The "final" Keyword in Java

Jun 16, 2013, 2:45 PM

Yesterday, I suggested that everyone enable finalizing parameters in their code cleanups and, better, to do the same in their Java save actions; later, I set Eclipse loose on the org.openntf.domino API to implement it there. Adding final keywords to method parameters (and elsewhere where possible) is one of the habits I picked up from reading Effective Java a bit ago, but it's kind of a subtle thing and the benefits aren't immediately obvious.

If you're not at all familiar with the final keyword, it has a couple meanings in Java - in the context of variable and parameter declarations, it means that you can't reassign the value of the variable after it's been assigned the first time. So, for example, this is illegal and will generate a compile error:

final int i = 1;
i = 2;

In that example, it seems like a "why the heck would I do that?" sort of thing, but it's not too much of a stretch to picture a block of code involving something like this:

void doSomething(Document doc) {
	System.out.println("doc is " + doc.getUniversalID());
	// a bunch of code
	doc = database.getDocumentByID("FFFF0002");
	// a bunch more code
	System.out.println("doc is " + doc.getUniversalID());

That will WORK and it won't damage the original doc that was passed in, but it'll get confusing, particularly the more lines of code or eyeballs involved. Functioning or not, it's poor code style, and changing the method signature to doSomething(final Document doc) means that the compiler will enforce good style.

In addition to being good style, final has some technical benefits. First off, it might be faster. Secondly, if you ever use anonymous classes, final variables are a necessity for accessing information in the surrounding block. If you get into the habit of finalizing your variables, you'll already be ready by the time you have a need for anonymous classes.

final is a component of a larger and more important topic: immutability. I should probably write a lengthy post on immutability in the future, but for now there's an important thing to remember: final does not make your objects immutable. It only prevents assignment - it doesn't prevent calling methods on an object that change the object's value (in fact, Java lacks any language construct or cultural convention for immutability). So even if your Document variable is declared final, you (or any code you pass it to) can still call doc.replaceItemValue("Form", "Ha ha"); with impunity.

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Stephan H. Wissel - Jun 18, 2013, 8:21 AM

Amen to that!

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