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Charting unknown waters in JDK 1.4 Part I

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The Java Specialists' Newsletter [Issue 053] - Charting unknown waters in JDK 1.4 Part I

Author: Dr. Heinz M. Kabutz

JDK version:

Category: Performance

You can subscribe from our home page: http://www.javaspecialists.co.za (which also hosts all previous issues, available free of charge Smile

Welcome to the 53rd edition of The Java(tm) Specialists' Newsletter sent to over 4100 Java Specialists in 85 countries. Our friendly archive host Carl Smotricz has been experiencing some problems with his service provider, so our archive was offline for a bit. In the meantime, I have added my own archive to my website, so in future please look at http://www.javaspecialists.co.za for old issues.

Ahh, the pressures of life. This month has been hectically busy. The first week I gave some Java training at the University of Stellenbosch IT department to teach their Natural programmers Java. Very enjoyable week. The second week was spent presenting a Java 2 Standard Edition course and last week we moved in to our new house. I'm now sitting in my new office at home overlooking False Bay, and wondering what gems I can dig up in the source code of the JDK 1.4 Wink Please arrange to visit me if you ever come to the Helderberg, a village about 50km outside of Cape Town.

Would you like to find out how the new features of JDK 1.4 Standard Edition work? (logging, new IO, etc.) I am holding a JDK 1.4 crash course in Cape Town on the 29th of August 2002. There are only 14 places available, which will be allocated on a strict first-come-first-served basis. The cost is only R1995 incl VAT for this course. Prerequisites for this course are a fairly good understanding of the JDK 1.2 or 1.3, although the Sun Certified Java Programmer Examination is not a prerequisite Wink. As with all my courses, if you are not completely satisfied with the course I will refund you 100% of the fees. You can register by simply replying to this newsletter and telling me your name, email and mobile number.

Charting unknown waters in JDK 1.4 Part I

As I said in my opener to this newsletter, I started by just looking at the java.util.* package, without even the subpackages, and that kept me busy for most of the afternoon. I have not finished yet, but I already have enough material for several newsletters.

toString() was broken - did you know that?

In the collection classes all hell breaks loose when a collection contains itself and you try to call toString() on it. For example, consider the following code:

import java.util.Hashtable;

public class HashtableTest {
  public static void main(String[] args) {
    Hashtable ht = new Hashtable();
    ht.put("Heinz", "Kabutz");
    ht.put(ht, "all");
    ht.put("all", ht);
    ht.put(ht, ht);
    try {
    } catch (StackOverflowError e) {
      System.out.println("Caused Stack Overflow Error!");

Under the JDK 1.3 and before, when you ran this program, a Stack Overflow was generated, however, in JDK 1.4, the output is:

{Heinz=Kabutz, all=(this Map), (this Map)=all, (this Map)=(this Map)}

This same principle applies to the other collections. Is it a good idea to use a Hashtable as a key? Remember what happens when the hash code of a key changes during its life? I discussed that at length in Issue 031 of The Java(tm) Specialists' Newsletter. Each time a Hashtable changes, its hash code changes as well, so you should not use it as a key. However, there is no limit to the amount of stupid code that gets written every day, and the chaps at Sun didn't expect people to add a collection to itself.


A highly paid software developer once wrote something along these lines:

/** @author Mr M.O.Nument */
import java.util.*;
public class ListSearching {
  private List names = new LinkedList();
  public void f() {
    for (int i=0; iif (names.get(i) == "Heinz")
        System.out.println("Found it");
  private int size() {
    int result = 0;
    Iterator it = names.iterator();
    while(it.hasNext()) {
    return result;

Take a moment to read through the code and try to understand it. In defense of the programmer, firstly he had not been on my Java course Wink, secondly there was a lot of code inbetween f() and size() so the problem was not as obvious as we can now see and thirdly the list was always very short so performance was not an issue either.

In JDK 1.4, a new tag interface (like java.io.Serializable) was introduced into the java.util package, called RandomAccess. This allows classes such as Collections to optimize their algorithms in the case where:

for (int i=0, n=list.size(); i < n; i++)

runs faster than this loop:

for (Iterator i=list.iterator(); i.hasNext(); )

What I found interesting was that the algorithms always treat the collections as RandomAccess unless they are bigger than some threshold. This makes a lot of sense to me, because I have often found algorithms that we thought to be faster for linked lists actually being slower, as I discussed in Issue 024 of The Java(tm) Specialists' Newsletter. The values of the thresholds are of course not configurable and look like empirical thumbsuck that would work well with the LinkedList.

RuntimeException Specifications - Admission of Guilt?

All over the JDK 1.4 java.util.* package, I have seen that the RuntimeExceptions are now also specified in the @throws clause of the JavaDocs. Bruce Eckel and I spent quite a few emails debating the current exception model, and we ended up wondering whether it was not perhaps fundamentally flawed. For example, java.io.IOException has over 30 subclasses that could be the actual exception being thrown. What good is that? When you see that a method throws IOException, what is actually being thrown, and how do you deal with it?

I think that checked exceptions should be scrapped. They don't work. They cause bad code, such as:

while(true) {
  try {
    // do some other work
  } catch (Exception e) {}

Checked exceptions are responsible for more sloppy code and bugs than any other construct in the Java language. C# does not have checked exceptions, neither does C++. Why does Java have to be encumbered by them?

I think that declaring as comments what runtime exceptions could possibly be thrown by a method is a step in the right direction.

I've discovered some other interesting little snippets, which I will share with you in my next newsletter.

Please remember to send me a quick email if you would like to attend my course in Cape Town to find out how the new JDK 1.4 constructs work. We won't go into this much detail in the course, rather, we'll look at how you can use these new constructs in your work.

Until the next newsletter...


Copyright 2000-2004 Maximum Solutions, South Africa

Reprint Rights. Copyright subsists in all the material included in this email, but you may freely share the entire email with anyone you feel may be interested, and you may reprint excerpts both online and offline provided that you acknowledge the source as follows: This material from The Java(tm) Specialists' Newsletter by Maximum Solutions (South Africa). Please contact Maximum Solutions for more information.

Java and Sun are trademarks or registered trademarks of Sun Microsystems, Inc. in the United States and other countries. Maximum Solutions is independent of Sun Microsystems, Inc.

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