New I/O

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New I/O or Non-blocking I/O, usually called NIO, is a collection of Java programming language APIs that offer features for intensive I/O operations. It was introduced with the J2SE 1.4 release of Java by Sun Microsystems to complement an existing standard I/O. NIO was developed under the Java Community Process as JSR 51.[1] As of 2006, an extension to NIO, called NIO2, is being developed under JSR 203; JSR 203 is scheduled to be included in Java SE 7 ("Dolphin").[2]


Features and organization

The APIs of NIO were designed to provide access to the low-level I/O operations of modern operating systems. Although the APIs are themselves relatively high-level, the intent is to facilitate an implementation that can directly use the most efficient operations of the underlying platform.

The Java NIO APIs are provided in the Template:Javadoc:SE package and its subpackages. The documentation by Sun Microsystems identifies these features.

NIO buffers

NIO data transfer is based on buffers (Template:Javadoc:SE and related classes). These classes represent a contiguous extent of memory, together with a small number of data transfer operations. Although theoretically these are general-purpose data structures, the implementation may select memory for alignment or paging characteristics, which are not otherwise accessible in Java. Typically, this would be used to allow the buffer contents to occupy the same physical memory used by the underlying operating system for its native I/O operations, thus allowing the most direct transfer mechanism, and eliminating the need for any additional copying. In most operating systems, provided the particular area of memory has the right properties, transfer can take place without using the CPU at all. The NIO buffer is intentionally limited in features in order to support these goals.

There are buffer classes for all of Java's primitive types except boolean, which can share memory with byte buffers and allow arbitrary interpretation of the underlying bytes.


NIO buffers maintain several pointers that dictate the function of its accessor methods. The NIO buffer implementation contains a rich set of methods for modifying these pointers:

  • The flip() method, rather than performing a "flip" or paging function in the canonical sense, moves the position pointer to the origin of the underlying array (if any) and the limit pointer to the former position of the position pointer.
  • Three get() methods are supplied for transferring data out of a NIO buffer. The bulk implementation, rather than performing a "get" in the traditional sense, "puts" the data into a specified array. The "offset" argument supplied to this method refers not to the offset from within the buffer from which to read, nor an offset from the position pointer, but rather the offset from 0 within the target array.
  • Unless using the absolute get() and put() methods, any get() or put() is conducted from the position pointer. Should one need to read from a different position within the underlying array, whilst not adjusting the writing position, the mark() and reset() methods have been supplied.
  • The mark() method effectively stores the position of the position pointer by setting the mark pointer to the position of the position pointer. The reset() method causes the position pointer to move to the mark pointer's position.
  • It should be noted that upon invocation of the clear() method or the flip() method the mark pointer is discarded.
  • It should be noted that the clear() method does not ensure zero-ing of the buffer, but does return the limit pointer to the upper boundary of the underlying array, and the position pointer to zero.
  • put() and get() operations for NIO buffers are not thread safe.
  • You can only map() a Template:Javadoc:SE from a Template:Javadoc:SE up to Integer.MAX_VALUE in size (2GiB); regions beyond this limit can be accessed using an offset greater than zero.


Channels (classes implementing the interface Template:Javadoc:SE) are designed to provide for bulk data transfers to and from NIO buffers. This is a low-level data transfer mechanism that exists in parallel with the classes of the higher-level I/O library (packages Template:Javadoc:SE and Template:Javadoc:SE). A channel implementation can be obtained from a high-level data transfer class such as Template:Javadoc:SE, Template:Javadoc:SE, or Template:Javadoc:SE, and vice versa. Channels are analogous to "file descriptors" found in Unix-like operating systems.

File channels (Template:Javadoc:SE) can use arbitrary buffers but can also establish a buffer directly mapped to file contents using memory-mapped I/O. They can also interact with file system locks. Similarly, socket channels (Template:Javadoc:SE and Template:Javadoc:SE) allow for data transfer between sockets and NIO buffers.

FileChannel can be used to do a file copy, which is potentially far more efficient than using old read/write with a byte array. The typical code for this is:

 // Getting file channels
 FileChannel in = new FileInputStream(source).getChannel();
 FileChannel out = new FileOutputStream(target).getChannel();
 // JavaVM does its best to do this as native I/O operations.
 in.transferTo (0, in.size(), out);
 // Closing file channels will close corresponding stream objects as well.


A selector (Template:Javadoc:SE and subclasses) provides a mechanism for waiting on channels and recognizing when one or more become available for data transfer. When a number of channels are registered with the selector, it enables blocking of the program flow until at least one channel is ready for use, or until an interruption condition occurs.

Although this multiplexing behavior could be implemented with Java threads, the selector can provide a significantly more efficient implementation[citation needed] using native platform threads or, more likely, even lower-level operating system constructs. A POSIX-compliant operating system, for example, would have direct representations of these concepts, select(). A notable application of this design would be the common paradigm in server software which involves simultaneously waiting for responses on a number of sessions.

Character sets

In Java, a character set is a mapping between Unicode characters (or a subset of them) and bytes. The Template:Javadoc:SE package of NIO provides facilities for identifying character sets and providing encoding and decoding algorithms for new mappings.

Regular expressions

The regular expression library in the java.util.regex package provides a powerful search facility for character data based on regular expression matching.

The following example was adopted from the NIO API guide examples, where there are more examples.

 import java.nio.*;
 import java.nio.channels.*;
 import java.nio.charset.*;
 import java.util.regex.*;
 public class Grep {
     // Charset and decoder for ISO-8859-15
     private static Charset charset = Charset.forName("ISO-8859-15");
     private static CharsetDecoder decoder = charset.newDecoder();
     // Pattern used to parse lines
     private static Pattern linePattern = Pattern.compile(".*\r?\n");
     // The input pattern that we're looking for
     private static Pattern pattern;
     // Compile the pattern from the command line
     private static void compile(String pat) {
         try {
             pattern = Pattern.compile(pat);
         } catch (PatternSyntaxException x) {
     // Use the linePattern to break the given CharBuffer into lines, applying
     // the input pattern to each line to see if we have a match
     private static void grep(File f, CharBuffer cb) {
         Matcher lm = linePattern.matcher(cb);  // Line matcher
         Matcher pm = null;                     // Pattern matcher
         int lines = 0;
         while (lm.find()) {
             CharSequence cs =;      // The current line
             if (pm == null)
                 pm = pattern.matcher(cs);
             if (pm.find())
                 System.out.print(f + ":" + lines + ":" + cs);
             if (lm.end() == cb.limit())
     // Search for occurrences of the input pattern in the given file
     private static void grep(File f) throws IOException {
         // Open the file and then get a channel from the stream
         FileInputStream fis = new FileInputStream(f);
         FileChannel fc = fis.getChannel();
         // Get the file's size and then map it into memory
         int sz = (int)fc.size();
         MappedByteBuffer bb =, 0, sz);
         // Decode the file into a char buffer
         CharBuffer cb = decoder.decode(bb);
         // Perform the search
         grep(f, cb);
         // Close the channel and the stream
     public static void main(String[] args) {
         if (args.length < 2) {
             System.err.println("Usage: java Grep pattern file...");
         for (int i = 1; i < args.length; i++) {
             File f = new File(args[i]);
             try {
             } catch (IOException x) {
                 System.err.println(f + ": " + x);

JDK 7 and NIO.2

JDK 7 includes a package java.nio.file package which, with the class (also new to JDK 7), among other features, provides extended capabilities for filesystem tasks, e.g. can work with symbolic/hard links and dump big directory listings into buffers more quickly than the old File class does.


  1. "JSR 51: New I/O APIs for the JavaTM Platform". The Java Community Process(SM) Program - JSRs: Java Specification Requests. Retrieved 2009-05-23. 
  2. "This JSR will be delivered as part of Java SE 7 "Dolphin"." "JSR 203: More New I/O APIs for the JavaTM Platform ("NIO.2")". The Java Community Process(SM) Program - JSRs: Java Specification Requests. 2006-01-30. Retrieved 2009-05-23. 

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