JAVA NIO – Channel

A channel uses ByteBuffer to transfer I/O from source buffers to target buffers. We can pass the data into Buffer, which send to Channel or Channel push the data into Buffer back.

Channels provide direct connection with IO to transport data from OS ByteBuffer and File or Sockets. Channel uses buffers to send and receive data, which is compatible with OS ByteBuffer and minimize the overhead to access the OS’s filesystem.

A channel provides open connection to I/O such as network socket, file etc. to read and write operations. Channel could not directly open but could be open by calling open method on RandomAccessFile, FileInputStream, or FileOutputStream object. A Channel interface provides close method and once channel closed it could not able to reopen and throws exception ClosedChannelException.

Below is the Channel interface

public interface Channel extends Closeable {
public boolean isOpen();
public void close() throws IOException;

Channel interface depends upon operating system native calls provide by OS provider. It provides isOpen () to check is channel is open and close () to close the open channel,

Below diagram shows overall package diagram

JAVA NIO Channel

The InterruptibleChannel interface is marker that could be asynchronously closed and interrupted, means if a thread is blocked in an I/O operation on as interruptible channel then thread may invoke close method asynchronously.

WritableByteChannel interface that extends Channel interface provide write (ByteBuffer src) method to write a sequence of bytes to this channel from the given buffer.

RedableByteChannel interface have read (ByteBuffer) method that reads sequence of bytes from channel into the buffer passed as argument. Only one thread can invoke read operation and if other thread initiate that time it will block until the first operation is complete.

The NIO provide concretes interfaces with various implementation in SPI package which could be change by different provider. SelectableChannel uses Selector to multiplex ByteBuffer. Package java.nio.channels.spi provide implementation of various channel. For instance AbstractInterruptibleChannel and AbstractSelectableChannel, provide the methods needed by channel implementations that are interruptible or selectable, respectively.

A Channel handle communicates with I/O in both direction similar to InputStream and OutputStream. It is capable to handle concurrent write & read, means it doesn’t block I/O to be read or write.

Channels Creations

There are two types of channel File and Sockets. Sockets channels are three types SocketChannel, ServerSocketChannel and DatagramChannel. Channel could be created in several ways for instance socket channels have factory method to create new socket channels whereas FileChannel could be created by calling getChannel () in IO Stream / RandomAccessFile.

SocketChannel socketchannel = );
socketchannel.connect (new InetSocketAddress ("host", someport));
ServerSocketChannel channel = );
ssc.socket( ).bind (new InetSocketAddress (somelocalport));
DatagramChannel channel = );
RandomAccessFile randaccfile = new RandomAccessFile ("file", "r");
FileChannel channel = randaccfile.getChannel( );

Channels could be unidirectional or bidirectional for instance if class implements ReadableByteChannel and WritableByteChannel both then this class will be bidirectional channel but if class implements any one of them then it will be unidirectional channel.


Selector provides capabilities to process single IO operation across multiple buffers. Selector class uses multiplex to merge multiple stream into single stream and DE-multiplex to separate single stream to multiple stream. For example write data is gathered from multiple buffers and sent to Channel.

Selector operation intern call OS native call to fill or drain data directly without directly copying to buffer.

public interface ScatteringByteChannel extends ReadableByteChannel {
public long read(ByteBuffer[] dsts, int offset, int length) throws IOException;
public long read(ByteBuffer[] dsts) throws IOException;

public interface GatheringByteChannel extends WritableByteChannel {
public long write(ByteBuffer[] srcs) throws IOException;
public interface WritableByteChannel extends Channel {
public int write(ByteBuffer src) throws IOException;


JAVA NIO – Buffer

A Buffer is abstract class of java.nio, which contains fixed amount of data. It can store data and later retrieve those data. Buffer has key three properties:

  • Capacity: A buffer’s capacity is the number of elements it contains. It is constant number that doesn’t change
  • Limit: A buffer limits is the index of the first element that should not be read or written. It always less than buffer’s capacity.
  • Position: A buffer position is the index of next element to be read from the buffer.

There is one subclass of this class for each non-boolean primitive type e.g. CharBuffer, IntBuffer etc. Buffer is abstract class that extended by non-Boolean primitive that provide common behavior across the various Buffers as shown below.


A buffer is a linear, finite sequence of elements of a specific primitive type wrapped inside an object. It constitutes date content and information about the data into single object. Data may transfer in to or out of the buffer by the I/O operations by a channel at the specified position. The I/O operation can read and write at the current position and then increment the position by the number of elements transferred. Buffer throws BufferUnderflowException and BufferOverflowException if position exceed while get operation or put operation respectively. The position field of Buffer specified the position to retrieve or insert the data element inside Buffer. Limit fields of Buffer indicates the end of the buffer which can be set using below operation

public final Buffer limit(int newLimit)

We can also drain the buffer by using flip method as below operation

public final Buffer flip()

Flip method set the limit to the current position and position to 0.The rewind () method is similar to flip () but does not affect the limit. It only sets the position back to 0. You can use rewind () to go back and reread the data in a buffer that has already been flipped.

Byte Buffers:

ByteBuffer is similar to OS ByteBuffer that could be mapped to OS’s ByteBuffer without any translation. ByteBuffer uses Byte core unit to read and write IO data, which is more significant, compare to other primitive data type buffers.

Byte buffers can be created either by allocation, which allocates space for the buffer’s content, or by wrapping an existing byte array into a buffer.

ByteBuffer are two type Direct Buffer and Indirect Buffer.

Direct & Indirect Buffers

ByteBuffer are two types Direct Buffer and Indirect Buffers. The key difference between direct buffer and indirect buffer is that direct buffer could directly access native IO calls whereas indirect buffers could not. Direct buffer access file data directly by using native I/O operation to fill or drain byte buffer. Direct buffer is memory consuming but other side it provided most efficient I/O mechanism. It doesn’t copy the buffer’s content to an intermediate buffer or vice versa.

Indirect buffer could also be used to pass the data but it could not directly uses native I/O operation upon it. Indirect buffer indirectly uses temporary direct buffer to access file IO data.

A direct buffer could be created by allocateDirect factory method, which is more expensive, and therefore it is advisable to use direct buffers only when they yield a measureable gain in program performance.

Whether a byte buffer is direct or non-direct may be determined by invoking its isDirect () method. This method is provided so that explicit buffer management can be done in performance-critical code

JAVA NIO – Introduction

Operating System allocates memory to JVM to process its task. In old JDK (>1.4), JVM uses FileSystem API to access file from hard disk which is quite burden to JVM because there is no direct reference between JVM and File inside hard disk. JVM uses Operating System system calls to access file. Operating System stores files into large ByteBuffer, which is quite large compare to byte stream used by JVM. JVM uses extra efforts to convert ByteBuffer to byte stream and vice versa.

So there were two key challenges in existing old JDK

  • It could not access file directly from disk
  • It has to do extra efforts to convert files data to byte stream

Following are the key steps to access Files

  1. Operating System allocate memory to JVM
  2. Client invoke FileSystem to access specific file from OS
  3. JVM make OS system call to access to File data
  4. JVM get OS’s data as ByteBuffer and converts it into Byte Stream

For large file OS uses Virtual Memory to store data outside of RAM. The benefit of Virtual Memory is that it is sharable across multiple processes and hence VM could be accesses by OS and JVM both. From transferring data from OS to VM could be quite fast by using DMA (Direct Memory Access) whereas transferring data from VM to JVM is slow because JVM does extra efforts to break large data buffer to byte stream.

JAVA FileSystem: Java uses FileSystem API to access physical storage inside system. When client try to access a particular file via FileSystem, FileSystem identify storage location and load those disk stores into memory.

File’s data stores into multiple pages and page contain group of block. Kernel establishes mapping between memory pages and filesystem pages.

The Virtual memory read paging content from disk and uses page fault to synchronize the file data to Virtual Memory. Once pageins completed FileSystem read the file contents and its Meta information


JAVA NIO that introduce JDK 1.4 and keep enhancing on newer version improve the I/O operations. It provides new type of buffers such as ByteBuffer, CharBuffer, and IntBuffer etc. that reduce the overhead during transferring data from OS to JVM. Java NIO could be able to map directly from VM to JVM bye using new ByteBuffer. JAVA ByteBuffer is same as OS Byte Buffer that’s why it could be easily mapped from OS Byte Buffer to JVM Byte Buffer so less overhead on data conversion from OS to JVM.


As per above diagram if OS uses VM and JVM use newly NIO interface, it enhances the performance while processing file especially large file. We will also discuss later there are another MappedByteBuffer which have capabilities to directly process the file in VM without transferring data from VM to JVM.