I'm on my way back from Javapolis 2006, unfortunately missing the third day of the conference. One of the innovations this year was a bank of ten whiteboards where people brainstormed about the future of the Java language and platform. I had a camera with me but I realized too late that I should have taken snapshots of the contents of all those boards before I left. I hope someone else will. The only snapshots I took were the vote tallies that I discuss below.
There were three issues discussed on those boards that I'd like to share with you.
The first board contained a discussion of closures, including an informal vote of people "in favor of" and "against" adding support for closures. I gave a talk about closures yesterday afternoon, which explained the goals and design criteria, showed how they fit quite smoothly into the existing language and APIs, and more importantly explained in detail why anonymous instance creation expressions do not solve the problems closures were designed to solve. Before my talk about closures, the vote was about 55% in favor and 45% against. After my talk the vote was 71% in favor and 29% against. I don't think any "against" votes were added to the tally after my talk. There was also a BOF (Birds-Of-a-Feather) session in the evening discussing closures. Of the 20 or so attendees none admitted being against adding closures. I'm sure the fact that the BOF was scheduled opposite a free showing of Casino Royale didn't help, but I had hoped to hear from opponents more about their concerns. We discussed a number of issues and concerns, most of which had been discussed on my blog at one time or another.
One issue that I discussed with a few individuals earlier and then at the BOF was the idea of adding a statement whose purpose is to yield a result from the surrounding closure, which you could use instead of or in addition to providing a result as the last expression in the closure. It turns out that adding this feature make closures no longer suitable for expressing control abstractions. In other words, adding this feature to the language would make closures less useful! This is a very counterintuitive result. I first understood the issue by analyzing the construct using Tennent's Correspondence Principle, but it is much easier for most people to understand when the result is presented as specific examples that fail to work as expected. For now I'll leave this as an exercise to the reader, but I'll probably write more about it later. Incidentally, I believe the folks who designed Groovy got closures wrong for exactly this reason.
There was a video made of my talk that will be posted to the Javapolis website. Ted Neward also interviewed me on video, and Bill Venners interviewed me on audio. As soon as these are available on the web I'll blog pointers to them.
Native XML Support
Mark Reinhold gave a talk on adding native (i.e. language-level) support for XML into Java. Though they were not presented as such, some people prefer to think of the proposal as separable into a language extension part and an API part. The proposed APIs appear to be an improvement over the existing alternatives. However, the language extension for writing XML literals appears to be only marginally more convenient than the XML construction techniques provided by libraries in JDOM. I personally would like to see the new APIs pursued but XML creation provided in the JDOM way. Mark took a vote by show of hands on how people felt about the two issues, but I couldn't see the tally. There was also an informal tally about adding native XML support on one of the whiteboards. The result was 29% in favor and 71% against.
Constructor Invocation for Generics
Another much-discussed issue appeared on one of the whiteboards: the verbosity of creating instances of generic types. This is typical:
Map<Pair<String,Integer>,Node> map = new HashMap<Pair<String,Integer>,Node>();
The problem here is that the type parameters have to be repeated twice. One common "workaround" to this problem is to always create your generic objects using static factories, but the language should not force you to do that. A number of different syntax forms have been suggested for fixing this:
var map = new HashMap<Pair<String,Integer>,Node>();
This unfortuately requires the addition of a new keyword. Another:
final map = new HashMap<Pair<String,Integer>,Node>();
This reuses an existing keyword, but at the same time it also makes the variable final. Another variation on this idea:
map := new HashMap<Pair<String,Integer>,Node>();
In my opinion these three forms all suffer the same flaw: they place the type
parameters in the wrong place. Since the variable is to be used later in the
program, the programmer presumably wants control over its type and the reader wants the type to be clear from the variable declaration. In this case
you probably want the variable to be a
Map and not a
HashMap. An idea that addresses my concern is:
Map<Pair<String,Integer>,Node> map = new HashMap();
Unfortunately, this is currently legal syntax that creates a raw
HashMap. I don't know if it is possible to change the meaning of
this construct without breaking backward compatibility. Another possibility:
Map<Pair<String,Integer>,Node> map = new HashMap<>();
You can see clearly by the presence of the empty angle brackets that the type parameters have been omitted where the compiler is asked to infer them. Of the alternatives, this is my favorite. I don't think it will be too hard to implement in javac using the same techniques that work for static factories of generic types.