Waiting for background tasks to finish using the CompletableFuture class in Java


In this post we saw how to wait for a number background tasks to finish using the CountDownLatch class. The starting point for the discussion was the following situation:

Imagine that you execute a number of long running methods. Also, let’s say that the very last time consuming process depends on the previous processes, let’s call them prerequisites. The dependence is “sequential” meaning that the final stage should only run if the prerequisites have all completed and returned. The first implementation may very well be sequential where the long running methods are called one after the other and each of them blocks the main thread.

However, in case the prerequisites can be executed independently then there’s a much better solution: we can execute them in parallel instead. Independence in this case means that prerequisite A doesn’t need any return value from prerequisite B in which case parallel execution of A and B is not an option.

In this post we’ll look at an alternative solution using the CompletableFuture class. It is way more versatile than CountDownLatch which is really only sort of like a simple lock object. CompletableFuture offers a wide range of possibilities to organise your threads with a fluent API. Here we’ll start off easy with a simple application of this class.

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Sharing primitives across threads in Java using atomic objects

Threading and parallel execution are popular choices when making applications more responsive and resource-efficient. Various tasks are carried out on separate threads where they either produce some result relevant to the main thread or just run in the background “unnoticed”. Often these tasks work autonomously meaning they have their own set of dependencies and variables. That is they do not interfere with a resource that is common to 2 or more threads.

However, that’s not always the case. Imagine that multiple threads are trying to update the same primitive like an integer counter. They perform some action and then update this counter. In this post we’ll see what can go wrong.

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How to hash passwords with a salt in .NET

In this post we learnt about using hashing in .NET. We also saw one of its basic functions in the same post which is message verification. In this post we saw how hashing coupled with a random key can be used for message authentication.

We also mentioned another common usage of hashing which is password storage. A password should never be stored as clear text in your system. Instead we save its hash value and when a user enters a password in a login field then we compare the hashed values instead of the plain string passwords. However, a simple one-way hash is generally still not good enough.

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Using HMACs to authenticate a hash in .NET

In this post we learnt about using hashing in .NET. Hashes provide a one-way encryption of a message where the hash value ideally cannot be “unhashed”, i.e. we cannot build the original string from it. A hash or message digest helps us verify whether the message has been tampered with by a third party after it was sent to us.

We can take a step further and add an extra layer of security on our hashes. After all a message and its hash could originate from anyone. How can we verify the authenticity of the message as well? That’s where Hashed Message Authentication Codes, also called HashMACs or HMACs enter the picture.

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Hashing messages using various hash algorithms in .NET

A hash of a message can be viewed as its unique identifier. A series of bytes, such as a string, can be converted into hash, also called a message digest. A message digest is also a byte array that can be converted into a base 64 string for better readability. There are various hashing algorithms out there that can calculate the hash of a message. Ideally each algorithm should produce a different digest for each message, i.e. “Hello world” should yield a different hash from what “H3llo world” produces. I.e. a single change in the byte sequence will change the resulting hash. Also, it should be impossible to calculate the original message from a hash. Therefore hashing is a one-way cryptographic operation.

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How to store the asymmetric keys in the Windows key store with C#


In this post we briefly looked through asymmetric encryption in .NET. This encryption type requires two keys as opposed to symmetric encryption where the same key is used for encryption and decryption. In asymmetric encryption we have a public and a private key. The public key can be distributed so that other people can encrypt their messages to us. Then we use our private key to decrypt the ciphertext and read the original message. Therefore we don’t have to worry about the public key getting into the wrong hands. On the other hand asymmetric encryption is significantly slower than symmetric encryption due to the higher mathematical complexity.

In the post referenced above we saw how to store the asymmetric key-pair in an XML string. You can save this string in a file or database for later retrieval. There’s at least one more option for storage which is the cryptographic key store on Windows. We’ll go through how to use it in this post.

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Overview of asymmetric encryption in .NET


Asymmetric encryption is based on a pair of cryptographic keys. One of the keys is public, i.e. anyone can have access to it. The other key is private which should be kept secret. The keys are complementary which means that they go hand in hand, they are not independent of each other. If a value is calculated as the public key then the private key cannot be calculated independently otherwise the encryption process will fail. Normally the public key is used to encrypt a message and the private key is there for the decryption process but they can be used in the opposite direction as well. Asymmetric algorithms are also called Public Key Cryptography.

The most important advantage of asymmetric over symmetric encryption is that we don’t need to worry about distributing the public key. The key used in symmetric encryption must be known to all parties taking part in the encryption/decryption process which increases the chances of the key landing in the wrong hands. With asymmetric encryption we only need to worry about storing the private key, the public key can be freely distributed. For a hacker it is not practical to attempt to calculate the private key based on the public key, that is close to impossible to achieve.

However, asymmetric encryption is a very complex mathematical process which is a lot slower than symmetric encryption. Also, storing the private key can still be problematic.

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