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Generics of Java 1.5 Tiger

The generics feature of Tiger brings greater type safety to Java, allowing developers to do many things they could not do before. Generics bear on a number of other features specific to Tiger. This article introduces you to generics, and what they can do. It is excerpted from chapter two of Java 1.5 Tiger: A Developer's Notebook, written by Brett McLaughlin and David Flanagan (O'Reilly, 2004; ISBN: 0596007388).

Author Info:
By: O'Reilly Media
Rating: 4 stars4 stars4 stars4 stars4 stars / 25
May 26, 2005
  1. · Generics of Java 1.5 Tiger
  2. · Using Type-Safe Maps
  3. · Iterating Over Parameterized Types
  4. · Accepting Parameterized Types as Arguments
  5. · Returning Parameterized Types
  6. · Checking for Lint
  7. · Generics and Type Conversions
  8. · Using Type Wildcards
  9. · Writing Generic Types
  10. · Restricting Type Parameters

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Generics of Java 1.5 Tiger
(Page 1 of 10 )

Without any further ado, I’m going to dive right into the deep end of the pool. More than any other feature, Tiger (or whatever version it ends up being labeled as) brings to the table generics. While the name might throw you, generics actually bring a greater degree of type safety to Java than anything you could imagine. It’s finally possible to create parameterized types, lists that only accept Strings, and ditch all that annoying class-casting code. Even better, you can limit types that your custom classes and methods accept, removing a huge amount of tedious error-checking and type-checking code.

Additionally, generics are foundational to many of the other features specific to Tiger. Generics have a bearing on varargs, annotations, enumerations, collections, and even some of the new concurrency utilities of the language. While you may want to browse through other parts of this book, you’d do well to take your time and really work through this chapter, lab by lab. There, that’s enough introduction for a few chapters—let’s get to it.

Using Type-Safe Lists 

One of Java’s greatest strengths is its typing. Everything is an object, and, in fact, every class either explicitly or implicitly descends from Object. This provides a tremendous amount of type-safety—your methods can take Integers, Strings, Lists, Maps, or your own custom objects as parameters, and know at the outset what they’ll have to work with.

With all this type-safety, Java has a gaping hole that Tiger finally fills— the ability to create type-safe arrays and lists, ensuring that collections of objects only allow for a certain type to be inserted.

      In this chapter:

  • Using Type-Safe Lists
  • Using Type-Safe Maps
  • Iterating Over
  • Accepting Parameterized
    Types as
  • Returning
  •  Using Parameterized
    Types as Type Parameters
  • Checking for Lint
  • Generics and
    Type Conversions
  • Using TypeWildcards
  • Writing GenericTypes
  • Restricting Type Parameters

How do I do that?

One of the most annoying tasks in Java is having to cast objects pulled out of a List, when you already know what’s in the List (such as when you fill it yourself, or a trusted source handles populating it):

  List listOfStrings = getListOfStrings();
  for (Iterator i = listOfStrings.iterator(); i.hasNext(); ) {
  String item = (String)i.next();
  // Work with that string }

Remove that cast, though—pull out (String)—and you’ll get a compiler error:

  [javac] Compiling 1 source file to code\classes
  [javac] code\src\com\oreilly\tiger\ch02\GenericsTester.java:17:
            incompatible types
  [javac] found : java.lang.Object
  [javac] required: java.lang.String
  [javac] String item = i.next();
  [javac] Note: code\src\com\oreilly\tiger\ch02\GenericsTester.java uses
            unchecked or unsafe operations.
  [javac] Note: Recompile with -Xlint:unchecked for details.
  [javac] 1 error

This particular
code sample is in

No matter how much you trust the getListOfStrings() method, the compiler doesn’t trust it one bit. It assumes the worst, and if you’ve ever had anyone else work with you, you realize the compiler is often right more than you are.

Generics let you finally get around this, by limiting the type that a particular List will accept:

  List<String> listOfStrings;

Here, and in
other output
dumps, I’ve made
slight formatting
changes to fit
things on the
printed page.

While this syntax probably looks pretty odd, it does the trick— listOfStrings can now only be populated with String instances. You also need to assign it an instance that only accepts the same type:

  List<String> listOfStrings = new LinkedList<String>();

I realize that the syntax just gets weirder, but that’s what you have to work with. Angle brackets everywhere! Now you can add Strings to this List, but you cannot add any other type:

  List<String> onlyStrings = new LinkedList<String>();
  onlyStrings.add("Legal addition");
  onlyStrings.add(new StringBuilder("Illegal Addition"));

The compiler will let you know about the problem:

  [javac] code\src\com\oreilly\tiger\ch02\GenericsTester.java:24:
              cannot find symbol
  [javac] symbol : method add(java.lang.StringBuilder)
  [javac] location: interface java.util.List<java.lang.String>
  [javac]    onlyStrings.add(new StringBuilder("Illegal Addition"));
  [javac] src\com\oreilly\tiger\ch02\GenericsTester.java:25: cannot find symbol
  [javac] symbol : method add(int)
  [javac] location: interface java.util.List<java.lang.String>
  [javac]     onlyStrings.add(25);
  [javac] Note: code\src\com\oreilly\tiger\ch02\GenericsTester.java uses
              unchecked or unsafe operations.
  [javac] Note: Recompile with -Xlint:unchecked for details.
  [javac] 2 errors

What just happened?

In pre-Tiger versions of Java, the method signature for add() in List looked like this:

  public boolean add(Object obj);

In Tiger, though, things have changed:

  public boolean add(E o);

Before you go looking up E in Javadoc, though, it’s just a placeholder. It indicates that this method declares a type variable (E) and can be parameterized. The entire List class is generic:

  public interface List<E> extends Collection, Iterable {

There’s that E again. When you supply a type in the initialization of a List, you parameterize the type—you indicate what type its parameters can accept:

  List<String> onlyStrings = new LinkedList<String>();

One way to understand this is to imagine that the compiler replaces every occurrence of E with the type you supplied—in this case, a String. Of course, this is just done for this particular instance of List. You can have multiple Lists, all with different types, and all in the same program block.

The end result of all this is that onlyStrings no longer has a method add(Object obj); it only has add(String o). So, when the compiler sees add() with anything other than a String parameter, it kicks out an error. This is the power of generics, and parameterized types—they provide built-in type safety for your collection types.

What about...

...lists of primitive types? The types that are allowed by Lists (and other collection classes) are all objects; as a result, they don’t work with primitive values. The introduction of generics, despite all of its wonder and magic, doesn’t change this. So the following won’t compile:

  List<int> list = new LinkedList<int>();

However, this will:

  List<Integer> list = new LinkedList<Integer>();

If you’re thinking that now you’ve got to do all sorts of annoying conversion between int and Integer, that’s just because you haven’t made it to Chapter 4 yet. In that chapter, you’ll see that autoboxing makes this a particularly useful way to deal with primitives.

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