Vaadin And The Problem of Blocking Dialogs

A blocking dialog is a dialog which blocks the code execution until an answer is obtained from the user. For example, in Swing, it is possible to write a code block which shows a confirm dialog, waits until the user clicked the “Yes” or “No” button, then resumes its execution on confirmation and finishes afterwards. Something akin to the following:

public class TicketPurchasingService {

    public static void purchaseTicketForConcert(String singerOrBand) {
        List<Concert> concerts = getAvailableConcertsFor(singerOrBand);
        Concert soonestConcert = concerts.get(0);
        // Waits for the user to click either the "Yes" or "No" button, then returns 0 for yes, 1 for no, 2 for cancel
        int input = JOptionPane.showConfirmDialog(null, "Soonest concert available: " + soonestConcert + ". Would you like to continue with the purchase?");
        if (input == 0) {
            Purchase purchase = doPurchase(soonestConcert);
            JOptionPane.showMessageDialog(null, "Concert " + soonestConcert + " purchased, thank you. Purchase details: " + purchase);
        } else {
            JOptionPane.showMessageDialog(null, "Please come back again");

Is it actually possible to do such a thing in Vaadin? The answer is no, but actually yes, depending on which JVM you’re running. Read on for more details.

The Problem

All Swing apps have exactly one event loop which processes all UI events - mouse clicks, tracking the mouse cursor as it moves and firing hover events, and so on. All the UI code is called from this event loop, and it is actually forbidden to manipulate UI components from outside the event loop. There is exactly one thread, dedicated to run the event loop; when that thread finishes the app quits.

If the event loop gets blocked in any way (e.g. by a long-running network call, which we can emulate simply by calling Thread.sleep(10000)), Swing app freezes - it won’t respond to any mouse clicks, the windows won’t move, and it will appear completely dead.

The blocking dialog, as its name says, blocks the event loop from the execution. It awaits for the user to press a button before returning e.g. 0 for ‘yes’. That raises a question: if the blocking dialog blocks the event loop, how come that the app still responds to the clicks on the “Yes”/”No” button? The solution of this problem is as follows: the JOptionPane.showConfirmDialog() function runs a nested event loop which processes UI events until one of the buttons gets clicked. That is the reason why the app still responds to events: the event loop is in fact still running, it’s just running temporarily inside the showConfirmDialog() function.

Can we do the same thing with Vaadin?

Blocking Dialogs in Vaadin

Consider the following Vaadin click handler:

public class MyView {
    public MyView() {
        Button deleteButton = new Button("Delete");
        deleteButton.addClickListener(e -> {
            if (confirmDialog("Are you sure?")) {

Is there an implementation of confirmDialog() function that would show a Vaadin Dialog and block until a button is clicked? Well, we know the answer already, so let’s focus on the ‘no’ part first.

The above code can not be implemented with the regular thread-based approach. The problem here is as follows: assume that confirmDialog() function blocks the Vaadin UI thread to wait for the user to click the “Yes” or “No” button. However, in order for the dialog to be actually drawn in the browser, the Vaadin UI thread must finish and must produce a response for the browser. But the Vaadin UI thread can’t finish since it’s blocked in the confirmDialog() function.

This is a fundamental problem of all web frameworks, not just of Vaadin. For more information on how ‘event loops’ work in server UI frameworks, please read Event Loop (Session Lock) in Vaadin.

But Actually Yes

So, what dark magic are we using to solve the problem above? The answer is the Java 20 Virtual Threads, or The Project Loom. Project Loom introduces the concept of a virtual thread, which differs from the good old native OS thread in a way that it can suspend. When a code running in a virtual thread calls a blocking function, its execution is paused, it will store the current call stack and will lie dormant until the function unblocks. The call stack is then restored and the code resumes execution as if nothing special happened.

This of course needs a lot of support from the JVM itself. If you’re interested, there’s a very well written Oracle article on virtual threads which describes in layman terms:

  • how the virtual thread execution suspends and unmounts from the carrier thread (fancy term for the good old native OS thread)
  • how the JVM awaits until the blocking call ends,
  • how the JVM mounts the virtual thread back on a ‘carrier thread’ (not necessarily the same thread as before) and continues execution.

That creates an illusion of a blocking code, but the code is no longer really blocking - it’s lying around dormant in the heap until unblocked.

Virtual threads preserve the ThreadLocal values and also the value of UI.getCurrent() even after the unmount+mount procedure, which tells us that we could use it to run Vaadin UI code.

To get back to the blocking dialogs: we could use this machinery to unmount the virtual thread from within the confirmDialog() function. That would allow the native thread running Vaadin UI code to finish and send the response to the browser, thus drawing the dialog, which is exactly what we need! We can use CompletableFuture.get() to block; after the user clicks a button, we can simply complete the Future which causes the CompletableFuture.get() call to unblock, mount the dormant virtual thread to the Vaadin UI thread and continue execution.

The function will look like follows:

public class Dialogs {
    public static boolean confirmDialog(@NotNull String message) {
        final CompletableFuture<Boolean> responseFuture = new CompletableFuture<>();
        final ConfirmDialog dialog = new ConfirmDialog();
        dialog.addConfirmListener(e -> responseFuture.complete(true));
        dialog.addCancelListener(e -> responseFuture.complete(false));;

        // this is where we'll block until the user clicks a button in the dialog
        final boolean response = responseQueue.get();
        return response;

The question is: how can we persuade the virtual thread mechanism to only use Vaadin UI threads as the carrier threads?

Unwinding The Magic

The whole magic happens in the VirtualThread class. The source code of that class gets very technical quickly, and so I won’t dig into it further. The virtual thread suspending mechanism uses Continuation.park() to unmount the thread and remember the call stack in a continuation object; Continuation.unpark() then resumes the execution. Virtual threads are constructed via the Thread.ofVirtual().factory() factory (of type ThreadFactory), and they behave exactly like regular threads until they’re blocked. The default factory uses a dedicated Executor (a ForkJoinPool really, but the difference is not important for this article) which runs tasks in good old native threads. The Executor basically runs a chunk of the virtual thread execution, up to a point where the virtual thread blocks.

Now we need two things:

  • Create an Executor which runs tasks in the Vaadin UI thread,
  • Pass that Executor into the virtual thread factory.

The first item is easy. The Executor is an interface with just one method: Executor.execute(Runnable). It’s trivial to create an Executor which simply runs all submitted tasks in ui.access():

private class UIExecutor implements Executor {
    private final UI ui;

    public UIExecutor(UI ui) {
        this.ui = ui;

    public void execute(Runnable command) {
        ui.access((Command) command::run);

The latter item is a bit tricky. The virtual thread factory is implemented by the java.lang.ThreadBuilders$VirtualThreadBuilder class which is not part of the public API. It introduces a constructor which accepts an Executor but the constructor is also not public. That’s not a problem though: we’ll use a bit of reflection to create the builder.

Please see the Vaadin Loom example project for more details:

  • The SuspendingExecutor class runs submitted tasks in virtual threads, on given executor;
  • VaadinSuspendingExecutor class uses the class above, while running the continuations in the Vaadin UI thread.


The Kotlin language offers a solution that works on any JVM version, even on old JVM 8. The mechanism used is the Kotlin Coroutines. With this approach it’s the kotlin compiler (rather than the JVM runtime) who will break the code down into separate code chunks. Basically, the code is transformed into a bunch of callbacks by the compiler; a state machine with the ‘runNext()’ method is created, which then keeps track which callback (or continuation) goes next.

There is an inherent problem with this solution though: this solution doesn’t work with Thread.sleep() and the regular Java blocking calls - you’ll have to use their suspending counterparts. Please find more in the Kotlin Coroutines documentation.

Written on January 12, 2023