Multithread Issues in BB7 Cordova

I’ve come across several instances where developers don’t really understand how to do multithread programming properly. While it’s fairly easy to put together a mobile app with prototype quality that looks the part, if things are not done properly you can get into some pretty nasty stability issues. My post on reference counting on iOS is an attempt to share some of that knowledge.’s iOS app suffered random crashes due to memory leak in its early days until I fixed it. This post will examine BlackBerry 7’s Cordova implementation and some of the issues I came across.

The Problem

While using Cordova to build BB7 app, I was able to get the app functionally working but I kept having stability issues. The app would use the file system and save files to it. However, once in a while I would find that the directory I’m saving to becomes locked and cannot be deleted even though I’m no longer using it. The directory remains locked until I pull the battery and reboot.

Multithread Issue

The symptom points to resources not being properly freed up. At first I didn’t know what’s wrong and blamed the issue on the crappy BlackBerry OS. However, as I examined Cordova source code, it became clear that the root cause is due to Cordova not freeing things properly in multithread situation.

First, the way Cordova on BB7 execute plugin functions is by creating a new thread to do the work in, and later call back to javascript engine with results. You can see this in the file inside invoke():

if (async) {
    // Run this async on a background thread so that JavaScript can continue on
    Thread thread = new Thread(new Runnable() {
        public void run() {
            // Cordova does stuff in native code
            // Calls plugin's execute()

This should be similar to how Node.js works. It’s restricted in that the javascript engine must be single-threaded and you need to do serialization/deserialization to communicate. There’s no problem with this, the real issue arises due to Cordova plugin’s lack of proper cleanup.

For example, the FileTransfer plugin will perform download() inside the newly created thread and open a bunch of file handles:

private PluginResult download(String source, String target) {
    HttpConnection httpConn = null;
    FileConnection fileConn = null;

    // Do stuff

    try {

    catch (Throwable t) {
        // ...
    finally {
        if (httpConn != null) {
        if (outputStream != null) {
        if (fileConn != null) {

This might seem right by itself. Any opened file handle should be freed up in the finally clause. However, one needs to remember that this download() function is invoked by plugin’s execute() function, which is invoked inside the newly created thread.

Below is Cordova’s application termination sequence:

exitApp:function() {
    // Call onunload if it is defined since BlackBerry does not invoke
    // on application exit.
    if (typeof window.onunload === "function") {

    // allow Cordova JavaScript Extension opportunity to cleanup

    // exit the app;

The manager.destroy() call will go through each plugin and allow the plugin to finish what it needs to do. However, the plugins don’t properly clean up after themselves in this situation. The destroy() call doesn’t wait for any in-progress threads to exit or finish, the threads get interrupted and the finally clause becomes useless thus leading to intermittent issue with file locking.

Fixing It

I’m unfortunately not as familiar with Java’s way of doing things, but in C++ and Win32 world you typically will solve this issue by using events and signal the thread to exit early. My attempt to fix the issue in Cordova is by checking isAlive() on the created threads and “signal” them to exit cleanly by using a volatile boolean.

Here’s a link that explains the volatile keyword usage. The page has an example how signaling a thread to exit early which I replicated below:

public class StoppableTask extends Thread {
  private volatile boolean pleaseStop;

  public void run() {
    while (!pleaseStop) {
      // do some stuff...

  public void tellMeToStop() {
    pleaseStop = true;

The way I fixed the file locking issue is by modifying destroy to do something like the following:

public void destroy() {
    // Set the volatile boolean so that all threads will see this signaling to
    // exit
    pleaseStop = true;
    if (thread.isActive()) {
        // Give running threads a chance to exit cleanly

There’s more to the fix than what I showed above, but that’s the gist of it. Whenever you create a new thread, think about the ending condition. Kind of like whenever you start writing a recursive function, you think about the ending condition. You can’t do without it otherwise you’re bound to hit random issues that are hard to reproduce because of timing.