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Using as a generic library

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Netty is a framework for building network applications, but also provides foundation classes handy for other uses, even programs that do not perform socket I/O.

Buffer API

io.netty.buffer provides a generic buffer type called ByteBuf. It is like java.nio.ByteBuffer, but faster, more user-friendly, and extensible.


Have you ever forgotten to call java.nio.ByteBuffer.flip() and wondered why the buffer does not contain anything? It never happens in ByteBuf because it has two indexes, one for reads and one for writes:

ByteBuf buf = ...;
assertThat(buf.readUnsignedInt(), is(42));

It has a richer set of access methods to more easily access a buffer's contents. For example, it has accessor methods for signed and unsigned integers, searches, and strings.


You can't subclass java.nio.ByteBuffer, but you can with ByteBuf. An abstract skeletal implementation is also provided for your convenience. You can thus write your own buffer implementation, such as file-backed ones, composite ones, and even a hybrid.


When a new java.nio.ByteBuffer is allocated, its content is filled with zeroes. This "zeroing" consumes CPU cycles and memory bandwidth. Normally, the buffer is then immediately filled from some data source, so the zeroing did no good.

To be reclaimed, java.nio.ByteBuffer relies on the JVM garbage collector. It works OK for heap buffers, but not direct buffers. By design, direct buffers are expected to live a long time. Thus, allocating many short-lived direct NIO buffers often causes an OutOfMemoryError. Also, deallocating a direct buffer explicitly using the (hidden, proprietary) API isn't very fast.

A ByteBuf's life cycle is bound to its reference count. When its count goes to zero, its underlying memory region (byte[] or direct buffer) is explicitly dereferenced, deallocated, or returned to the pool.

Netty also provides a solid buffer pool implementation that does not waste CPU cycles or memory bandwidth with zeroing its buffer:

ByteBufAllocator alloc = PooledByteBufAllocator.DEFAULT;
ByteBuf buf = alloc.directBuffer(1024);
buf.release(); // The direct buffer is returned to the pool.

However, reference counting isn't a holy grail. If the JVM garbage-collects the pooled buffer before its underlying memory region is returned to the pool, the leaks will eventually exhaust the pool.

To help you troubleshoot a leak, Netty provides a leak-detection mechanism which is flexible enough to let you trade off between your application's performance and the detail of the leak report. For more information, please refer to Reference-counted-objects.

Listenable futures and event loops

Performing a task asynchronously - scheduling a task and getting notified on completion - is common, and should be easy. When java.util.concurrent.Future appeared first, our excitement didn't last long. We had to block to get notified on completion. In asynchronous programming, you specify what to do on completion rather than wait for the outcome.

io.netty.concurrent.Future is a subtype of JDK Future. It lets you add a listener which will be invoked by an event loop when the future is fulfilled.

io.netty.util.concurrent.EventExecutor is a single-threaded event loop that extends java.util.concurrent.ScheduledExecutorService. You can build your own event loop or use it as a feature-rich task executor. Usually, you create multiple EventExecutors to take advantage of parallelism:

EventExecutorGroup group = new DefaultEventExecutorGroup(4); // 4 threads
Future<?> f = group.submit(new Runnable() { ... });
f.addListener(new FutureListener<?> {
  public void operationComplete(Future<?> f) {

The global event loop

Sometimes you want a unique executor that is always available and that doesn't need life cycle management. GlobalEventExecutor is a single-threaded singleton EventExecutor which starts its thread lazily and stops when there have been no pending tasks for a while.

GlobalEventExecutor.INSTANCE.execute(new Runnable() { ... });

Internally, Netty uses it to notify the termination of other EventExecutors.

Platform-dependent operations

Note that this feature is for internal use only. We are considering moving it out of the internal package if there is sufficient demand.

io.netty.util.internal.PlatformDependent provides platform-dependent and potentially unsafe operations. You can think of it as a thin layer over sun.misc.Unsafe and other platform-dependent proprietary APIs.

Other utilities

To build a high-performing network application framework, we introduced utilities. You might find some useful.

Thread-local object pool

If your thread is long-running and you allocate many short-living objects of same type, you can use a thread-local object pool, called Recycler. It reduces the amount of the garbage you produce, saving memory bandwidth consumption and load on the garbage collector.

public class MyObject {

  private static final Recycler<MyObject> RECYCLER = new Recycler<MyObject>() {
    protected MyObject newObject(Recycler.Handle<MyObject> handle) {
      return new MyObject(handle);

  public static MyObject newInstance(int a, String b) {
    MyObject obj = RECYCLER.get();
    obj.myFieldA = a;
    obj.myFieldB = b;
    return obj;
  private final Recycler.Handle<MyObject> handle;
  private int myFieldA;
  private String myFieldB;

  private MyObject(Handle<MyObject> handle) {
    this.handle = handle;
  public boolean recycle() {
    myFieldA = 0;
    myFieldB = null;
    return handle.recycle(this);

MyObject obj = MyObject.newInstance(42, "foo");

User-extensible enum

enum is great for a static set of constants, but you cannot extend one. When you need to add more constants in runtime or allow third parties to define additional constants, use the extensible io.netty.util.ConstantPool instead:

public final class Foo extends AbstractConstant<Foo> {
  Foo(int id, String name) {
    super(id, name);

public final class MyConstants {

  private static final ConstantPool<Foo> pool = new ConstantPool<Foo>() {
    protected Foo newConstant(int id, String name) {
      return new Foo(id, name);

  public static Foo valueOf(String name) {
    return pool.valueOf(name);

  public static final Foo A = valueOf("A");
  public static final Foo B = valueOf("B");

private final class YourConstants {
  public static final Foo C = MyConstants.valueOf("C");
  public static final Foo D = MyConstants.valueOf("D");

Netty uses ConstantPool to define ChannelOptions so that non-core transports can define transport-specific options in a type-safe way.

Attribute map

Use io.netty.util.AttributeMap interface for a fast, type-safe, thread-safe collection of key-value pairs:

public class Foo extends DefaultAttributeMap {

public static final AttributeKey<String> ATTR_A = AttributeKey.valueOf("A");
public static final AttributeKey<Integer> ATTR_B = AttributeKey.valueOf("B");

Foo o = ...;

As you might have noticed already, AttributeKey is a Constant.

Hashed wheel timer

Hashed wheel timer is a scalable alternative to java.util.Timer and java.util.concurrent.ScheduledThreadPoolExecutor. It can handle many scheduled tasks and their cancellations efficiently, as shown in the following table:

Schedule a new task Cancel a task
HashedWheelTimer O(1) O(1)
java.util.Timer and ScheduledThreadPoolExecutor O(logN) O(logN) where N = number of pending tasks

Internally, it uses a hash table whose key is a task's timing to yield constant time for most timer operations. (java.util.Timer uses a binary heap.)

For more information about hashed wheel timer, please see these slides ("Hashed and Hierarchical Timing Wheels," Dharmapurikar) and this paper ("Hashed and Hierarchical Timing Wheels: Data Structures for the Efficient Implementation of a Timer Facility," Varghese and Lauck).

Even more miscellaneous utilities

The following classes are useful, but you will find fine alternatives in other libraries such as Guava:

  • io.netty.util.CharsetUtil provides commonly-used java.nio.charset.Charsets.
  • io.netty.util.NetUtil provides commonly-used network-related constants such as the InetAddress for IPv4 and IPv6 loopback addresses.
  • io.netty.util.DefaultThreadFactory is a generic ThreadFactory implementation that lets you configure your executor threads easily.

Comparison with Guava and JDK8

Because Netty tries to minimize its set of dependencies, some of its utility classes are similar to those in other popular libraries, such as Guava.

Such libraries provide various utility classes and alternative data types to make JDK API less painful to work with, and they usually do quite well at that.

Netty focuses on providing the constructs required for:

  • Asynchronous programming
  • Low-level operations (a.k.a "mechanical sympathy") such as:
    • Off-heap access
    • Access to the proprietary intrinsic operations
    • Platform-dependent behaviors

Java sometimes advances by adopting ideas that subsume constructs provided by Netty. For example, JDK 8 adds CompletableFuture which somewhat overlaps io.netty.util.concurrent.Future. In such a case, Netty's constructs provide a good migration path to you; We will diligently update the API with future migration in mind.

Last retrieved on 16-Apr-2024