Virtual Threads, introduced in Java 19, are supported in Jetty 12, as they have been in Jetty 10 and Jetty 11 since 10.0.12 and 11.0.12, respectively.
When virtual threads are supported by the JVM and enabled in Jetty (see embedded usage and standalone usage), applications are invoked using a virtual thread, which allows them to use simple blocking APIs, but with the scalability benefits of virtual threads.
Historically, the APIs provided to application developers, especially web application developers, were blocking APIs based on
OutputStream, or based on JDBC.
These APIs are very simple to use, so applications are simple to develop, understand and troubleshoot.
However, these APIs come with a cost: when a thread blocks, typically waiting for I/O or a contended lock, all the resources associated with that thread are retained, waiting for the thread to unblock and continue processing: the native thread and its native memory are retained, as well as network buffers, lock structures, etc.
This means that blocking APIs are less scalable because they retain the resources they use.
For example, if you have configured your server thread pool with 256 threads, and all are blocked, your server cannot process other requests until one of the blocked threads unblocks, limiting the server’s scalability.
Furthermore, if you increase the server thread pool capacity, you will use more memory and likely require bigger hardware.
For these reasons, non-blocking asynchronous and reactive APIs have been introduced. The primary examples are the asynchronous I/O APIs introduced in Servlet 3.1 and reactive APIs provided by libraries such as RxJava and Spring’s Project Reactor, based on Reactive Streams.
Unfortunately, REST APIs such as JAX-RS or Jakarta RESTful Web Services have not been (fully) updated with non-blocking APIs, so web applications that use REST are stuck with blocking APIs and scalability problems.
Essential to note is that asynchronous and reactive APIs are more difficult to use, understand, and troubleshoot than blocking APIs, but are more scalable and typically achieve similar performances at a fraction of the resources. We have seen web applications that, when switched from blocking APIs to non-blocking APIs, reduced the threads usage from 1000+ to 10+.
Virtual threads aim to be the best of both worlds: simple-to-use blocking APIs for developers, with the scalability of non-blocking APIs provided by the JVM.
Jetty 12 Architecture
The Jetty 12 architecture, at its core, is completely non-blocking and uses an
AdaptiveExecutionStrategy (formerly known as “eat what you kill” which was covered in previous blogs here and here) to determine how to consume tasks.
The key feature of
AdaptiveExecutionStrategy is that it has a strong preference for consuming tasks in the same thread that produces them, so they are executed with a hot CPU cache, without parallel slowdown and no context-switch latency, yet avoids the risk of the server exhausting its thread pool.
Simplifying a bit, each task is marked either as blocking or non-blocking;
AdaptiveExecutionStrategy looks at the task and at how many threads are available to decide how to consume the task.
If the task is non-blocking, the current thread runs it immediately.
Otherwise, if no other threads are available to continue producing tasks, the current thread takes over the production of tasks and gives the tasks to an Executor, where they are likely queued and executed later by different threads.
Virtual Threads Integration
This architecture made it easy to integrate virtual threads in Jetty: when virtual threads are supported by the JVM and Jetty’s virtual threads support is enabled (see embedded usage and standalone usage),
AdaptiveExecutionStrategy consumes a blocking task by offering the task to the virtual thread
Executor rather than the native thread
Executor, so that a newly spawned virtual thread runs the blocking task.
As a Servlet Container implementation, Jetty calls Servlets assuming they will use blocking APIs, so the task that invokes the Servlet is a blocking task.
When virtual threads are supported and enabled, the thread that calls Servlet Filters and eventually the
HttpServlet.service(...) method is a virtual thread.
For non-blocking tasks, it is more efficient to have them run by the same native thread that created them; it is only for blocking tasks that you may want to use virtual threads.
AdaptiveExecutionStrategy allows the best of all worlds.
Jetty provides a fast scalable asynchronous implementation, which avoids any possible limitations of virtual threads, whilst giving applications the full benefits of virtual threads.
Jetty deals with complex asynchronous concerns, so you don’t have to!