Simulating & troubleshooting Deadlock in Scala

All multi-threaded applications are prone to Deadlock. Modern Scala platform is no exception. In this series of simulating and troubleshooting performance problems in Scala, let’s discuss how to simulate a Deadlock in Scala and how you can troubleshoot it. 

What is Deadlock?

First let’s try to understand what ‘Deadlock’ means. Several technical definitions aren’t clear. ‘Deadlock’ is one among them ;-). Deadlock’s definition goes like this: “Deadlock is a situation where a set of processes are blocked because each process is holding a resource and waiting for another resource acquired by some other process.” It’s always easier to learn something new through examples and pictures. Let’s look at the below practical example, which may help you to understand Deadlock better. 


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Fig1: Trains starting in the same track

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Fig2: Trains experiencing Deadlock

Let’s say there is only one train track, and this train track has six parts(part-1, part-2, part-3, part-4, part-5, part-6). Train-A starts at part-1 and Train-B starts at Part-6 on the same train track at the same time. Let’s say both trains travel at the same speed. Under this circumstance, Train-A and Train-B will reach a Deadlock state when they reach part-3 and part-4 of the train track. Because when Train-A is in part-3 of the train track, it will be stuck waiting for part-4 of the track, which Train-B holds. On the other hand, when Train-B is in part-4, it will be stuck waiting for part-3, which Train-A holds. Thus, both trains can’t move forward. This is a classic Deadlock situation. Once a Deadlock happens in the application, it cannot be recovered. The only way to recover from Deadlock is to restart the application.

Scala Deadlock Program

Here is a sample program application, which generates Deadlock between 2 Scala threads.

package com.yc
class DeadlockApp {
object HotObject {
   def method2(): Unit = {
      this.synchronized {
object CoolObject {
   def method1(): Unit = {
      this.synchronized {
object DeadlockApp {
   def main(args: Array[String]): Unit = {
      new ThreadA().start()
      new ThreadB().start()
   def action(): Unit = {
      this.synchronized {
         while (true)
   class ThreadA extends Thread {
      override def run(): Unit = CoolObject.method1()
   class ThreadB extends Thread {
      override def run(): Unit = HotObject.method2()

You can notice the sample program contains the ‘DeadlockApp’ class. This class has a start() method. In this method, 2 threads with the name ‘ThreadA’ and ‘ThreadB’ are launched. 

‘run()’ method in ‘ThreadA‘ invokes ‘CoolObject#method1()’. Similarly ‘run()’ method in ‘ThreadB’ invokes ‘HotObject#method2()’.

If you notice both ‘CoolObject#method1()’ and ‘HotObject#method2()’ are synchronized methods. When a method is synchronized, only one thread who has the lock of that object can execute that method. If another thread tries to execute the same method, then it will go to the BLOCKED state, until the first thread completes executing the method. After entering the respective methods, both threads sleep for some time and then continue to invoke other method i.e. ‘CoolObject#method1()’ will invoke ‘HotObject#method2()’ and ‘HotObject#method2() will invoke ‘CoolObject#method1()’.

So lets visualize what happens when above program is executed:

  1. ThreadA acquires CoolObject’s lock.
  2. ThreadB acquires HotObject’s lock.
  3. ThreadA waits for HotObject’s lock.
  4. ThreadB waits for CoolObject’s lock.

Thus, both threads will end up in classic Deadlock.

How to troubleshoot Scala Deadlock?

To troubleshoot Deadlock problems, it’s sufficient if you can just capture thread dumps and analyze them through thread dump analysis tools such as fastThreadsamurai. However, most of the time, you will not know whether the actual problem is Deadlock or not. What you will notice is an unresponsiveness in the application. Thus, it’s safe to capture all the prominent artifacts that are essential for troubleshooting such as: Garbage Collection log, thread dump, heap dump, netstat, iostat,… 

We used yCrash open source script, which would capture 360-degree data (GC log, 3 snapshots of thread dump, heap dump, netstat, iostat, vmstat, top, top -H,…) from your application stack within a minute and generate a bundle zip file. You can then either manually analyze these artifacts or upload it to yCrash server for automated analysis. When we uploaded the captured artifacts, it instantly generated a root cause analysis report highlighting the source of the problem. 

Fig: yCrash tool pointing out the Stack Trace of Thread-0 that are suffering from Deadlock

Fig: yCrash tool pointing out the Stack Trace of Thread-1 that are suffering from Deadlock

Above is the thread dump analysis report from the tool highlighting the two threads and their stack trace which were causing the Deadlock.

You can clearly see yCrash reporting ‘Thread-0’ and ‘Thread-1’ suffering from Deadlock. yCrash also reports the stack trace of ‘Thread-0’ and ‘Thread-1’. From the stack trace you can notice ‘Thread-0 ‘ acquired the lock of ‘CoolObject’, and it is waiting for ‘HotObject’ lock. On the other hand, ‘Thread-1’ acquired the lock of ‘HotObject’, and it is waiting for ‘CoolObject’ lock. Now based on this stacktrace we know the exact line of code that is causing the problem.

Using this information from the report, one can easily go ahead and troubleshoot the Deadlock issue.

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