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Safer typing of complex API usage through Java generics

Harrison, W. and Lievens, D. and Simeoni, F. (2009) Safer typing of complex API usage through Java generics. In: PPPJ '09: Proceedings of the 7th International Conference on Principles and Practice of Programming in Java. UNSPECIFIED, pp. 67-75.

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Abstract

When several incompatible implementations of a single API are in use in a Java program, the danger exists that instances from different implementations may inadvertently be mixed, leading to errors. In this paper we show how to use generics to prevent such mixing. The core idea of the approach is to add a type parameter to the interfaces of the API, and tie the classes that make up an implementation to a unique choice of type parameter. In this way methods of the API can only be invoked with arguments that belong to the same implementation. We show that the presence of a type parameter in the interfaces does not violate the principle of interface-based programming: clients can still completely abstract over the choice of implementation. In addition, we demonstrate how code can be reused between different implementations, how implementations can be defined as extensions of other implementations, and how different implementations may be mixed in a controlled and safe manner. To explore the feasibility of the approach, gauge its usability, and identify any issues that may crop up in practical usage, we have refactored a fairly large existing API-based application suite, and we report on the experience gained in the process.