread == JVM_IO_ERR) {
            JNU_ThrowIOExceptionWithLastError(env, "Read error");
        } else if (nread == JVM_IO_INTR) {
            JNU_ThrowByName(env, "java/io/InterruptedIOException", NULL);
        } else { /* EOF */
            nread = -1;
    if (buf != stackBuf) {
    return nread;

The meat of the read is done by the IO_Read in line 37. This is aliased with a preprocessor definition to JVM_Read, which is a JVM primitive operation. JVM primitives are outside the Java class library, and are in the HotSpot JVM itself. This particular primitive is defined in ${JDK_SRC_ROOT}/hotspot/src/share/vm/prims/jvm.cpp. (In case you’re wondering how I’ve been finding these functions outside of the class library, I usually use a code text search facility.)

JVM_LEAF(jint, JVM_Read(jint fd, char *buf, jint nbytes))
  JVMWrapper2("JVM_Read (0x%x)", fd);
  //%note jvm_r6
  return (jint)os::restartable_read(fd, buf, nbytes);

The Java read operation is the point where the code path goes from code common to all JVM platforms and into OS specific code. For the Solaris (Unix) code path, the definition looks like this.

size_t os::restartable_read(int fd, void *buf, unsigned int nBytes) {
  INTERRUPTIBLE_RETURN_INT(::read(fd, buf, nBytes), os::Solaris::clear_interrupted);

Line 2 of this code, finally is the OS system call itself: ::read. However, it’s wrapped in a macro call to INTERRUPTIBLE_RETURN_INT. This macro turns out to be a standard retry loop for a Unix system call.

#define INTERRUPTIBLE_RETURN_INT(_cmd, _clear) do { \
  int _result; \
  do { \
    INTERRUPTIBLE(_cmd, _result, _clear); \
  } while((_result == OS_ERR) && (errno == EINTR)); \
  return _result; \
} while(false)

This macro expansion turns into a loop that will repeatedly issue the system call as long as it returns EINTR - the return code for an interrupted system call. As long as the system call doesn’t outright fail, the JVM will keep retrying the read if it’s interrupted. To get interruptable I/O semantics, you have to call the OS differently.

Slava Pestov has written a nice piece on how EINTR is used by Unix.

Unix’s use of EINTR is one of the original aspects of Unix that led to ‘worse is better’. Other contemporary operating systems of the time went to greater lengths to handle long running system calls. ITS would interrupt the system call, and then arrange for it to be restarted after the interruption, but with parameters that allow it to pick up where it left off.

See Also: The original paper on ITS system call restarts.