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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).

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By: O'Reilly Media
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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 - Using Type Wildcards
(Page 8 of 10 )

So now you’ve got generic types figured out, and even understand all the unchecked warnings your code is generating. Still, here are times when you really do want a plain old List, or Map, or whatever, without parameterization. This is going to result in unchecked errors, unless you employ the generics wildcard.

While I’m sure
plenty of folks
disagree, I think production code
shouldn’t issue warnings.

How do I do that?

To illustrate the problem, here’s a really simple method that prints out all the members of a List:

  public void printList(List list, PrintStream out) throws IOException {
    for (Iterator i = list.iterator(); i.hasNext( ); ){

Since writing this,
later versions of
the compiler don’t
throw warnings
here. Still, it
makes a good
point, so I’ve left
it in for you.

The problem is that this generates unchecked warnings, something you
should avoid whenever possible. What you’re really saying, though, is
that printList() takes any List. This is where the wildcard operator
comes in, which for generics is a question mark (?). Make the following

  public void printList(List<?> list, PrintStream out) throws IOException {
    for (Iterator<?> i = list.iterator(); i.hasNext( ); ) {

You’ve now expressed in syntax what you meant—any type is acceptable, and the unchecked warnings go away.

What about…

…using List<Object> to get around this same problem? You might want to review “Generics and Type Conversions,” and see if you really want to do that. A List<Integer> cannot be passed to a method that takes a List<Object>, remember? So your printList() method would be limited to collections defined as List<Object>, which isn’t much use at all. In these cases, the wildcard really is the only viable solution.

You should also be thinking about the declaration of methods in classes like this:

  public interface List<E> {
    public E get();
    public void add(E value);

You would read
this as a “list of

Since you’ve declared the list as a List<?>, get() now returns an Object, which is as close to “unknown” as Java gets. At the same type, this is very different from a List<Object>, which can only work with Objects. Where things get even odder is for the add() and other methods that take a parameter that matches the type of the collection. Since the compiler cannot check to ensure type-safety, it rejects any call to add(), addAll(), and set() for a List<?>. In other words, supplying the wildcard to a generic type effectively makes it read-only.

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