29 March 2011
Many programs need to make use of resources that are expensive to create and maintain. Examples of these are database connections and threads. A resource pool provides a good way to manage these resources.
When a client needs to use a database connection, rather than create one itself, it asks the pool to give it one. After the client is done with the connection it returns it to the pool. Often a pool will create a bunch of connections when it starts up. The size of the pool can usually be set through configuration controls and can be adapted depending on how much need there is from clients and the costs of maintaining the resources.
If all the resources are in use when a client requests a new one, there are a couple of different responses. One is to throw an exception, another is to make the client wait until a resource comes available. Often the best response, if possible, is to grow the pool by creating further connections. That way the pool can be set to a low initial size and will grow as needed. If you do this you may need a mechanism to see if many resources are idle and then shrink the pool if the resources are a problem to hold onto. Even with dynamic growing, you will probably still need some limit for the pool's size, at which point you don't want the pool to grow any more.
One problem you often run into with resource pools is clients not handing back the resources - which is a resource leak. A good way of combating that is to set the pool limit to 1 during testing, and configure the pool so that asking for a resource at limit raises an exception. That makes it easier to find the leaky client.
A good source for more information on resource pools is the Pooling pattern in POSA 3