There was an error in this gadget

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Java Introspection and Using Collections without Generics

In my prior article on Generics we looked at how to use Generics to associate at type with data stored in a Collection.

You might wonder why would anyone want to store information in a Collection without its type being preserved. Well, it's possible that you'd want to store many Objects of different types in one collection. In that case, the only parent those types might have in common is java.lang.Object. So using a Generic won't do you any good.

But, once you pull that data back out of the Collection, how do you find out what it was?

Fortunately, the object itself has that information stored with it.

There are two easy ways to find out what it is. instanceof can test if it is a specific type of Object:

if (anObject instanceof String) { aString = (String)anObject); }


You can also have an Object tell you its type:

Class myClass = anObject.getClass();

or

String myClassName = anObject.getClass().getName();


A look at the documentation for Object and Class gives all sorts of useful methods for dealing with classes of data objects in Java.

Here's some sample code:

import java.util.*;

public class NoGenerics2{
// This is an example of using introspection
// to determine types of Objects stored in a
// Collection without a Generic declaration.

public static void main(String[] arg){
ArrayList myList = new ArrayList(); // No Generic declaration.
String myString="Boss Moss";
String yourString="Snorkledorf";

// put the strings into the List
myList.add(myString);
myList.add(yourString);

for (Object anObject: myList){
System.out.println(anObject.getClass().getName());
if (anObject instanceof String){
String aString = (String)anObject;
}
else{
System.out.println("Not a String, Sheriff!");
}
}
}
}
StumbleUpon

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Generics in Java

Generics are an oddly-named thing in Java that associate objects stored in a Collection with a particular type. Let's take a look at a piece of code that uses a Collection to store some Strings. It uses an ArrayList. Here's the code:


import java.util.*;
public class NoGenerics{
// This is an example of what happens
// when you don't declare a class
// for a Collection using Generics.
// It won't compile!

public static void main(String[] arg){
// No Generic declaration.
ArrayList myList = new ArrayList();
String myString="Boss Moss";
String yourString="Snorkledorf";

// put the strings into the ArrayList
myList.add(myString);
myList.add(yourString);

for (String aString: myList){
// We can't do String methods on the items from myList.
if (aString.startsWith("Boss")){
System.out.println(aString + ":");
System.out.println("Make sure you spell it right!");
}
else{
System.out.println(aString + ":");
System.out.println("I am so pretty!");
}
}
}
}

What happens here to upset javac is that once the String is placed in the ArrayList, its type is lost, and it is known only as an Object. To be treated as a String again, it would have to be cast as a String. If any errors are made in casting the data, the program will fail at runtime, not when it is being compiled--when the programmer has it in their hands to fix it.

Feel free to take the above code and try to compile it to see the error you'll get. It is instructive.



The Fix for Lost Types

In Java version 1.5 "Generics" were added to fix this. Now Collections like the ArrayList can associate a type with the data put in them, and the compiler can do type checking. Here's the above code, with the Generic declaration added:


import java.util.*;

public class Generics{
// This is an example of what happens
// when you declare a data class
// for a Collection using Generics.

public static void main(String[] arg){
// Generic declaration.
ArrayList myList = new ArrayList();
String myString="Boss Moss";
String yourString="Snorkledorf";

// put the strings into the ArrayList
myList.add(myString);
myList.add(yourString);

for (String aString: myList){
// Now when we can do String methods on the List items.
if (aString.startsWith("Boss")){
System.out.println(aString + ":");
System.out.println("Make sure you spell it right!");
}
else{
System.out.println(aString + ":");
System.out.println("I am so pretty!");
}
}
}
}

Generics = Typed Collections
So if you are going to use a collection on Objects all of a specific type (rather than mixing and matching), put on a Generic declaration.
StumbleUpon