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Better together: Java and the Thread class. Part IV — Callable, Future, and friends

Published in the Multithreading in Java group


In Part I, we reviewed how threads are created. Let's recall one more time. Better together: Java and the Thread class. Part IV — Callable, Future, and friends - 1A thread is represented by the Thread class, whose run() method gets called. So let's use the Tutorialspoint online Java compiler and execute the following code:

public class HelloWorld {
    public static void main(String[] args) {
        Runnable task = () -> {
            System.out.println("Hello World");
        new Thread(task).start();
Is this the only option for starting a task on a thread?


It turns out that java.lang.Runnable has a brother called java.util.concurrent.Callable who came into the world in Java 1.5. What are the differences? If you look closely at the Javadoc for this interface, we see that, unlike Runnable, the new interface declares a call() method that returns a result. Also, it throws Exception by default. That is, it saves us from having to try-catch blocks for checked exceptions. Not bad, right? Now we have a new task instead of Runnable:

Callable task = () -> {
	return "Hello, World!";
But what do we do with it? Why do we need a task running on a thread that returns a result? Obviously, for any actions performed in the future, we expect to receive the result of those actions in the future. And we have an interface with a corresponding name: java.util.concurrent.Future


The java.util.concurrent.Future interface defines an API for working with tasks whose results we plan to receive in the future: methods to get a result, and methods to check status. In regards to Future, we are interested in its implementation in the java.util.concurrent.FutureTask class. This is the "Task" that will be executed in Future. What makes this implementation even more interesting is that it also implements Runnable. You can consider this a kind of adapter between the old model of working with tasks on threads and the new model (new in the sense that it appeared in Java 1.5). Here is an example:

import java.util.concurrent.Callable;
import java.util.concurrent.FutureTask;

public class HelloWorld {
    public static void main(String[] args) throws Exception {
        Callable task = () -> {
            return "Hello, World!";
        FutureTask<String> future = new FutureTask<>(task);
        new Thread(future).start();
As you can see from the example, we use the get method to get the result from the task. Note: when you get the result using the get() method, execution becomes synchronous! What mechanism do you think will be used here? True, there is no synchronization block. That's why we won't see WAITING in JVisualVM as a monitor or wait, but as the familiar park() method (because the LockSupport mechanism is being used).

Functional interfaces

Next, we'll talk about classes from Java 1.8, so we would do well to provide a brief introduction. Look at the following code:

Supplier<String> supplier = new Supplier<String>() {
	public String get() {
		return "String";
Consumer<String> consumer = new Consumer<String>() {
	public void accept(String s) {
Function<String, Integer> converter = new Function<String, Integer>() {
	public Integer apply(String s) {
		return Integer.valueOf(s);
Lots and lots of extra code, wouldn't you say? Each of the declared classes performs one function, but we use a bunch of extra supporting code to define it. And this is how Java developers thought. Accordingly, they introduced a set of "functional interfaces" (@FunctionalInterface) and decided that now Java itself would do the "thinking", leaving only the important stuff for us to worry about:

Supplier<String> supplier = () -> "String";
Consumer<String> consumer = s -> System.out.println(s);
Function<String, Integer> converter = s -> Integer.valueOf(s);
A Supplier supplies. It has no parameters, but it returns something. This is how it supplies things. A Consumer consumes. It takes something as an input (an argument) and does something with it. The argument is what it consumes. Then we also have Function. It takes inputs (arguments), does something, and returns something. You can see that we are actively using generics. If you're unsure, you can get a refresher by reading "Generics in Java: how to use angled brackets in practice".


Time passed and a new class called CompletableFuture appeared in Java 1.8. It implements the Future interface, i.e. our tasks will be completed in the future, and we can call get() to get the result. But it also implements the CompletionStage interface. The name says it all: this is a certain stage of some set of calculations. A brief introduction to the topic can be found in the review here: Introduction to CompletionStage and CompletableFuture. Let's get right to the point. Let's look at the list of available static methods that will help us get started: Better together: Java and the Thread class. Part IV — Callable, Future, and friends - 2Here are options for using them:

import java.util.concurrent.CompletableFuture;
public class App {
    public static void main(String[] args) throws Exception {
        // A CompletableFuture that already contains a Result
        CompletableFuture<String> completed;
        completed = CompletableFuture.completedFuture("Just a value");
        // A CompletableFuture that runs a new thread from Runnable. That's why it's Void
        CompletableFuture<Void> voidCompletableFuture;
        voidCompletableFuture = CompletableFuture.runAsync(() -> {
            System.out.println("run " + Thread.currentThread().getName());
        // A CompletableFuture that starts a new thread whose result we'll get from a Supplier 
        CompletableFuture<String> supplier;
        supplier = CompletableFuture.supplyAsync(() -> {
            System.out.println("supply " + Thread.currentThread().getName());
            return "Value";
If we execute this code, we'll see that creating a CompletableFuture also involves launching a whole pipeline. Therefore, with a certain similarity to the SteamAPI from Java8, this is where we find the difference between these approaches. For example:

List<String> array = Arrays.asList("one", "two");
Stream<String> stringStream = -> {
	return value.toUpperCase();
This is an example of Java 8's Stream API. If you run this code, you'll see that "Executed" won't be displayed. In other words, when a stream is created in Java, the stream does not start immediately. Instead, it waits for someone to want a value from it. But CompletableFuture starts executing the pipeline immediately, without waiting for someone to ask it for a value. I think this is important to understand. S o, we have a CompletableFuture. How can we make a pipeline (or chain) and what mechanisms do we have? Recall those functional interfaces that we wrote about earlier.
  • We have a Function that takes an A and returns a B. It has a single method: apply().
  • We have a Consumer that takes an A and returns nothing (Void). It has a single method: accept().
  • We have Runnable, which runs on the thread, and takes nothing and returns nothing. It has a single method: run().
The next thing to remember is that CompletableFuture uses Runnable, Consumers, and Functions in its work. Accordingly, you can always know that you can do the following with CompletableFuture:

public static void main(String[] args) throws Exception {
        AtomicLong longValue = new AtomicLong(0);
        Runnable task = () -> longValue.set(new Date().getTime());
        Function<Long, Date> dateConverter = (longvalue) -> new Date(longvalue);
        Consumer<Date> printer = date -> {
        // CompletableFuture computation
                         .thenApply((v) -> longValue.get())
The thenRun(), thenApply(), and thenAccept() methods have "Async" versions. This means that these stages will be completed on a different thread. This thread will be taken from a special pool — so we won't know in advance whether it will be a new or old thread. It all depends on how computationally-intensive the tasks are. In addition to these methods, there are three more interesting possibilities. For clarity, let's imagine that we have a certain service that receives some kind of message from somewhere — and this takes time:

public static class NewsService {
	public static String getMessage() {
		try {
			return "Message";
		} catch (InterruptedException e) {
			throw new IllegalStateException(e);
Now, let's take a look at other abilities that CompletableFuture provides. We can combine the result of a CompletableFuture with the result of another CompletableFuture:

Supplier newsSupplier = () -> NewsService.getMessage();
CompletableFuture<String> reader = CompletableFuture.supplyAsync(newsSupplier);
				 .thenCombine(reader, (a, b) -> b + a)
				 .thenAccept(result -> System.out.println(result))
Note that threads are daemon threads by default, so for clarity, we use get() to wait for the result. Not only can we combine CompletableFutures, we can also return a CompletableFuture:

				.thenCompose((val) -> CompletableFuture.completedFuture(val + 2))
                               .thenAccept(result -> System.out.println(result));
Here I want to note that the CompletableFuture.completedFuture() method was used for brevity. This method does not create a new thread, so the rest of the pipeline will be executed on the same thread where completedFuture was called. There is also a thenAcceptBoth() method. It is very similar to accept(), but if thenAccept() accepts a Consumer, thenAcceptBoth() accepts another CompletableStage + BiConsumer as input, i.e. a consumer that takes 2 sources instead of one. There is another interesting ability offered by methods whose name includes the word "Either": Better together: Java and the Thread class. Part IV — Callable, Future, and friends - 3These methods accept an alternative CompletableStage and are executed on the CompletableStage that is be executed first. Finally, I want to end this review with another interesting feature of CompletableFuture: error handling.

				 .thenApply((a) -> {
					throw new IllegalStateException("error");
				 }).thenApply((a) -> 3L)
				 //.exceptionally(ex -> 0L)
				 .thenAccept(val -> System.out.println(val));
This code will do nothing, because there will be an exception and nothing else will happen. But by uncommenting the "exceptionally" statement, we define the expected behavior. Speaking of CompletableFuture, I also recommend you to watch the following video: In my humble opinion, these are among the most explanatory videos on the Internet. They should make it clear how this all works, what toolkit we have available, and why all this is needed.


Hopefully, it's now clear how you can use threads to get calculations after they are completed. Additional material: Better together: Java and the Thread class. Part I — Threads of execution Better together: Java and the Thread class. Part II — Synchronization Better together: Java and the Thread class. Part III — Interaction Better together: Java and the Thread class. Part V — Executor, ThreadPool, Fork/Join Better together: Java and the Thread class. Part VI — Fire away!
Comments (5)
Максим Василенко Level 44, Kiev, Ukraine
13 February 2023
"Hopefully, it's now clear how you can use threads to get calculations after they are completed." - ahah)) hopefully))
Kubańczyk92 Level 35, Wroclaw, Poland
1 December 2022
at this point, my illusions about this course is being somehow organized by the team that creates it are gone. The further I get, the stronger my impression is that while creating content here, ppl with knowledge are randomly asked to prepare something no matter what, and then it is put into the course. I believe that somewhere around lvl 22 the course should be redesigned. Here it tries to explain a difficult topic - multithreading without explaining lambda expressions and function interfaces. Even when I learned about it before, I can't figure out what the author had in his mind when writing this. Dear code gym authors - more does not mean better!
Fadi Alsaidi Level 34, Carrollton, TX, USA
23 October 2021
Dear Code GYM. As genius as you are when it comes to finding the right analogy or example, you blow it on this one. I highly recommend readers to look into the following topics: - Java Lambda - Functional Interfaces
MaGaby2280 Level 41, Guatemala City, Guatemala
21 January 2021
OMG!!! My brain is on fire... just when I thought I was understanding Java lol
BlueJavaBanana Level 37
17 October 2020
What the HELL!?