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3.12. Anonymous Classes

An anonymous class is a local class without a name. An anonymous class is defined and instantiated in a single succinct expression using the new operator. While a local class definition is a statement in a block of Java code, an anonymous class definition is an expression, which means that it can be included as part of a larger expression, such as a method call. When a local class is used only once, consider using anonymous class syntax, which places the definition and use of the class in exactly the same place.

Consider Example 3-11, which shows the Enumeration class implemented as an anonymous class within the enumerate() method of the LinkedStack class. Compare it with Example 3-10, which shows the same class implemented as a local class.

Example 3-11. An Enumeration Implemented with an Anonymous Class

public java.util.Enumeration enumerate() {
  // The anonymous class is defined as part of the return statement
  return new java.util.Enumeration() { 
    Linkable current; = head;
    { current = head; }  // Replace constructor with an instance initializer
    public boolean hasMoreElements() {  return (current != null); }
    public Object nextElement() {
      if (current == null) throw new java.util.NoSuchElementException();
      Object value = current;
      current = current.getNext();
      return value;
    }
  };  // Note the required semicolon: it terminates the return statement
}

One common use for an anonymous class is to provide a simple implementation of an adapter class. An adapter class is one that defines code that is invoked by some other object. Take, for example, the list() method of the java.io.File class. This method lists the files in a directory. Before it returns the list, though, it passes the name of each file to a FilenameFilter object you must supply. This FilenameFilter object accepts or rejects each file. When you implement the FilenameFilter interface, you are defining an adapter class for use with the File.list() method. Since the body of such a class is typically quite short, it is easy to define an adapter class as an anonymous class. Here's how you can define a FilenameFilter class to list only those files whose names end with .java :

File f = new File("/src");      // The directory to list

// Now call the list() method with a single FilenameFilter argument
// Define and instantiate an anonymous implementation of FilenameFilter
// as part of the method invocation expression. 
String[] filelist = f.list(new FilenameFilter() {
  public boolean accept(File f, String s) { return s.endsWith(".java"); }
}); // Don't forget the parenthesis and semicolon that end the method call!

As you can see, the syntax for defining an anonymous class and creating an instance of that class uses the new keyword, followed by the name of a class and a class body definition in curly braces. If the name following the new keyword is the name of a class, the anonymous class is a subclass of the named class. If the name following new specifies an interface, as in the two previous examples, the anonymous class implements that interface and extends Object. The syntax does not include any way to specify an extends clause, an implements clause, or a name for the class.

Because an anonymous class has no name, it is not possible to define a constructor for it within the class body. This is one of the basic restrictions on anonymous classes. Any arguments you specify between the parentheses following the superclass name in an anonymous class definition are implicitly passed to the superclass constructor. Anonymous classes are commonly used to subclass simple classes that do not take any constructor arguments, so the parentheses in the anonymous class definition syntax are often empty. In the previous examples, each anonymous class implemented an interface and extended Object. Since the Object() constructor takes no arguments, the parentheses were empty in those examples.

3.12.1. Features of Anonymous Classes

One of the most elegant things about anonymous classes is that they allow you to define a one-shot class exactly where it is needed. In addition, anonymous classes have a succinct syntax that reduces clutter in your code.

3.12.2. Restrictions on Anonymous Classes

Because an anonymous class is just a type of local class, anonymous classes and local classes share the same restrictions. An anonymous class cannot define any static fields, methods, or classes, except for staticfinal constants. Interfaces cannot be defined anonymously, since there is no way to implement an interface without a name. Also, like local classes, anonymous classes cannot be public, private, protected, or static.

Since an anonymous class has no name, it is not possible to define a constructor for an anonymous class. If your class requires a constructor, you must use a local class instead. However, you can often use an instance initializer as a substitute for a constructor. In fact, instance initializers were introduced into the language for this very purpose.

The syntax for defining an anonymous class combines definition with instantiation. Thus, using an anonymous class instead of a local class is not appropriate if you need to create more than a single instance of the class each time the containing block is executed.

3.12.3. New Syntax for Anonymous Classes

We've already seen examples of the syntax for defining and instantiating an anonymous class. We can express that syntax more formally as:

new class-name ( [ argument-list ] ) { class-body }

or:

new interface-name () { class-body }

As I already mentioned, instance initializers are another specialized piece of Java syntax that was introduced to support anonymous classes. As we discussed earlier in the chapter, an instance initializer is a block of initialization code contained within curly braces inside a class definition. The contents of an instance initializer for a class are automatically inserted into all constructors for the class, including any automatically created default constructor. An anonymous class cannot define a constructor, so it gets a default constructor. By using an instance initializer, you can get around the fact that you cannot define a constructor for an anonymous class.

3.12.4. When to Use an Anonymous Class

As we've discussed, an anonymous class behaves just like a local class and is distinguished from a local class merely in the syntax used to define and instantiate it. In your own code, when you have to choose between using an anonymous class and a local class, the decision often comes down to a matter of style. You should use whichever syntax makes your code clearer. In general, you should consider using an anonymous class instead of a local class if:

  • The class has a very short body.

  • Only one instance of the class is needed.

  • The class is used right after it is defined.

  • The name of the class does not make your code any easier to understand.

3.12.5. Anonymous Class Indentation and Formatting

The common indentation and formatting conventions we are familiar with for block-structured languages like Java and C begin to break down somewhat once we start placing anonymous class definitions within arbitrary expressions. Based on their experience with inner classes, the engineers at Sun recommend the following formatting rules:

  • The opening curly brace should not be on a line by itself; instead, it should follow the close parenthesis of the new operator. Similarly, the new operator should, when possible, appear on the same line as the assignment or other expression of which it is a part.

  • The body of the anonymous class should be indented relative to the beginning of the line that contains the new keyword.

  • The closing curly brace of an anonymous class should not be on a line by itself either; it should be followed by whatever tokens are required by the rest of the expression. Often this is a semicolon or a close parenthesis followed by a semicolon. This extra punctuation serves as a flag to the reader that this is not just an ordinary block of code and makes it easier to understand anonymous classes in a code listing.



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