A deadlock describes the scenario where two or more threads are mutually blocking each other. Each waits for the other to release its lock which will never happen as no thread can perform any action. Consider the following figure for illustration this. Thread #1 holds locks a, b and c and waits for lock d. Thread #2 holds locks d and e and waits for lock b. As lock d is owner by Thread #2, Thread #1 can not continue before Thread #2 releases it. Now Thread #2 waits for lock b which is turn is owner by Thread #1.

Neither thread will ever be able to release any locks as both executions are blocked: the whole scene is dead!

How does deadlock detection work?

Theoretically, deadlock detection is pretty simple. First you have threads that own locks, then you have threads that wait for locks to acquire. Now you can think of a directed graph where you have threads and locks being nodes and each lock ownership and lock wait is a vertex that connects those nodes. When you have a cycle in that graph, i.e. when you can traverse the (directed!) graph starting from a certain node and you can reach that node again, you have a deadlock. This means a thread waits for itself to release a lock to finally acquire a desired lock. Obviously, this will never happen without taking additional actions from the outside. Such an action could be to release the block for one thread telling it that there was a deadlock and the thread shall resolve it now it is able to perform actions.

This can be illustrated with the above figure. Traversing the graph starting from Thread #1 going over lock b, Thread #2, lock d and finally Thread #1 (again) reveals the cycle and thus the deadlock. Note that of course you could just as well have started with Thread #2 and would have revealed the same cycle.

How does deadlock detection work for commons transaction?

In case of commons transaction things are a bit more complicated as a lock can have multiple (compatible) threads or better to say owners - lock ownership is not directly tied to the thread accessing the lock, but to an Object called owner. It can well be possible that an owner can both (partially) own a lock and wait for it as well. This may sound confusing, but actually becomes pretty obvious when you look at this example. There is a read/write lock and both owner #1 and #2 hold a read lock which of course is compatible. Now when owner #1 ties to acquire a write lock it will have to wait for owner #2 to release its read lock. In such a case owner #1 both (partially) holds the lock and waits for it as illustrated by the following figure.

The above algorithm would detect a deadlock. This of course is not there as owner #1 is blocked, but owner #2 is not and may finally release the read lock. This means the scenario is not dead.

Obviously, the wait set of the lock is the problem. The graph does not tell us why owner #1 is waiting. In fact it does not wait for owner #1, but only for owner #2. Lookig at the next figure we see this. Both owners only own part of the lock and owner #1 is waiting for that part of the lock that owner #2 owns.

Thus the algorithm has to be modified in such a way that only the real conflicting parts of the locks are taken into consideration.

The real algorithm

This algorithm checks if the given owner is part of a deadlock. by traversing all paths of the lock/owner depedency graph as described above. The graph is directed, so it is clear in which direction we are traversing it. Please note that no physical graph is constructed, but is implicite in the code and the stack structure.

1 : protected boolean wouldDeadlock(Object ownerId, Set path) {
2 :     path.add(ownerId);
3 :     Set locks = (Set) globalOwners.get(ownerId);
4 :     for (Iterator i = locks.iterator(); i.hasNext();) {
5 :         GenericLock mylock = (GenericLock);
6 :         Collection conflicts = mylock.getConflictingWaiters(ownerId);
7 :         for (Iterator j = conflicts.iterator(); j.hasNext();) {
8 :             Object waitingOwnerId =;
9 :             if (path.contains(waitingOwnerId)) {
10:                 return true;
11:             } else if (wouldDeadlock(waitingOwnerId, path)) {
12:                 return true;
13:             }
14:         }
15:     }
16:     path.remove(ownerId);
17:     return false;
18: }

In lines 3-5 it inspects all locks it (partially) holds and finds the owners that are currently waiting for given owner. As explained above lines 6-8 GenericLock#getConflictingWaiters does not traverse all owners waiting for the lock, but only those that are waiting for the part of the lock acquired by the given owner. Those owners will need investigation if the current owner - or anyone else waiting for it - is also waiting for them. If so we have a deadlock.

Both to guarantee termination and actually find out if there is such a cycle indicating a deadlock in the graph lines 2 and 16 we remember the owners of all paths we traverse. As the sequence is not important we store them in a set for fast access. In lines 9-10 we check if the owner already is in our path and if so we have been here before which means there is a cycle in the graph and we thus have a deadlock. If not, in lines 11-12 we recursively repeat the check for each owner that waits for us. As the graph is directed and finite this algorithm either terminates with false in line 17 or there is a cycle in it which will be detected as explained above and will lead to a termination with true. You can see that in both cases the algorithm terminates.