The Event Dispatch Thread
Trail: Creating a GUI With JFC/Swing
Lesson: Concurrency in Swing

The Event Dispatch Thread

Swing event handling code runs on a special thread known as the event dispatch thread. Most code that invokes Swing methods also runs on this thread. This is necessary because most Swing object methods are not "thread safe": invoking them from multiple threads risks thread interference or memory consistency errors. Some Swing component methods are labelled "thread safe" in the API specification; these can be safely invoked from any thread. All other Swing component methods must be invoked from the event dispatch thread. Programs that ignore this rule may function correctly most of the time, but are subject to unpredictable errors that are difficult to reproduce.

A note on thread safety: It may seem strange that such an important part of the Java platform is not thread safe. It turns out that any attempt to create a thread-safe GUI library faces some fundamental problems. For more on this issue, see the following entry in Graham Hamilton's blog: MultiThreaded toolkits: A failed dream?

It's useful to think of the code running on the event dispatch thread as a series of short tasks. Most tasks are invocations of event-handling methods, such as ActionListener.actionPerformed. Other tasks can be scheduled by application code, using invokeLater or invokeAndWait. Tasks on the event dispatch thread must finish quickly; if they don't, unhandled events back up and the user interface becomes unresponsive.

If you need to determine whether your code is running on the event dispatch thread, invoke javax.swing.SwingUtilities.isEventDispatchThread.

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