10 Subtle Best Practices when Coding Java
Added: (Tue Jan 30 2018)
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This is a list of 10 best practices that are more subtle than your average Josh Bloch Effective Java rule. While Josh Bloch’s list is very easy to learn and concerns everyday situations, this list here contains less common situations involving API / SPI design that may have a big effect nontheless.
1. Remember C++ destructors
Remember C++ destructors? No? Then you might be lucky as you never had to debug through any code leaving memory leaks due to allocated memory not having been freed after an object was removed. Thanks Sun/Oracle for implementing garbage collection!
But nonetheless, destructors have an interesting trait to them. It often makes sense to free memory in the inverse order of allocation. Keep this in mind in Java as well, when you’re operating with destructor-like semantics:
• When using @Before and @After JUnit annotations
• When allocating, freeing JDBC resources
• When calling super methods
2. Don’t trust your early SPI evolution judgement
Providing an SPI to your consumers is an easy way to allow them to inject custom behaviour into your library / code. Beware, though, that your SPI evolution judgement may trick you into thinking that you’re (not) going to need that additional parameter. True, no functionality should be added early. But once you’ve published your SPI and once you’ve decided following semantic versioning, you’ll really regret having added a silly, one-argument method to your SPI when you realise that you might need another argument in some cases:
3. Avoid returning anonymous, local, or inner classes
Swing programmers probably have a couple of keyboard shortcuts to generate the code for their hundreds of anonymous classes. In many cases, creating them is nice as you can locally adhere to an interface, without going through the “hassle” of thinking about a full SPI subtype lifecycle.
But you should not use anonymous, local, or inner classes too often for a simple reason: They keep a reference to the outer instance. And they will drag that outer instance to wherevery they go, e.g. to some scope outside of your local class if you’re not careful. This can be a major source for memory leaks, as your whole object graph will suddenly entangle in subtle ways.
4. Start writing SAMs now!
Java 8 is knocking on the door. And with Java 8 come lambdas, whether you like them or not. Your API consumers may like them, though, and you better make sure that they can make use of them as often as possible. Hence, unless your API accepts simple “scalar” types such as int, long, String, Date, let your API accept SAMs as often as possible.
What’s a SAM? A SAM is a Single Abstract Method [Type]. Also known as a functional interface, soon to be annotated with the @FunctionalInterface annotation. This goes well with rule number 2, where EventListener is in fact a SAM. The best SAMs are those with single arguments, as they will further simplify writing of a lambda.
5. Avoid returning null from API methods
I’ve blogged about Java’s NULLs once or twice. I’ve also blogged about Java 8’s introduction of Optional. These are interesting topics both from an academic and from a practical point of view.
While NULLs and NullPointerExceptions will probably stay a major pain in Java for a while, you can still design your API in a way that users will not run into any issues. Try to avoid returning null from API methods whenever possible. Your API consumers should be able to chain methods whenever applicable:
6. Never return null arrays or lists from API methods
While there are some cases when returning nulls from methods is OK, there is absolutely no use case of returning null arrays or null collections! Let’s consider the hideous java.io.File.list() method.
Was that null check really necessary? Most I/O operations produce IOExceptions, but this one returns null. Null cannot hold any error message indicating why the I/O error occurred. So this is wrong in three ways:
• Null does not help in finding the error
• Null does not allow to distinguish I/O errors from the File instance not being a directory
• Everyone will keep forgetting about null, here
7. Avoid state, be functional
What’s nice about HTTP is the fact that it is stateless. All relevant state is transferred in each request and in each response. This is essential to the naming of REST: Representational State Transfer. This is awesome when done in Java as well. Think of it in terms of rule number 2 when methods receive stateful parameter objects. Things can be so much simpler if state is transferred in such objects, rather than manipulated from the outside.
8. Short-circuit equals()
This is a low-hanging fruit. In large object graphs, you can gain significantly in terms of performance, if all your objects’ equals() methods dirt-cheaply compare for identity first:
9. Try to make methods final by default
Some will disagree on this, as making things final by default is quite the opposite of what Java developers are used to. But if you’re in full control of all source code, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with making methods final by default, because:
• If you do need to override a method (do you really?), you can still remove the final keyword
• You will never accidentally override any method anymore
10. Avoid the method(T…) signature
There’s nothing wrong with the occasional “accept-all” varargs method that accepts an Object... argument:
1 void acceptAll(Object... all);