[logback-user] Best practices to avoid deadlocks while logging

Olivier Cailloux mlsmg at ulb.ac.be
Wed May 20 18:31:46 CEST 2009

Dear list,

I recently had a deadlock problem related to logging and I am wondering 
if it comes from a problem in the logging framework (I must say I doubt 
it) or from the way I use logging, in which case I'd like to hear 
advices about how others avoid this kind of problems.

The pattern is the following. (Please see hereby the java classes which 
might be clearer.)
- In a class "Worker", a method "work()" locks the object instance of 
the class Worker to do some work and calls the logging framework to 
print the result (while still holding the lock).
- In the same class "Worker", an other method "getStatus()" obtains the 
current status of the object instance of the class Worker and returns it 
as a String (method used for logging). That method locks the object at 
some point to make sure it reads consistent internal status information.
- In an other class "Accessor", a method "access()" performs some work 
(not locking anything), then logs the status of an object of the class 
Worker by using its getStatus() method.

Now the deadlock scenario is the following.
- A thread "WorkerThread" is executing the method "work()". It has 
acquired the lock for the Worker object and has not reached the logging 
statement yet.
- An other thread "AccessorThread" is executing the method "access()", 
and is executing the logging statement.

AFAIU, logback console logger has some sort of "central" locking point: 
when a thread is logging, an other thread may not log in parallel (that 
seems good as the user does not want his different logging statements to 
be mixed together)... Thus, the following happens.
- AccessorThread has a lock to the Logger, and waits to acquire the 
Worker lock to execute the synchronized block in getStatus().
- WorkerThread is holding that precise lock, and will never release it, 
because arriving at the logging statement in "work()", it starts waiting 
for the Logger lock acquired by AccessorThread. These two threads are 
caught in a deadlock.

I feel the problem comes from not respecting the general rule that a 
block of code holding a lock should not call a method on an externally 
controlled object (possibly shared with other threads) whose locking 
behavior is unknown. (Note that both my code and the logging framework 
do not respect this rule, AFAIK.) So I should not have issued the log 
statement in my synchronized block in "work()". In my case, I can remove 
this logging statement from the synchronized block, but it is not clear 
to me whether it is always possible (or easy) to do so, especially if 
the thing you want to log depends on an internal state which might 
change as soon as you release the lock.

An other way to solve that problem is to not use the parametrized 
message system in SLF4J. Indeed, it would disable the possibility of the 
AccessorThread to try to acquire the lock on Worker while being in the 
SLF4J method.

I am wondering however if there is not a way that slf4j implementation 
(logback) release the lock on its logger, then gets the Worker lock, 
then re-acquire the lock on its logger only after having released the 
Worker lock, so that it has only one lock at a time? I tend to think 
that it would enable a user of the logging framework to pay no attention 
of the deadlock possibilities incurred by the logging framework, and to 
avoid him introducing subtle bugs with logging statements... But I may 
be wrong and I am not an expert in multithread programming.

More generally speaking, what would be the advices from experienced 
programmers to avoid this problem? How do you log in a multithreading 

Also I am wondering if that (anti-)pattern could be documented on the 
logback page, to avoid others to do the same mistake as me? Or even on 
the SLF4J page, if it is not logback-specific?

The attached classes provide a test case showing the deadlock scenario. 
The test fails reliably on my box.

Thank you for any help.

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