What Is A Semaphore In Java

Java Programming

When it comes to multi-threading in Java, one important concept to understand is the Semaphore. As a programmer, I’ve come to appreciate the power and versatility of semaphores in managing concurrent access to shared resources.

So, what is a Semaphore in Java? Simply put, a Semaphore is a synchronization construct that allows a fixed number of threads to enter a critical section or to access a shared resource simultaneously. It acts as a counter that keeps track of the number of available permits, and threads must acquire a permit before accessing the critical section or resource.

Let’s dive deeper into how semaphores work. Imagine a scenario where multiple threads are contending for access to a shared resource, such as a database connection or a printer. Without proper synchronization, these threads could attempt to access the resource simultaneously, leading to data corruption or other undesirable outcomes.

This is where semaphores come into play. A semaphore allows us to control access to the shared resource by limiting the number of threads that can access it at any given time. It uses two main operations: acquire() and release().

The acquire() operation tries to acquire a permit from the semaphore. If a permit is available, the thread can proceed to access the critical section or resource. If not, the thread is blocked until a permit becomes available. Once the thread is done with the critical section or resource, it must release the permit using the release() operation.

Let me illustrate this with an example:

import java.util.concurrent.Semaphore;

class Printer {
private Semaphore semaphore;

public Printer(int maxConcurrentPrinting) {
semaphore = new Semaphore(maxConcurrentPrinting);

public void print(String document) {
try {
// Simulating actual printing process
System.out.println("Printing: " + document);
} catch (InterruptedException e) {
} finally {

class PrinterTask implements Runnable {
private Printer printer;
private String document;

public PrinterTask(Printer printer, String document) {
this.printer = printer;
this.document = document;

public void run() {

public class Main {
public static void main(String[] args) {
Printer printer = new Printer(2);

Thread thread1 = new Thread(new PrinterTask(printer, "Document 1"));
Thread thread2 = new Thread(new PrinterTask(printer, "Document 2"));
Thread thread3 = new Thread(new PrinterTask(printer, "Document 3"));


In this example, we have a Printer class that has a Semaphore to limit the maximum number of concurrent printing operations. The print() method of the Printer class acquires a permit from the semaphore before printing the document, and then releases it when done.

In the Main class, we create three threads representing three printing tasks. Only two threads can acquire the printing permit at a time due to the semaphore’s initialization with a maximum of 2 permits. This ensures that only two documents are being printed concurrently.

By using semaphores, we can effectively manage access to shared resources and prevent potential conflicts or race conditions that could arise when multiple threads try to access the same resource simultaneously.


Semaphores in Java provide a powerful mechanism for controlling concurrent access to shared resources. By limiting the number of threads that can access a critical section or resource simultaneously, we can avoid conflicts and ensure proper synchronization. Understanding and utilizing semaphores is essential for writing robust and efficient multi-threaded Java applications.