You Will Regret Applying Overloading with Lambdas!

Writing good APIs is hard. Extremely hard. You have to think of an incredible amount of things if you want your users to love your API. You have to find the right balance between:

  1. Usefulness
  2. Usability
  3. Backward compatibility
  4. Forward compatibility

We’ve blogged about this topic before, in our article: How to Design a Good, Regular API. Today, we’re going to look into how…

Java 8 changes the rules

Yes!

Overloading is a nice tool to provide covenience in two dimensions:

  • By providing argument type alternatives
  • By providing argument default values

Examples for the above from the JDK include:

public class Arrays {

    // Argument type alternatives
    public static void sort(int[] a) { ... }
    public static void sort(long[] a) { ... }

    // Argument default values
    public static IntStream stream(int[] array) { ... }
    public static IntStream stream(int[] array, 
        int startInclusive, 
        int endExclusive) { ... }
}

The jOOQ API is obviously full of such convenience. As jOOQ is a DSL for SQL, we might even abuse a little bit:

public interface DSLContext {
    <T1> SelectSelectStep<Record1<T1>> 
        select(SelectField<T1> field1);

    <T1, T2> SelectSelectStep<Record2<T1, T2>> 
        select(SelectField<T1> field1, 
               SelectField<T2> field2);

    <T1, T2, T3> SelectSelectStep<Record3<T1, T2, T3>> s
        select(SelectField<T1> field1, 
               SelectField<T2> field2, 
               SelectField<T3> field3);

    <T1, T2, T3, T4> SelectSelectStep<Record4<T1, T2, T3, T4>> 
        select(SelectField<T1> field1, 
               SelectField<T2> field2, 
               SelectField<T3> field3, 
               SelectField<T4> field4);

    // and so on...
}

Languages like Ceylon take this idea of convenience one step further by claiming that the above is the only reasonable reason why overloading is be used in Java. And thus, the creators of Ceylon have completely removed overloading from their language, replacing the above by union types and actual default values for arguments. E.g.

// Union types
void sort(int[]|long[] a) { ... }

// Default argument values
IntStream stream(int[] array,
    int startInclusive = 0,
    int endInclusive = array.length) { ... }

Read “Top 10 Ceylon Language Features I Wish We Had In Java” for more information about Ceylon.

In Java, unfortunately, we cannot use union types or argument default values. So we have to use overloading to provide our API consumers with convenience methods.

If your method argument is a functional interface, however, things changed drastically between Java 7 and Java 8, with respect to method overloading. An example is given here from JavaFX.

JavaFX’s “unfriendly” ObservableList

JavaFX enhances the JDK collection types by making them “observable”. Not to be confused with Observable, a dinosaur type from the JDK 1.0 and from pre-Swing days.

JavaFX’s own Observable essentially looks like this:

public interface Observable {
  void addListener(InvalidationListener listener);
  void removeListener(InvalidationListener listener);
}

And luckily, this InvalidationListener is a functional interface:

@FunctionalInterface
public interface InvalidationListener {
  void invalidated(Observable observable);
}

This is great, because we can do things like:

Observable awesome = 
    FXCollections.observableArrayList();
awesome.addListener(fantastic -> splendid.cheer());

(notice how I’ve replaced foo/bar/baz with more cheerful terms. We should all do that. Foo and bar are so 1970)

Unfortunately, things get more hairy when we do what we would probably do, instead. I.e. instead of declaring an Observable, we’d like that to be a much more useful ObservableList:

ObservableList<String> awesome = 
    FXCollections.observableArrayList();
awesome.addListener(fantastic -> splendid.cheer());

But now, we get a compilation error on the second line:

awesome.addListener(fantastic -> splendid.cheer());
//      ^^^^^^^^^^^ 
// The method addListener(ListChangeListener<? super String>) 
// is ambiguous for the type ObservableList<String>

Because, essentially…

public interface ObservableList<E> 
extends List<E>, Observable {
    void addListener(ListChangeListener<? super E> listener);
}

and…

@FunctionalInterface
public interface ListChangeListener<E> {
    void onChanged(Change<? extends E> c);
}

Now again, before Java 8, the two listener types were completely unambiguously distinguishable, and they still are. You can easily call them by passing a named type. Our original code would still work if we wrote:

ObservableList<String> awesome = 
    FXCollections.observableArrayList();
InvalidationListener hearYe = 
    fantastic -> splendid.cheer();
awesome.addListener(hearYe);

Or…

ObservableList<String> awesome = 
    FXCollections.observableArrayList();
awesome.addListener((InvalidationListener) 
    fantastic -> splendid.cheer());

Or even…

ObservableList<String> awesome = 
    FXCollections.observableArrayList();
awesome.addListener((Observable fantastic) -> 
    splendid.cheer());

All of these measures will remove ambiguity. But frankly, lambdas are only half as cool if you have to explicitly type the lambda, or the argument types. We have modern IDEs that can perform autocompletion and help infer types just as much as the compiler itself.

Imagine if we really wanted to call the other addListener() method, the one that takes a ListChangeListener. We’d have to write any of

ObservableList<String> awesome = 
    FXCollections.observableArrayList();

// Agh. Remember that we have to repeat "String" here
ListChangeListener<String> hearYe = 
    fantastic -> splendid.cheer();
awesome.addListener(hearYe);

Or…

ObservableList<String> awesome = 
    FXCollections.observableArrayList();

// Agh. Remember that we have to repeat "String" here
awesome.addListener((ListChangeListener<String>) 
    fantastic -> splendid.cheer());

Or even…

ObservableList<String> awesome = 
    FXCollections.observableArrayList();

// WTF... "extends" String?? But that's what this thing needs...
awesome.addListener((Change<? extends String> fantastic) -> 
    splendid.cheer());

Overload you shan’t. Be wary you must.

API design is hard. It was hard before, it has gotten harder now. With Java 8, if any of your API methods’ arguments are a functional interface, think twice about overloading that API method. And once you’ve concluded to proceed with overloading, think again, a third time whether this is really a good idea.

Not convinced? Have a close look at the JDK. For instance the java.util.stream.Stream type. How many overloaded methods do you see that have the same number of functional interface arguments, which again take the same number of method arguments (as in our previous addListener() example)?

Zero.

There are overloads where overload argument numbers differ. For instance:

<R> R collect(Supplier<R> supplier,
              BiConsumer<R, ? super T> accumulator,
              BiConsumer<R, R> combiner);

<R, A> R collect(Collector<? super T, A, R> collector);

You will never have any ambiguity when calling collect().

But when the argument numbers do not differ, and neither do the arguments’ own method argument numbers, the method names are different. For instance:

<R> Stream<R> map(Function<? super T, ? extends R> mapper);
IntStream mapToInt(ToIntFunction<? super T> mapper);
LongStream mapToLong(ToLongFunction<? super T> mapper);
DoubleStream mapToDouble(ToDoubleFunction<? super T> mapper);

Now, this is super annoying at the call site, because you have to think in advance what method you have to use based on a variety of involved types.

But it’s really the only solution to this dilemma. So, remember:

You Will Regret Applying Overloading with Lambdas!

Did you like this article? You might also like:

Transform Your SQL Data into Charts Using jOOQ and JavaFX

In the recent past, we’ve shown how Java 8 and functional programming will bring a new perspective to Java developers when it comes to functional data transformation of SQL data using jOOQ and Java 8 lambdas and Streams.

Today, we take this a step further and transform the data into JavaFX XYChart.Series to produce nice-looking bar charts from our data.

Setting up the database

We’re going to be using a small subset of the World Bank’s Open Data again, in a PostgreSQL database. The data that we’re using is this here:

DROP SCHEMA IF EXISTS world;

CREATE SCHEMA world;

CREATE TABLE world.countries (
  code CHAR(2) NOT NULL,
  year INT NOT NULL,
  gdp_per_capita DECIMAL(10, 2) NOT NULL,
  govt_debt DECIMAL(10, 2) NOT NULL
);
 
INSERT INTO world.countries
VALUES ('CA', 2009, 40764, 51.3),
       ('CA', 2010, 47465, 51.4),
       ('CA', 2011, 51791, 52.5),
       ('CA', 2012, 52409, 53.5),
       ('DE', 2009, 40270, 47.6),
       ('DE', 2010, 40408, 55.5),
       ('DE', 2011, 44355, 55.1),
       ('DE', 2012, 42598, 56.9),
       ('FR', 2009, 40488, 85.0),
       ('FR', 2010, 39448, 89.2),
       ('FR', 2011, 42578, 93.2),
       ('FR', 2012, 39759,103.8),
       ('GB', 2009, 35455,121.3),
       ('GB', 2010, 36573, 85.2),
       ('GB', 2011, 38927, 99.6),
       ('GB', 2012, 38649,103.2),
       ('IT', 2009, 35724,121.3),
       ('IT', 2010, 34673,119.9),
       ('IT', 2011, 36988,113.0),
       ('IT', 2012, 33814,131.1),
       ('JP', 2009, 39473,166.8),
       ('JP', 2010, 43118,174.8),
       ('JP', 2011, 46204,189.5),
       ('JP', 2012, 46548,196.5),
       ('RU', 2009,  8616,  8.7),
       ('RU', 2010, 10710,  9.1),
       ('RU', 2011, 13324,  9.3),
       ('RU', 2012, 14091,  9.4),
       ('US', 2009, 46999, 76.3),
       ('US', 2010, 48358, 85.6),
       ('US', 2011, 49855, 90.1),
       ('US', 2012, 51755, 93.8);

(see also this article here about another awesome set of SQL queries against the above data)

What we want to do now is plot the two sets of values in two different bar charts:

  • Each country’s GDP per capita in each year between 2009-2012
  • Each country’s debt as a percentage of its GDP in each year between 2009-2012

This will then create 8 series with four data points for each series in both charts. In addition to the above, we’d like to order the series among themselves by the average projected value between 2009-2012, such that the series – and thus the countries – can be compared easily.

This is obviously easier to explain visually via the resulting chart than in text, so stay tuned until the end of the article.

Collecting the data with jOOQ and JavaFX

The query that we would write to calculate the above data series would look as follows in plain SQL:

select 
    COUNTRIES.YEAR, 
    COUNTRIES.CODE, 
    COUNTRIES.GOVT_DEBT 
from 
    COUNTRIES 
join (
    select 
        COUNTRIES.CODE, 
        avg(COUNTRIES.GOVT_DEBT) avg 
    from 
        COUNTRIES 
    group by 
        COUNTRIES.CODE
) c1 
on COUNTRIES.CODE = c1.CODE 
order by 
    avg asc, 
    COUNTRIES.CODE asc, 
    COUNTRIES.YEAR asc

In other words, we’ll simply select the relevant columns from the COUNTRIES table, and we’ll self-join the average projected value per country such that we can order the result by that average. The same query could be written using window functions. We’ll get to that later on.

The code that we’ll write to create such a bar chart with jOOQ and JavaFX is the following:

CategoryAxis xAxis = new CategoryAxis();
NumberAxis yAxis = new NumberAxis();
xAxis.setLabel("Country");
yAxis.setLabel("% of GDP");

BarChart<String, Number> bc = 
    new BarChart<>(xAxis, yAxis);
bc.setTitle("Government Debt");
bc.getData().addAll(

    // SQL data transformation, executed in the DB
    // -------------------------------------------
    DSL.using(connection)
       .select(
           COUNTRIES.YEAR,
           COUNTRIES.CODE,
           COUNTRIES.GOVT_DEBT)
       .from(COUNTRIES)
       .join(
           table(
               select(
                   COUNTRIES.CODE, 
                   avg(COUNTRIES.GOVT_DEBT).as("avg"))
               .from(COUNTRIES)
               .groupBy(COUNTRIES.CODE)
           ).as("c1")
       )
       .on(COUNTRIES.CODE.eq(
           field(
               name("c1", COUNTRIES.CODE.getName()), 
               String.class
           )
       ))

       // order countries by their average 
       // projected value
       .orderBy(
           field(name("avg")),
           COUNTRIES.CODE,
           COUNTRIES.YEAR)

       // The result produced by the above statement
       // looks like this:
       // +----+----+---------+
       // |year|code|govt_debt|
       // +----+----+---------+
       // |2009|RU  |     8.70|
       // |2010|RU  |     9.10|
       // |2011|RU  |     9.30|
       // |2012|RU  |     9.40|
       // |2009|CA  |    51.30|
       // +----+----+---------+

    // Java data transformation, executed in app memory
    // ------------------------------------------------

       // Group results by year, keeping sort 
       // order in place
       .fetchGroups(COUNTRIES.YEAR)

       // The generic type of this is inferred...
       // Stream<Entry<Integer, Result<
       //     Record3<BigDecimal, String, Integer>>
       // >>
       .entrySet()
       .stream()

       // Map entries into { Year -> Projected value }
       .map(entry -> new XYChart.Series<>(
           entry.getKey().toString(),
           observableArrayList(

           // Map records into a chart Data
           entry.getValue().map(country -> 
                new XYChart.Data<String, Number>(
                  country.getValue(COUNTRIES.CODE),
                  country.getValue(COUNTRIES.GOVT_DEBT)
           ))
           )
       ))
       .collect(toList())
);

The interesting thing here is really that we can fetch data from the database, and later on, transform it into JavaFX data structures all in one go. The whole thing is almost a single Java statement.

SQL and Java is cleanly separated

As we’ve blogged on this blog before, there is a very important difference when comparing the above approach to LINQ or to JPQL’s DTO fetching capabilities. The SQL query is cleanly separated from the Java in-memory data transformation, even if we express the whole transformation in one single statement.

We want to be as precise as possible when expressing our SQL query for the database to be able to calculate the optimal execution plan. Only once we have materialised our data set, the Java 8 Stream transformation will kick in.

The importance of this is made clear when we change the above SQL-92 compatible query with a SQL-1999 compatible one that makes use of awesome window functions. The jOOQ part of the above statement could be replaced by the following query:

DSL.using(connection)
   .select(
       COUNTRIES.YEAR,
       COUNTRIES.CODE,
       COUNTRIES.GOVT_DEBT)
   .from(COUNTRIES)
   .orderBy(
       avg(COUNTRIES.GOVT_DEBT)
           .over(partitionBy(COUNTRIES.CODE)),
       COUNTRIES.CODE,
       COUNTRIES.YEAR)
   ;

… or in SQL:

select
    COUNTRIES.YEAR,
    COUNTRIES.CODE,
    COUNTRIES.GOVT_DEBT
from
    COUNTRIES
order by
    avg(COUNTRIES.GOVT_DEBT) 
        over (partition by COUNTRIES.CODE),
    COUNTRIES.CODE,
    COUNTRIES.YEAR

As you can see, staying in control of you actual SQL statement is of the essence when you run such reports. There is no way you could have refactored ordering via nested selects into a much more efficient ordering via window functions as easily as this. Let alone refactoring dozens of lines of Java sorting logic.

Yep. It’s hard to beat the beauty of window functions

If we add some additional JavaFX boilerplate to put the chart into a Pane, a Scene, and a Stage, we’ll get these nice-looking charts below:

SQL with JavaFX and jOOQ

Play with it yourself

You can download and run the above example yourself. Simply download the following example and run mvn clean install:

https://github.com/jOOQ/jOOQ/tree/master/jOOQ-examples/jOOQ-javafx-example