Thursday, January 24, 2008

Why I love and hate statics in Java

I was chatting with some fellow geeks earlier this evening and it occurred to me that I've said to people that they should almost ALWAYS use static and also told people they should almost NEVER use static. Am I schizophrenic, a hypocrite, or just dumb. Maybe all three but it has nothing to do with this blog. I'm talking about two different language usages of the static reserved word.

USAGE 1, where the love is:
Inner classes. I hate non-static inner classes. IMHO non-static inner-class is unnecessary syntactic sugar that leads to hard to read code and subtle bugs. For those who don't know, non-static inner classes maintain a hidden instance variable holding a parent instance. It then uses specially generated methods to give access to the parent's private fields and auto-magically calls methods on the parent if no local method of the used name exists. I've seen this lead to memory leaks (people passing around instances of inner classes and not realizing that they are keeping around parents), all kinds of confusing issues with methods of the same name in inner and outer classes and variable problems of the like. On the occasions I use inner classes I almost always go with the static kind.

USAGE 2, no love here:
Static variables. With the exception of constants I have a strong dislike of static variables. Why you ask? When used to create various versions of singletons it leads to messy hidden code dependencies . It also makes it hard to do mock object stuff for testing, creates hidden initialization stuff and makes it difficult to create multiple environments in a single JVM. Just darn inflexible for no gain. I would go into details but this has been covered quite nicely here

Anyway, in summary, STATIC inner classes good, STATIC variables bad.
Goodnight ...

1 comment:

Tim Eck said...

There are other places you can use "static" as well -- (1) static imports and (2) static interfaces.

Any comments on love/hate on those? (2) is a trick question