Core Java

CopyOnWriteArrayList In Java


CopyOnWriteArrayList in Java is a thread-safe implementation of a List interface. It belongs to the java.util.concurrent package and is an enhanced version of ArrayList implementation.

As the name suggests, CopyOnWriteArrayList creates a cloned internal copy of the underlying ArrayList for each add() or set() operations. Due to this additional overhead cost, we should ideally use a CopyOnWriteArrayList only when we have very frequent read operations and not many insertions or updations.

Constructing a CopyOnWriteArrayList:

We can use one of the following constructors to create a CopyOnWriteArrayList:

  • CopyOnWriteArrayList(): creates an empty list
  • CopyOnWriteArrayList(Collection c): creates a list initialized with all the elements in c
  • CopyOnWriteArrayList(Object[] obj): creates a list holding a copy of given array obj

Let’s see a few examples:

CopyOnWriteArrayList<String> emptyList 
  = new CopyOnWriteArrayList<>(); //[]


CopyOnWriteArrayList<String> listUsingCollection =
  new CopyOnWriteArrayList<>(list); //["A"]

CopyOnWriteArrayList<String> listUsingArr = 
  new CopyOnWriteArrayList<>(new String[] {"A", "B"}); //["A", "B"]

Just like an ArrayList, it provides implementations for all the methods of the List interface. We can read more about ArrayList here.

Insertion And Iteration Over a CopyOnWriteArrayList:

As we know, Iterator of ArrayList is fail-fast i.e. it will throw a ConcurrentModificationException when it detects any modification in the list once the iterator is instantiated.

The CopyOnWriteArrayList has a fail-safe iterator and doesn’t throw an exception even when we modify the list during its iteration. This is because the iterator is operating over a cloned internal copy of the original list.

However, any modifications made later to the list won’t be visible to the already instantiated iterator.

Let’s try that out-

Let’s say we have an instance of CopyOnWriteArrayList which currently holds two elements:

CopyOnWriteArrayList<String> list = 
  new CopyOnWriteArrayList<>(new String[] {"A", "B"});

Now let’s get an Iterator instance for us to be able to iterate over its elements:

Iterator itr = list.iterator();

After we have created an Iterator instance, let’s now add one more element to our list:

list.add("C"); //doesn't throw an exception

Now, let’s iterator through the elements of our list using itr, we created previously:

while(itr.hasNext()) {
    System.out.print( + " ");

The above code will print:


As expected, itr doesn’t reflect the current state of the list and only prints “A” and “B” as its elements. However, if we create a new instance of an iterator, it will then represent the exact current state of the list.

Removal And Iteration Over a CopyOnWriteArrayList:

The CopyOnWriteArrayList’s Iterator doesn’t support remove() operation. Any attempt to do so will result in an UnsupportedOperationException:

@Test(expected = UnsupportedOperationException.class)
public void iterationAndRemoval() {
    CopyOnWriteArrayList<String> list
      = new CopyOnWriteArrayList<>(new String[]{"A", "B"});
    Iterator<String> itr = list.iterator();
    while (itr.hasNext()) {

ArrayList vs CopyOnWriteArrayList:

Let’s review the differences between the Java ArrayList and CopyOnWriteArrayList classes:

Belongs to java.util package and is not thread-safeIs a thread-safe implementation and is present in the java.util.concurrent packages
Has a fail-fast Iterator which throws a ConcurrentModificationException when it detects any modification once the iteration startsHas a fail-safe iterator as the iterator holds a cloned copy of the list
Iterator supports remove() operationIts Iterator doesn't supports remove() and throws UnsupportedOperationException for any attempt to do so


In this tutorial, we learned about a thread-safe implementation of Java List – the CopyOnWriteArrayList. We also covered the difference between the ArrayList and CopyOnWriteArrayList.

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