Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Closures Prototype Update and Extension Methods

Closures Prototype Update

The Closures for Java prototype now allows a closure to access mutated local variables from an enclosing scope. You can download the prototype here. You can also download the sources for the rewritten parts of Doug Lea's fork-join library, ported to use function types. It is a good example of how APIs can be affected by these language changes. Personally, I find the API simplifications to be quite compelling. If you're on the fence about function types, I recommend you have a look. Any feedback you may have is most welcome!

I mentioned previously that I'm working on a number of smaller language features, which hopefully will be considered for JDK7. For now, I'd like to talk about just one of them.

Extension Methods

Once an API has been published, you can't add methods to it without breaking backward compatibility. That's because implementations of the old version of the interface don't provide an implementation of any new methods. You can use abstract classes instead of interfaces, and only add concrete methods in the future. Unfortunately, that limits you to single inheritance.

One way API designers work around this limitation is to add new functionality to an interface by writing static utility functions. For example, java.util.Collection.sort acts as an extension of java.util.List. But such methods are less convenient to use, and code written using them is more difficult to read.

Extension methods enable programmers to provide additional methods that clients of an interface can elect use as if they are members of the interface. Todd Millstain's Expanders are the most full-featured version of this feature. The simplest version of this feature that I advocate would be to enable statically-imported methods to be used as if members of their first argument type. For example:

    import static java.util.Collections.sort;
    List<String> list = ...;

Extension methods are completely orthogonal to closures, but they enable a number of typical functional-style programming patterns to be expressed more directly in Java using extension methods that accept closures.