Java Collection Framework
  • Storing collections (groups) of similar objects is a common programming task.
    • A text document is a collection of paragraphs. Each paragraph is a collection of words. Each word is a collection of characters.
    • The computer's file system is a collection of files.
    • A browser's bookmark list contains a collection of URLs.
    • etc...
  • You have already seen one mechanism for storing collections of objects: the array.
  • The Java Collections Framework provides a number of classes that can be used to store collections of data.

Review of Interfaces

  • The Java language includes a concept known as interfaces.
  • It's a fairly simple concept that we'll need in order to better understand collection types that are part of the Java Collections Framework.
  • An interface is basically a promise or contract.
  • An interface is a list of method signatures (method name, parameters passed to the method, and the type returned by the method, if anything).
    • When a class is declared, it may promise to implement the interface.
    • You've already seen interfaces in action...
      • An event handler class must implement an interface (the EventListener interface or some other interface related to it).
      • A class declaration like the following promises that the class will implement the ActionListener interface:
        private class ButtonEventHandler implements ActionListener {
      • The ActionListener interface specifies that the following method must be implemented:
          public void actionPerformed(ActionEvent event)
      • The compiler makes sure that the ButtonEventHandler class fulfills its promise by refusing to compile unless the ButtonEventHandler class implements that method.
  • In much the same way as we can create a reference to an object, we can create a reference to an interface.
  • The reference acts as the gatekeeper for accessing the object to which the reference points. Consider the following code:
      String word = new String("nonsense");
      CharSequence charSeq = word;
    • The first line creates a reference to a String and makes it point to a newly created String object.
    • The second line creates a reference to a CharSequence and makes it point to the same String object as word.
    • Since the String class implements the CharSequence interface, the second line is a valid statement.
    • Both word and charSeq refer to the same object, but we can only access methods known to the CharSequence interface when using the charSeq reference.
    • The CharSequence consists of four methods:
    • The following indicates which lines are illegal. All of the legal lines of code function identically regardless of whether the method is called through word or charSeq.
        word.subSequence(1, 3);
        word.substring(1, 3);
        charSeq.endsWith("sense");  // ILLEGAL
        charSeq.subSequence(1, 3);
        charSeq.substring(1, 3);    // ILLEGAL

Java Collections Framework

  • Because manipulating collections of objects is such a common task, Sun provides the Java Collections Framework.
  • The framework contains a number of interfaces and classes that various ways of storing and interacting with collections of data.

List Interface

  • The List<E> interface describes a contract for classes that provide an implementation for storing lists of information.
  • The E between the angle brackets indicates the type of references contained in the list. For example List<String> indicates that the list contains references to Strings.
  • Some relevant methods include:
    • add(E) — adds an object to the end of the list.
    • clear() — removes all elements from the list.
    • contains(E) — returns true if the specified element is found in the list.
    • get(int) — returns the element at the specified location in the list.
    • isEmpty() — returns true if no elements are in the list.
    • set(int, E) — replaces the element at the specified location with the specified element.
    • size() — returns the number of elements in the list.
  • The following method does some silly stuff with a list of strings:
    public static void silly(List<String> words) {
      if(!words.isEmpty()) {
        String word = words.get(0);
        words.set(words.size()-1, "I'm last");
      for(String word : words) {
    • Here I've used the enhanced for loop, a.k.a., the for-each loop. In case you've forgotten how it works, if you read it like this: "For each String, word, in the List of Strings, words, do the following: { blah blah blah }" you'll pretty much know what it does.
    • The loop will run words.size() times.
    • The first time in the loop, word is a reference to the first element in the list.
    • The second time in the loop, word is a reference to the second element in the list.
    • ...
    • The last time in the loop, word is a reference to the last element in the list.
  • Of course, all of this is pretty useless if we don't know about any classes that implement the List<E> interface, since we can't do:
    List>String< words = new List>String<();

List Implementations

  • The JCF provides a few classes that implement the List<E> interface:
  • Depending on your application, you may find that it is better to use an ArrayList<E> while other times it is better to use a LinkedList<E>.
  • We'll discuss the LinkedList more later in the course.
  • Since both class implement the List interface, you can easily modify which implementation you use by just changing the new operation.
  • The following code shows how you can use the silly() method implemented above with either of these classes:
    List<String> words = new ArrayList<String>();
    // do a bunch of .add calls to populate the list
    words = new LinkedList<String>();
    // do a bunch of .add calls to populate the list

Collection Interface

  • The Collection<E> interface is more general that the List<E> interface.
  • In fact, the List interface extends the Collection interface, so, if you know the List interface, you already know the Collection interface.
  • The main difference is that there are some methods declared by the List interface that are not part of the Collection interface. In particular: the Collection interface does not declare get and set methods.
  • If you don't need get and set, you're better off using a Collection reference instead of a List reference. That way you have an even wider choice of classes that implement the interface.
  • Classes that implement the Collection interface but not the List interface include:
  • We'll discuss the first two later in the course.
1)... collect the whole set.

Last modified: Friday, 11-Mar-2016 12:54:47 CST