Substitutes for Missing C Constructs

   

Books Index


Introduction | Substitutes for Missing C Constructs

The Java programming language shares many similarities with the C programming language, but several C constructs have been omitted from the Java language. In most cases, it's obvious why a C construct was omitted and how to make do without it. This chapter suggests replacements for several omitted C constructs whose replacements are not so obvious.

The common thread that connects the items in this chapter is that all of the omitted constructs are data-oriented rather than object-oriented. The Java programming language provides a rich and powerful type system, and the suggested replacements all take full advantage of that type system to deliver a higher quality abstraction than the C construct they replace.

Note: Even if you choose to skip this chapter, it's probably worth reading See Replace Enums with Classes, which discusses the typesafe enum pattern, a replacement for C's enum construct. This pattern is not widely known at the time of this writing, and it has several advantages over the methods currently in common use.

Replace Structs and Typedefs With Classes

The C struct and typedef constructs were omitted from the Java programming language because a class does everything these constructs do and more. A struct merely groups multiple data fields into a single object; a class associates operations with the resulting object and allows the data fields to be hidden from users of the object. In other words, a class can encapsulate its data into an object that is accessed solely by its methods, allowing the implementor the freedom to change the representation over time.

Upon first exposure to the Java programming language, some C programmers believe that classes are too heavyweight to replace structs under some circumstances, but this is not the case. Degenerate classes consisting solely of data fields are nearly equivalent to C structs in every respect:

// Degenerate classes like this should never be public!
class Point {
    public float x;
    public float y;
}

Because such classes are accessed by their data fields, they do not offer the benefits of encapsulation. Hard-line object-oriented programmers feel that such classes are anathema, and should always be replaced by classes with private fields and public access methods:

class Point {
    private float x;
    private float y;

    public Point(float x, float y) {
        this.x = x;
        this.y = y;
    }

    public float getX() { return x; }
    public float getY() { return y; }

    public void setX(float x) { this.x = x; }
    public void setY(float y) { this.y = y; }
}

Go to Top

Certainly, the hard-liners are correct when it comes to public classes: if a class is accessible outside the confines of its package, the prudent programmer will provide access methods so as to preserve the flexibility to change the class's internal representation. If a public class were to expose its data fields, all hope of changing the representation would be lost, as client code for public classes can be distributed all over the known universe.

If, however, a class is package-private, or it is a private nested class, there is nothing inherently wrong with directly exposing its data fields, assuming they really do describe the abstraction provided by the class. This approach generates less visual clutter than the access method approach, both in the class definition and in the client code that uses the class. While the client code is tied to the internal representation of the class, this code is restricted to the package that contains the class. In the unlikely event that a change in representation becomes desirable, it is possible to effect the change without touching any code outside the package. In the case of a private nested class, the scope of the change is further restricted to the enclosing class.

Replace Unions with Class Hierarchies

The C union construct is most frequently used to define structs that are capable of holding more than one type of data. Such a struct typically contains at least two fields: a union and a tag. The tag is just an ordinary field that is used to indicate which of the possible types is held by the union. The tag is generally of some enum type created for the purpose. A struct containing a union and a tag is sometimes called a discriminated union.

In the C example below, the shape_t type is a discriminated union that can be used to represent either a rectangle or a circle. The area function takes a pointer to a shape_t struct and returns its area, or -1.0 if the struct is invalid:

#include "math.h"
typedef enum {RECTANGLE, CIRCLE} shapeType_t;

typedef struct {
    double length;
    double width;
} rectangleDimensions_t;

typedef struct {
    double radius;
} circleDimensions_t;

typedef struct {
    shapeType_t tag;
    union {
        rectangleDimensions_t rectangle;
        circleDimensions_t    circle;
    } dimensions;
} shape_t;

double area(shape_t *shape) {
    switch(shape->tag) {
      case RECTANGLE: {
        double length = 
           shape->dimensions.rectangle.length;
        double width  = 
           shape->dimensions.rectangle.width;
        return length * width;
      }
      case CIRCLE: {
        double r = shape->dimensions.circle.radius;
        return M_PI * (r*r);
      }
      default:
        return -1.0; /* Invalid tag */
    }
}

The designers of the Java programming language chose to omit the union construct because there is a much better mechanism for defining a single data type capable of representing objects of various types: subtyping. A discriminated union is really just a pallid imitation of a class hierarchy.

To transform a discriminated union into a class hierarchy, define an abstract class containing an abstract method for each operation whose behavior depends on the value of the tag. In the example above, there is only one such operation, area. This abstract class is the root of the class hierarchy. If there are any operations whose behavior does not depend on the value of the tag, turn these operations into concrete methods in the root class. Similarly, if there are any data fields in the discriminated union besides the tag and the union, these fields represent data common to all types, and should be added to the root class. There are no such type-independent operations or data fields in the example above.

Next, define a concrete subclass of the root class for each type that can be represented by the discriminated union. In the example above, the types are circle and rectangle. Include in each subclass the data fields particular to its type. In the example above, radius is particular to circle, and length and width are particular to rectangle. Also include in each subclass the appropriate implementation of each abstract method in the root class. Here is the class hierarchy corresponding to the discriminated union example above:

abstract class Shape {
    abstract double area();
}

class Circle extends Shape {
    final double radius;

    Circle(double radius) { this.radius = radius; }

    double area() { return Math.PI * radius*radius; }
}

class Rectangle extends Shape {
    final double length;
    final double width;

    Rectangle(double length, double width) {
        this.length = length;
        this.width  = width;
    }

    double area() { return length * width; }
}

A class hierarchy has numerous advantages over a discriminated union. Chief among these is that the class hierarchy provides types safety. In the example above, every Shape instance is either a valid Circle or a valid Rectangle. It is a simple matter to generate a shape_t struct that is complete garbage, as the association between the tag and the union is not enforced by the language. If the tag indicates that the shape_t represents a rectangle but the union has been set for a circle, all bets are off. Even if a discriminated union has been initialized properly, it is possible to pass it to a function that is inappropriate for its tag value.

A second advantage of the class hierarchy is that code is simple and clear. The discriminated union code is cluttered up with boilerplate code: declaring the enum type, declaring the tag field, switching on the tag field, dealing with unexpected tag values, and the like. The discriminated union code is made even less readable by the fact that the operations for the various types are intermingled rather than being segregated by type.

A third advantage of the class hierarchy is that it is easily extensible, even by multiple parties working independently. To extend a class hierarchy, merely add a new subclass. If you forget to override one of the abstract methods in the superclass, the compiler will tell you in no uncertain terms. To extend the discriminated union, you must add a new value to the enum type as well as a new case to the switch statements in each operation on the discriminated union. If you forget to provide a new case for some method, you won't find out until run time, and then only if you're careful to check for unrecognized tag values and generate an appropriate error message.

A fourth advantage of the class hierarchy is that it can be made to reflect natural hierarchical relationships among types, to allow for increased flexibility and better compile-time type checking. Suppose the discriminated union in the original example also allowed for squares. The class hierarchy could be made to reflect the fact a square is a special kind of rectangle:

class Square extends Rectangle {
    Square(double side) { super(side, side); }

    double side() {
        return length; // or equivalently, width
    }
}

The class hierarchy in the example above is not the only one that could have been written to replace the discriminated union. The hierarchy embodies several design decisions worthy of note. The classes in the hierarchy, with the exception of Square, are accessed by their fields rather than by access methods. This was done for brevity, and would be unacceptable if the classes were public. The classes are immutable, which is not always appropriate, but is generally a good thing.

Since the Java programming language does not provide the union construct, you might think there's no danger of implementing a discriminated union. It is, however, possible to write code with many of the same disadvantages. Whenever you're tempted to write a class with something that looks like an explicit tag field, think about whether the tag could be eliminated and the class replaced by a class hierarchy.

Another use of the C/C++ union construct, completely unrelated to discriminated unions, is to look at the internal representation of a piece of data, intentionally violating the type system. This usage is demonstrated by the following C code fragment, which prints the machine-specific hex representation of a float:

    union {
        float f;
        int   bits;
    } sleaze;

    /* Store to one field of union... */
    sleaze.f = 6.699e-41;

    /* ...and read from another. */
    printf("%x\n", sleaze.bits);

This highly non-portable usage has no counterpart in the Java programming language. In fact, it is antithetical to the spirit of the language, which guarantees type safety, and goes to great lengths to insulate programmers from machine-specific internal representations. The java.lang package does contain methods to translate floating point numbers into bit representations, but these methods are defined in terms of a precisely specified bit representation to ensure portability. The Java code fragment below, which is loosely equivalent to the C/C++ fragment above, is guaranteed to print out the same result no matter where it's run:

    System.out.println(Integer.toHexString(
                   Float.floatToIntBits(6.699e-41F)));

Replace Enums with Classes

The C enum construct was omitted from the Java programming language. Nominally, this construct defines an enumerated type: a type whose legal values consist of a fixed set of constants. Unfortunately, the enum construct doesn't do a very good job of defining enumerated types. It just defines a set of named integer constants, providing nothing in the way of type safety, and little in the way of convenience. Not only is this legal C:

    typedef enum {FUJI, PIPPIN, GRANNY_SMITH} apple_t;
    typedef enum {NAVEL, TEMPLE, BLOOD} orange_t;

    /* Mixing apples and oranges */
    orange_t myFavorite = PIPPIN;

    /* Tasty citrus-flavored applesauce!!! */
    orange_t x = (FUJI - PIPPIN)/TEMPLE;

The enum construct does not establish a name space for the constants that it generates, so the following declaration conflicts with the orange_t declaration above:

Go to Top

    typedef enum {BLOOD, SWEAT, TEARS} fluid_t;

Types defined with the enum construct are brittle. Adding constants to such a type without recompiling its clients causes unpredictable behavior, unless care is taken to preserve all of the preexisting constant values. Multiple parties cannot add constants to such a type independently, as their new enumeration constants are likely to conflict. The enum construct provides no easy way to translate enumeration constants into printable strings, or to enumerate over all of the constants in a type.

Unfortunately, the most commonly used pattern for enumerated types, shown below, shares the shortcomings of the C enum construct:

public class PlayingCard {
   // THIS COMMON PATTERN IS RARELY JUSTIFIED!
   public static final int SUIT_CLUBS    = 0;
   public static final int SUIT_DIAMONDS = 1;
   public static final int SUIT_HEARTS   = 2;
   public static final int SUIT_SPADES   = 3;
   ...
}

You may encounter a variant of this pattern in which String constants are used in place of int. This variant should never be used. While it does provide printable strings for its constants, it can lead to performance problems as it relies on string comparisons. Further, it can lead naive users to hard-code string constants into client code instead of using the appropriate field names. If such a hard-coded string constant contains a typographical error, the error will escape detection at compile-time and result in bugs at run time.

Luckily, the Java programming language presents an alternative that avoids all of the shortcomings of the common int and string patterns and provides many added benefits. It is called the typesafe enum pattern. Unfortunately, it is not yet widely known. The basic idea is simple: Define a class representing a single element of the enumerated type, and don't provide any public constructors for it. Just provide public static final fields, one for each constant in the enumerated type. Because there is no way for clients to create objects of the type, there will never be any objects of the type besides those exported via the public static final fields. Here's how the pattern looks in its simplest form:

// The typesafe enum pattern
public class Suit {
    private final String name;

    private Suit(String name) { this.name = name; }

    public String toString()  { return name; }

    public static final Suit CLUBS =
        new Suit("clubs");
    public static final Suit DIAMONDS =
        new Suit("diamonds");
    public static final Suit HEARTS =
        new Suit("hearts");
    public static final Suit SPADES =
        new Suit("spades");
}

As its name implies, the typesafe enum pattern provides complete compile-time type safety. If you declare a method with a parameter of type Suit, you are guaranteed that any non-null object reference passed in represents one of the four valid suits. Any attempt to pass an incorrectly typed object will be caught at compile time, as will any attempt to assign an expression of one enumerated type to a variable of another. Multiple typesafe enum classes with identically named enumeration constants coexist peacefully, because each class has its own name space.

Constants may be added to a typesafe enum class without recompiling its clients, as the public static object reference fields containing the enumeration constants provide a layer of insulation between the client and the enum class. The constants themselves are never compiled into clients, as they are in the traditional int pattern and its String variant.

Because typesafe enums are full-fledged classes, you can override the toString method as shown above, allowing values to be translated into printable strings. You can, if you desire, go one step further and internationalize typesafe enums by standard means. Note that string names are used only by the toString method; they are not used for equality comparisons, as the equals method, which is inherited from Object , performs a reference identity comparison.

More generally, you can augment a typesafe enum class with any method that seems appropriate. Our Suit class, for example, might benefit from the addition of a method that returns the color of the suit, or one that returns an image representing the suit. A class can start out life as a simple typesafe enum, and evolve over time into a full-featured abstraction.

Because arbitrary methods can be added to typesafe enum classes, they can be made to implement any interface. For example, suppose that you want Suit to implement Comparable , so clients can sort bridge hands by suit. Here's a slight variant on the original pattern that accomplishes this feat. A static variable, nextOrdinal , is used to assign an ordinal number to each instance as it is created. These ordinals are used by the compareTo method to order instances:

public class Suit implements Comparable {
    private final String name;

    // Ordinal of next suit to be created
    private static int nextOrdinal = 0;

    // Assign an ordinal to this suit
    private final int ordinal = nextOrdinal++;

    private Suit(String name) { this.name = name; }

    public String toString()  { return this.name; }

    public int compareTo(Object o) {
        return ordinal - ((Suit)o).ordinal;
    }

    public static final Suit CLUBS    = 
        new Suit("clubs");
    public static final Suit DIAMONDS = 
        new Suit("diamonds");
    public static final Suit HEARTS   = 
        new Suit("hearts");
    public static final Suit SPADES   = 
        new Suit("spades");
}

Because typesafe enum constants are objects, you can put them into collections. For example, suppose you want the Suit class to export an immutable list of the suits in standard order. Merely add these two field declarations to the class:

   private static final Suit[] VALS = 
       { CLUBS, DIAMONDS, HEARTS, SPADES };
   public static final List VALUES =
     Collections.unmodifiableList(Arrays.asList(VALS));

Unlike the simplest form of the typesafe enum pattern, classes of the ordinal-based form (above) can be made serializable with a little care. It is not sufficient merely to add implements Serializable to the class declaration. You must also provide a readResolve method:

    private Object readResolve()
            throws ObjectStreamException {
        return VALS[ordinal]; // Canonicalize
    }

This method, which is invoked automatically by the serialization system, prevents duplicate constants from coexisting as a result of deserialization. This maintains the guarantee that only a single object represents each enum constant, avoiding the need to override Object.equals. Without this guarantee, Object.equals would report a false negative when presented with two equal but distinct enumeration constants. Note that the readResolve method refers to the VALS array, so you must declare this array even if you choose not to export VALUES.

The resulting class is somewhat brittle; constructors for any new values must appear after those of all existing values, in order to ensure that previously serialized instances do not change their value when they're deserialized.

There may be one or more pieces of behavior associated with each constant that are used only from within the package containing the typesafe enum class. Such behaviors are best implemented as package-private methods on the class. Each enum constant then carries with it a hidden collection of behaviors that allows the package containing the enumerated type to react appropriately when presented with the constant.

If a typesafe enum class has methods whose behavior varies significantly from one class constant to another, you should use a separate private nested class or anonymous inner class for each constant. This allows each constant to have its own implementation of each such method, and automatically invokes the correct implementation. The alternative is to structure each such method as a multi-way branch that behaves differently depending on the constant on which it's invoked. This alternative is ugly, error prone, and likely to provide performance that is inferior to that of the virtual machine's automatic method dispatching.

The two techniques described in the previous paragraphs are illustrated in the typesafe enum class that follows. The class, Operation, represents an operation performed by a basic four-function calculator. Outside of the package in which the class is defined, all you can do with an Operation constant is to invoke the Object methods ( toString, hashCode, equals and so forth). Inside the package, however, you can perform the arithmetic operation represented by the constant. Presumably, the package would export some higher-level calculator object that exported one or more methods that took an Operation constant as a parameter. Note that Operation itself is an abstract class, containing a single package-private abstract method, eval, that performs the appropriate arithmetic operation. An anonymous inner class is defined for each constant, so that each constant can define its own version of the eval method:

Go to Top

public abstract class Operation {
    private final String name;

    Operation(String name) { this.name = name;}

    public String toString() { return this.name; }

    // Perform the appropriate arithmetic operation
    abstract float eval(float x, float y);

    public static final Operation PLUS =
            new Operation("+") {
        float eval(float x, float y) { return x + y; }
    };

    public static final Operation MINUS =
            new Operation("-"){
        float eval(float x, float y) { return x - y; }
    };

    public static final Operation TIMES =
            new Operation("*"){
        float eval(float x, float y) { return x * y; }
    };
    public static final Operation DIVIDED_BY =
            new Operation("/") {
        float eval(float x, float y) { return x / y; }
    };
}

Typesafe enums are, generally speaking, comparable in performance to traditional int enumeration constants. Two distinct instances of a typesafe enum class can never represent the same value, so reference identity comparisons, which are fast, are used to check for logical equality. Clients of a typesafe enum class can use the == operator instead of the equals method; the results are guaranteed to be identical, and the == operator may be even faster.

If a typesafe enum class is generally useful, it should be a top-level class; if its use is tied to a specific top-level class, it should be a public static nested class of that top-level class. For example, the java.math.BigDecimal class contains a collection of int enumeration constants representing rounding modes for decimal fractions. These rounding modes provide a useful abstraction that is not fundamentally tied to the BigDecimal class, so they should be replaced by a freestanding java.math.RoundingMode class. This would encourage any programmer who needs rounding modes to use these rounding modes, leading to increased consistency across APIs.

The basic typesafe enum pattern, as exemplified by both Suit implementations above, is fixed: it is impossible for users to add new elements to the enumerated type, as its class has no user-accessible constructors. This makes the class effectively final, whether or not it is declared with the final access modifier. This is normally what you want, but occasionally you may want to make a typesafe enum class extensible. This might be the case, for example, if you used a typesafe enum to represent image encoding formats, and you wanted third parties to be able to add support for new formats.

In order to make a typesafe enum extensible, merely provide a protected constructor. Others can then extend the class and add new constants to their subclasses. You needn't worry about enumeration constant conflicts as you would if you were using the traditional int pattern. The extensible variant of the typesafe enum pattern takes advantage of the Java package namespace to create a "magically administered" namespace for the extensible enumeration. Multiple organizations can extend the enumeration without knowledge of one another, and their extensions will never conflict.

Merely adding an element to an extensible enumerated type does not ensure that the new element is fully supported: methods that take an element of the enumerated type must contend with the possibility of being passed an element unknown to the programmer. Multi-way branches on fixed enumerated types are questionable; on extensible enumerated types they're lethal, as they won't magically grow a branch each time a programmer extends the type. One way to cope with this problem is to outfit the typesafe enum class with all of the methods necessary to describe the behavior of a constant of the class. Methods that are not useful to clients of the class should be protected, to hide them from clients while allowing subclasses to override them. If such a method has no reasonable default implementation, it should be abstract as well as protected.

It is a good idea for extensible typesafe enum classes to override Object.equals and Object.hashCode with final methods that invoke the Object methods. This ensures that no subclass accidentally overrides these methods. This maintains the guarantee that all equal objects of the enumerated type are also identical: a.equals(b) if and only if a==b .

    public final boolean equals(Object that) {
        return super.equals(that);
    }

    public final int hashCode() {
        return super.hashCode(); 
    }

Note that the extensible variant is not compatible with the Comparable variant; if you tried to combine them, the ordering among the elements of the subclasses would be a function of the order in which the subclasses were loaded, which could vary from program to program and run to run. Similarly, the extensible variant is not compatible with the Serializable variant.

The typesafe enum pattern has few disadvantages when compared to the traditional int pattern. Perhaps the only serious disadvantage is that it is more awkward to aggregate typesafe enum constants into sets. With int-based enums, this is traditionally done by choosing enumeration constant values each of which is a distinct positive power of two, and representing a set as the bitwise OR of the relevant constants:

    // Bit-flag variant of traditional int enum pattern
    public static final int SUIT_CLUBS    = 1;
    public static final int SUIT_DIAMONDS = 2;
    public static final int SUIT_HEARTS   = 4;
    public static final int SUIT_SPADES   = 8;

    hand.discard(SUIT_CLUBS | SUIT_SPADES);

Go to Top

Representing sets of enumerated type constants in this fashion is concise and extremely fast. For sets of typesafe enum constants, you can use a general purpose set implementation from the Collections Framework, but this is neither as concise nor as fast:

    Set blackSuits = new HashSet();
    blackSuits.add(Suit.CLUBS);
    blackSuits.add(Suit.SPADES);
    hand.discard(blackSuits);

While sets of typesafe enum constants probably cannot be made as concise or as fast as sets of int enum constants, it is possible to reduce the disparity by providing a special-purpose Set implementation that only accepts elements of one type and represents the set internally as a bit vector. Such a set is best implemented in the same package as its element type, to allow access, via a package private field or method, to a bit value internally associated with each typesafe enum constant. It makes sense to provide public constructors that take short sequences of elements as parameters so that idioms like this are possible:

    hand.discard(new SuitSet(Suit.CLUBS, Suit.SPADES));

A minor disadvantage of typesafe enums when compared with traditional enums is that typesafe enums can't be used in switch statements, as they aren't integral constants. Instead, you use an if statement, like this:

    if (obj == Suit.CLUBS) {
        ...
    } else if (obj == Suit.DIAMONDS) {
        ...
    } else if (obj == Suit.HEARTS) {
        ...
    } else {
        // We know that obj == Suit.SPADES 
        ...
    }

The if statement may not perform quite as well as the switch statement, but the difference is unlikely to be very significant. Furthermore, the need for multi-way branches on typesafe enum constants should be rare, since they're amenable to automatic method dispatching by the JVM.

Another minor performance disadvantage of typesafe enums is that there is a space and time cost to load enum type classes and construct the constant objects. Except on resource constrained devices like cell phones and toasters, this problem in unlikely to be noticeable in practice.

In summary, the advantages of typesafe enums over int enums are great, and none of the disadvantages seem compelling unless an enumerated type is to be used primarily as a set element. or in a severely resource constrained environment. Thus, the typesafe enum pattern should be what comes to mind when circumstances call for an enumerated type. APIs that use typesafe enums are far more programmer-friendly than those that use int enums. The only reason that typesafe enums are not used more heavily in the Java platform APIs is that the typesafe enum pattern was unknown when many of those APIs were written. Finally, it's worth reiterating that the need for enumerated types of any sort should be relatively rare, as a major use of these types has been made obsolete by subclassing.

Replace Function Pointers with Classes and Interfaces

C supports function pointers, which allow a program to store and transmit the ability to invoke a particular function. They are typically used to allow the caller of a function to specialize its behavior by passing in a pointer to a second function, sometimes referred to as a callback. For example, the qsort function in C's standard library takes a pointer to a comparator function, which it uses to compare the elements to be sorted. The comparator function takes two parameters, each of which is a pointer to an element. It returns a negative integer if the element pointed to by the first parameter is less than the one pointed to by the second, zero if the two elements are equal, and a positive integer if the element pointed to by the first parameter is greater than the one pointed to by the second. Different sort orders can be obtained by passing in different comparator functions. This is an example of the Strategy design pattern; the comparator function represents a strategy for sorting elements.

Function pointers were omitted from the Java programming language because object references can be used to provide the same functionality. Invoking a method on an object typically performs some operation on that object. However, it is possible to define an object whose methods perform operations on other objects, passed explicitly to the methods. An object of a class that exports exactly one such method is effectively a pointer to that method. For example, consider the following class:

class StringLengthComparator {
    public int compare(String s1, String s2) {
        return s1.length() - s2.length();
    }
}

This class exports a single method that takes two strings and returns a negative integer if the first string is shorter than the second, zero if the two strings are of equal length, and a positive integer if the first string is longer. This method is a comparator that orders strings based on their length, instead of the more typical lexicographic ordering. A reference to a StringLengthComparator object serves as a "function pointer" to this comparator, allowing it to be invoked on arbitrary pairs of strings. In the parlance of the design patterns community, the StringLengthComparator class is a concrete strategy for string comparison.

As is typical for concrete strategy classes, the StringLengthComparator class is stateless: it has no fields, hence all objects of the class are functionally equivalent to one another. Thus, it could just as well be a singleton to save on unnecessary object creation costs:

class StringLengthComparator {
    private StringLengthComparator () { }
    public static final StringLengthComparator
        INSTANCE = new StringLengthComparator();

    public int compare(String s1, String s2) {
        return s1.length() - s2.length();
    }
}

In order to pass a StringLengthComparator instance to a method, we need an appropriate type for the parameter. It would do no good to use StringLengthComparator , because clients would be unable to pass any other comparison strategy. Instead, we need to define a generic Comparator interface and modify StringLengthComparator to implement that interface. In the parlance of the design patterns community, we need to define an abstract strategy to go with the concrete strategy above. Here it is:

public interface Comparator {
    public int compare(Object o1, Object o2);
}

This definition of the Comparator interface happens to come from the java.util package, but there's nothing magic about it; you could just as well have defined it yourself. So that it is applicable to comparators for objects other than strings, its compare method takes parameters of type Object , rather than String . Therefore, the StringLengthComparator class above must be modified slightly in order to implement Comparator : the Object parameters must be cast to String prior to invoking the length method.

Concrete strategy classes are often declared using anonymous inner classes. The following statement sorts an array of strings according to length:

    Arrays.sort(stringArray, new Comparator () {
        public int compare(Object o1, Object o2) {
            String s1 = (String)o1;
            String s2 = (String)o2;
            return s1.length() - s2.length();
        }
    });

Go to Top

Because the abstract strategy interface serves as a type for all of its concrete strategy objects, the concrete strategy class needn't be made public in order to export a concrete strategy object. Instead, a "host class" can export a public static field (or static factory method) whose type is the strategy interface, and the concrete strategy class can be a private nested class of the host. In the example below, a named nested class is used in preference to an anonymous inner class, in order to allow the concrete strategy class to implement a second interface, Serializable:

class Host {
    ...

    private static class StrLenCmp
            implements Comparator, Serializable {
        public int compare(Object o1, Object o2) {
            String s1 = (String)o1;
            String s2 = (String)o2;
            return s1.length() - s2.length();
        }
    }

    // Returned comparator is serializable
    public static final Comparator
        STRING_LENGTH_COMPARATOR = new StrLenCmp();
}

The String class uses this pattern to export a case-independent string comparator via its CASE_INSENSITIVE_ORDER field.

To summarize, the primary use of C's function pointers is to implement the strategy pattern. To implement this pattern in the Java programming language, declare an interface to represent the abstract strategy and a class that implements this interface to represent each concrete strategy. When a concrete strategy is used only once, its class is typically declared and instantiated using an anonymous inner class. When a concrete strategy is exported for repeated use, it is generally declared as a private static nested class and exported via a public static final field, whose type is the abstract strategy interface.

Introduction | Substitutes for Missing C Constructs

Go to Top


Reader Feedback
Excellent   Good   Fair   Poor  

If you have other comments or ideas for future technical content, please type them here:

Comments:

If you would like a reply to your comment, please submit your email address:
Note: We may not respond to all submitted comments.



Have a question about Java programming? Use Java Online Support.

Left Curve
Java SDKs and Tools
Right Curve
Left Curve
Java Resources
Right Curve
JavaOne Banner
Java 8 banner (182)