lazy statics design notes

Brian Goetz brian.goetz at
Wed Feb 27 20:58:09 UTC 2019

I think the answer to all the objections is "then just use <clinit>".

Programmers are lazy; we can use this to our advantage.  If the users 
get the benefit of lazy initialization with one new keyword 
(lazy-final), they will likely use it because programmers love to 
prematurely optimize and sprinkling "lazy" is easy.  The result will be, 
most <clinits> will empty out, except for the ones doing weird stuff.

(This strategy is analogous to: to lose weight, you need not control 
what you eat, you just need to control what food is in your house.  And 
you don't even have to do anything here other than "don't buy more 
unhealthy food"; our natural snacking tendencies will empty out the 
pantry fast enough, and then all that's left will be kale soon enough.)

On 2/27/2019 3:33 PM, John Rose wrote:
> On Feb 27, 2019, at 7:30 AM, Karen Kinnear <karen.kinnear at> wrote:
>> Subject: Valhalla EG notes Feb 13, 2019
>> To: valhalla-spec-experts <valhalla-spec-experts at>
>> ...
>> III. [Remi Forax] DynamicValue attribute
>> Another project Remi will lead and create JEP
>>   language level: static lazy final
>>   improve startup by allowing init with Condy at first access of individual static
>> Drawbacks: opt-in at source
>>   change in semantics
>>   in static block - there is a lock
>>   condy BSM can execute multiple times
> I was just talking with Vladimir Ivanov about lazy
> statics.  He is working on yet another performance
> pothole with <clinit>, generated by Clojure this time.
> (It's not their fault; the system had to clean up a problem
> with correct initialization order, and <clinit> execution
> is over-constrained already, so the JIT has to generate
> more conservative code now.)
> I believe lazy statics would allow programmers
> (and even more, language implementors) to
> use much smaller <clinit>s, or none at all,
> in favor of granular lazy statics.
> So, here's a brain dump, fresh from my recent
> lunch with Vladimir:
> Big problem #1:  If you touch one static, you buy
> them all.  Big problem #2:  If any one static
> misbehaves (blocking, bad bootstrap), all statics
> misbehave.  Big problem #3:  If <clinit> hasn't
> run yet, you need initialization barriers on all
> use points of statics; result is that <clinit> itself,
> and anything it calls, is uniquely non-optimizable.
> Big problem #4:  After touching one static, the
> program cannot make progress until the mutex
> on the whole Class object is released.  Big problem
> #5: Setting up multiple statics is not transactional;
> you can observe erroneous intermediate states during
> the run of the <clinit>.  Big problem #6:  Statics
> are really, really hard to process in an AOT engine,
> because nearly every pre-compiled code path must
> assume that the static might not be booted up yet,
> and if boot-up happens (just once per execution)
> it invalidates many of the assumptions the AOT
> engine wants to make about nearby code.
> Solutions from lazy statics:  Solution #1: If you touch
> one that's the one you buy (plus what's in the vestigial
> <clinit> if there is one at all).  Solution #2: Misbehaving
> statics don't misbehave until they are used (yes, bug
> masking, boo hoo).  Solution #3: Initialization barriers
> are trivial:  Just detect the T.default value of the variable.
> Solution #4: There is no mutex, just a CAS at the end
> of the BSM for the lazy static; no critical section.
> Solution #5:  The CAS at the end of the BSM is inherently
> transactional.  Solution #6: AOT engines can generate
> somewhat simpler fast-path code by just testing for
> T.default; the slow-path code is still hard to optimize,
> but the limits are from the complexity of the BSM
> that initializes the lazy static, not the total complexity
> of the <clinit> code.
> Objection: What if you *want* a mutex?  I didn't like
> the JVM blocking everything in <clinit> but I don't
> want a million racing threads computing the same
> BSM value either.  Ans: Fine, but make that an opt-in
> mechanism, by folding some kind of flow control
> into the relevant BSM, for your particular use case.
> The JVM doesn't have to know about it.
> Objection:  What if I want several statics to initialize in
> one event, with or without mutex or transactions?
> Ans: Easy, just have the BSM for each touch the others,
> or run a common BSM that sets everything up (and then
> returns the same value).  (Note: At the cost of an
> idempotency requirement during lazy init.)  In the
> most demanding cases, define a private static nested
> class to serialize everything, which is today's workaround.
> Objection:  Those aren't real statics, because you can't
> set them to their T.default values!  Ans:  They are as
> real as you are going to get without creating lots of
> side metadata to track the N+1st variable state, which
> is a cost nobody wants to pay.
> Objection: But I do want to opt into the overhead and
> you aren't giving me my T.default; I need the full range
> of values for my special use case.  Ans:  Then add an
> indirection for your use case, to a wrapped copy of your
> desired value; the null wrapper value is the T.default in
> this case.  It's at least as cheap as anything the JVM would
> have done intrinsically.
> Objection:  You disrespect 'boolean'.  It only has one
> state left after you filch 'false' to denote non-initialization.
> My VM hack can do much better than that.  Ans:  Let me
> introduce you to java.lang.Boolean.  It has three states.
> Objection:  What if someone uses bytecode to monkey
> with the state of my lazy static?  Your design is broken!
> Ans:  This is the sort of corner case that needs extra
> VM support.  In this case, it is sufficient to privatize
> write access to a variable, even though it may be public,
> to its declaring class.  You can trust the declaring class
> not to compile subverting assignments into itself,
> because javac won't let it.
> Objection:  I can't imagine the language design for this;
> surely there are difficulties you haven't foreseen.  Ans:
> Neither can I, and there certainly are.  The sooner we
> start trying out prototypes the sooner we'll shake out
> the issues.  There are several things to try:
> Bonus:  The T.default hack scales to non-static
> fields as well.  So laziness is a separable tool
> from the decision to make things static or not;
> it survives more refactorings.  The technique
> is abundantly optimizable (both static and
> non-static versions) as proven by the good
> track record of @Stable inside the JDK.  We
> should share this gem outside the JDK,
> which requires language and (more) VM
> support.  Language design issue:  It's easier
> to do the lazy static with an attribute than
> doing the lazy non-static; you need an
> instance-specific callback for the latter.  TBD.
> The nice thing about this is that the OpenJDK JITs
> have been making good use of @Stable annotations
> for a long time.  So the main problem here is finding
> a language and VM framework that legitimizes this
> sort of pattern (including safety checks and rule
> enforcement on state changes).  When that is done,
> the JITs should make use of it with little extra effort.
> — John

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