Singletons in Java

A singleton is an object that cannot be instantiated. At first, that might seem counterintuitive – after all, we need an instance of an object before we can use it. Well yes a singleton can be created, but it can’t be instantiated by developers – meaning that the singleton class has control over how it is created. The restriction on the singleton is that there can be only one instance of a singleton created by the Java Virtual Machine (JVM) – by prevent direct instantiation we can ensure that developers don’t create a second copy.

So why would this be useful? Often in designing a system, we want to control how an object is used, and prevent others (ourselves included) from making copies of it or creating new instances. For example, a central configuration object that stores setup information should have one and one only instance – a global copy accessible from any part of the application, including any threads that are running. Creating a new configuration object and using it would be fairly useless, as other parts of the application might be looking at the old configuration object, and changes to application settings wouldn’t always be acted upon. I’m sure you can think of a other situations where a singleton would be useful – perhaps you’ve even used one before without giving it a name. It’s a common enough design criteria (not used everyday, but you’ll come across it from time to time). The singleton pattern can be applied in any language, but since we’re all Java programmers here (if you’re not, shame!) let’s look at how to implement the pattern using Java.

Preventing direct instantiation

We all know how objects are instantiated right? Maybe not everyone? Let’s go through a quick refresher.

Objects are instantiated by using the new keyword. The new keyword allows you to create a new instance of an object, and to specify parameters to the class’s constructor. You can specify no parameters, in which case the blank constructor (also known as the default constructor) is invoked. Constructors can have access modifiers, like public and private, which allow you to control which classes have access to a constructor. So to prevent direct instantiation, we create a private default constructor, so that other classes can’t create a new instance.

We’ll start with the class definition, for a SingletonObject class. Next, we provide a default constructor that is marked as private. No actual code needs to be written, but you’re free to add some initialization code if you’d like. 

public class SingletonObject
{
	private SingletonObject()
	{
		// no code req'd
	}
}

So far so good. But unless we add some further code, there’ll be absolutely no way to use the class. We want to prevent direct instantiation, but we still need to allow a way to get a reference to an instance of the singleton object.

Getting an instance of the singleton

We need to provide an accessor method, that returns an instance of the SingletonObject class but doesn’t allow more than one copy to be accessed. We can manually instantiate an object, but we need to keep a reference to the singleton so that subsequent calls to the accessor method can return the singleton (rather than creating a new one). To do this, provide a public static method called getSingletonObject(), and store a copy of the singleton in a private member variable.

public class SingletonObject
{
    private SingletonObject()
    {
        // no code req'd
    }

    public static SingletonObject getSingletonObject()
    {
      if (ref == null)
          // it's ok, we can call this constructor
          ref = new SingletonObject();
      return ref;
    }

    private static SingletonObject ref;
}

So far, so good. When first called, the getSingletonObject() method creates a singleton instance, assigns it to a member variable, and returns the singleton. Subsequent calls will return the same singleton, and all is well with the world.

Preventing thread problems with your singleton

We need to make sure that threads calling the getSingletonObject() method don’t cause problems, so it’s advisable to mark the method as synchronized. This prevents two threads from calling the getSingletonObject() method at the same time. If one thread entered the method just after the other, you could end up calling the SingletonObject constructor twice and returning different values. To change the method, just add the synchronized keyword as follows to the method declaration :-

public static synchronized
	 SingletonObject getSingletonObject()

Are we finished yet?

There, finished. A singleton object that guarantees one instance of the class, and never more than one. Right? Well…. not quite. Where there’s a will, there’s a way – it is still possible to evade all our defensive programming and create more than one instance of the singleton class defined above. Here’s where most articles on singletons fall down, because they forget about cloning. Examine the following code snippet, which clones a singleton object.

public class Clone
{
	public static void main(String args[])
	  throws Exception
	{
	  // Get a singleton
	  SingletonObject obj = 
	  SingletonObject.getSingletonObject();

	  // Buahahaha. Let's clone the object
	  SingletonObject clone = 
		(SingletonObject) obj.clone();
	}
}

Okay, we’re cheating a little here. There isn’t a clone() method defined in SingletonObject, but there is in the java.lang.Object class which it is inherited from. By default, the clone() method is marked as protected, but if your SingletonObject extends another class that does support cloning, it is possible to violate the design principles of the singleton.  So, to be absolutely positively 100% certain that a singleton really is a singleton, we must add a clone() method of our own, and throw a CloneNotSupportedException if anyone dares try!

Here’s the final source code for a SingletonObject, which you can use as a template for your own singletons.

public class SingletonObject
{
  private SingletonObject()
  {
    // no code req'd
  }

  public static SingletonObject getSingletonObject()
  {
    if (ref == null)
        // it's ok, we can call this constructor
        ref = new SingletonObject();		
    return ref;
  }

  public Object clone()
	throws CloneNotSupportedException
  {
    throw new CloneNotSupportedException(); 
    // that'll teach 'em
  }

  private static SingletonObject ref;
}
Java Tutorials by Ashutosh Sharma, pls visit :
http://sharma.ashutosh84.googlepages.com
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One Response to “Singletons in Java”

  1. CodeMonkey Says:

    cant go through such long blog entry but wht all i hav to say is that
    Singleton may sounds like a gud idea but “Singletons are pure EVIL”
    just coz they got place in GOF book thts y they are still in business otherwise they just dont deserve tht

    anywayz gud …… keep tryin new water

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