Fail Fast vs Fail Safe Iterator in java : Java Developer Interview Questions

Difference between Fail fast and fail safe iterator  or  Fail fast vs Fail Safe iterator is one of those questions which are  used to test your knowledge about the topic Concurrency.
Before we discuss in detail about fail safe iterator and fail fast iterator in addition to  their comparison , we should understand the term Concurrent Modification .

What is Concurrent Modification ?

When one or more thread is iterating over the collection, in between, one thread changes the structure of the collection (either adding the element to the collection or by deleting the element in the collection or by updating the value at particular position in the collection) is known as Concurrent Modification

Difference between Fail Fast iterator and Fail Safe iterator

Fail fast Iterator

Fail fast iterator while iterating through the collection , instantly throws Concurrent Modification Exception if there is structural modification  of the collection . Thus, in the face of concurrent modification, the iterator fails quickly and cleanly, rather than risking arbitrary, non-deterministic behavior at an undetermined time in the future.

Fail-fast iterator can throw ConcurrentModificationException in two scenarios :



difference between fail fast iterator and fail safe iterator
Single Threaded Environment
 
After the creation of the iterator , structure is modified at any time by any method other than iterator's own remove method.
  
Multiple Threaded Environment

 If one thread is modifying the structure of the collection while other thread is iterating over it .


According to  Oracle docs , the fail-fast behavior of an iterator cannot be guaranteed as it is, generally speaking, impossible to make any hard guarantees in the presence of unsynchronized concurrent modification. Fail-fast iterators throw ConcurrentModificationException on a best-effort basis. Therefore, it would be wrong to write a program that depended on this exception for its correctness: the fail-fast behavior of iterators should be used only to detect bugs.


Interviewer : How  Fail  Fast Iterator  come to know that the internal structure is modified ?

Iterator read internal data structure (object array) directly . The internal data structure(i.e object array) should not be modified while iterating through the collection. To ensure this it maintains an internal  flag "mods" .Iterator checks the "mods" flag whenever it gets the next value (using hasNext() method and next() method). Value of mods flag changes whenever there is an structural modification. Thus indicating iterator to throw ConcurrentModificationException.


Fail Safe Iterator :

Fail Safe Iterator makes copy of the internal data structure (object array) and iterates over the copied data structure.Any structural modification done to the iterator affects the copied data structure.  So , original data structure remains  structurally unchanged .Hence , no ConcurrentModificationException throws by the fail safe iterator.

Two  issues associated with Fail Safe Iterator are :

1. Overhead of maintaining the copied data structure i.e memory.

2.  Fail safe iterator does not guarantee that the data being read is the data currently in the original data structure.

According to Oracle docs , fail safe iterator is ordinarily too costly, but may be more efficient than alternatives when traversal operations vastly outnumber mutations, and is useful when you cannot or don’t want to synchronize traversals, yet need to preclude interference among concurrent threads. The "snapshot" style iterator method uses a reference to the state of the array at the point that the iterator was created. This array never changes during the lifetime of the iterator, so interference is impossible and the iterator is guaranteed not to throw ConcurrentModificationException.The iterator will not reflect additions, removals, or changes to the list since the iterator was created. Element-changing operations on iterators themselves (remove(), set(), and add()) are not supported. These methods throw UnsupportedOperationException.



Example of Fail Fast Iterator and Fail Safe Iterator



import java.util.HashMap;
import java.util.Iterator;
import java.util.Map;

public class FailFastExample
{
    
    
    public static void main(String[] args)
    {
        Map<String,String> premiumPhone = new HashMap<String,String>();
        premiumPhone.put("Apple", "iPhone");
        premiumPhone.put("HTC", "HTC one");
        premiumPhone.put("Samsung","S5");
        
        Iterator iterator = premiumPhone.keySet().iterator();
        
        while (iterator.hasNext())
        {
            System.out.println(premiumPhone.get(iterator.next()));
            premiumPhone.put("Sony", "Xperia Z");
        }
        
    }
    
}

Output :


iPhone 
Exception in thread "main" java.util.ConcurrentModificationException
        at java.util.HashMap$HashIterator.nextEntry(Unknown Source)
        at java.util.HashMap$KeyIterator.next(Unknown Source)
        at FailFastExample.main(FailFastExample.java:20)


Fail Safe Iterator Example :


import java.util.concurrent.ConcurrentHashMap;
import java.util.Iterator;


public class FailSafeExample
{
    
    
    public static void main(String[] args)
    {
        ConcurrentHashMap<String,String> premiumPhone = 
                               new ConcurrentHashMap<String,String>();
        premiumPhone.put("Apple", "iPhone");
        premiumPhone.put("HTC", "HTC one");
        premiumPhone.put("Samsung","S5");
        
        Iterator iterator = premiumPhone.keySet().iterator();
        
        while (iterator.hasNext())
        {
            System.out.println(premiumPhone.get(iterator.next()));
            premiumPhone.put("Sony", "Xperia Z");
        }
        
    }
    
}

Output :


S5
HTC one
iPhone


Recap : Difference between Fail Fast Iterator and Fail Safe Iterator


Fail Fast IteratorFail Safe Iterator
Throw ConcurrentModification ExceptionYesNo
Clone object NoYes
Memory OverheadNoYes
ExamplesHashMap,Vector,ArrayList,HashSet
CopyOnWriteArrayList,
ConcurrentHashMap


Please mention in comments in case you have any queries regarding Fail Fast and Fail Safe Iterators .



About The Author

Subham Mittal has worked in Oracle for 3 years .
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