Passing code with behavior parameterization - Fundamentals - Java 8 in Action: Lambdas, streams, and functional-style programming (2015)

Java 8 in Action: Lambdas, streams, and functional-style programming (2015)

Part 1. Fundamentals

Chapter 2. Passing code with behavior parameterization

This chapter covers

· Coping with changing requirements

· Behavior parameterization

· Anonymous classes

· Preview of lambda expressions

· Real-world examples: Comparator, Runnable, and GUI

A well-known problem in software engineering is that no matter what you do, user requirements will change. For example, imagine an application to help a farmer understand his inventory. The farmer might want a functionality to find all green apples in his inventory. But the next day he might tell you, “Actually I also want to find all apples heavier than 150 g.” Two days later, the farmer comes back and adds, “It would be really nice if I could find all apples that are green and heavier than 150 g.” How can you cope with these changing requirements? Ideally you’d like to minimize your engineering effort. In addition, similar new functionalities ought to be straightforward to implement and maintainable in the long term.

Behavior parameterization is a software development pattern that lets you handle frequent requirement changes. In a nutshell, it means taking a block of code and making it available without executing it. This block of code can be called later by other parts of your programs, which means that you can defer the execution of that block of code. For instance, you could pass the block of code as an argument to another method that will execute it later. As a result, the method’s behavior is parameterized based on that block of code. For example, if you process a collection, you may want to write a method that

· Can do “something” for every element of a list

· Can do “something else” when you finish processing the list

· Can do “yet something else” if you encounter an error

This is what behavior parameterization refers to. Here’s an analogy: your roommate knows how to drive to the supermarket and back home. So you can tell him to buy a list of things such as bread, cheese, and wine. This is equivalent to calling a method goAndBuy with a list of products as argument. But one day you’re at the office and you need him to do something he’s never done before: pick up a package from the post office. You now need to pass him a list of instructions: go to the post office, use this reference number, talk to the manager, and pick up the parcel. You could pass him the list of instructions by email, and when he receives it, he can go ahead and follow the instructions. You’ve now done something a bit more advanced that’s equivalent to a method: go, which can take different new behaviors as arguments and execute them.

We start the chapter by walking you through an example of how you can evolve your code to be more flexible for changing requirements. Building on this knowledge, we show how to use behavior parameterization for several real-world examples. For example, you may have already used the behavior parameterization pattern using existing classes and interfaces in the Java API to sort a List, to filter names of files, or to tell a Thread to execute a block of code or even perform GUI event handling. You’ll soon realize that using this pattern is verbose in Java at the moment. Lambda expressions in Java 8 tackle the problem of verbosity. We show in chapter 3 how to construct lambda expressions, where to use them, and how you can make your code more concise by adopting them.

2.1. Coping with changing requirements

Writing code that can cope with changing requirements is difficult. Let’s walk through an example that we’ll gradually improve, showing some best practices for making your code more flexible. In the context of a farm-inventory application, you have to implement a functionality to filtergreen apples from a list. Sounds easy, right?

2.1.1. First attempt: filtering green apples

A first solution might be as follows:

The highlighted line shows the condition required to select green apples. But now the farmer changes his mind and wants to also filter red apples. What can you do? A naïve solution would be to duplicate your method, rename it as filterRedApples, and change the if condition to match red apples. Nonetheless, this approach doesn’t cope well with changes if the farmer wants multiple colors: light green, dark red, yellow, and so on. A good principle is this: after writing similar code, try to abstract.

2.1.2. Second attempt: parameterizing the color

What you could do is add a parameter to your method to parameterize the color and be more flexible to such changes:

public static List<Apple> filterApplesByColor(List<Apple> inventory,

String color) {

List<Apple> result = new ArrayList<>();

for (Apple apple: inventory){

if ( apple.getColor().equals(color) ) {




return result;


You can now make the farmer happy and call your method as follows:

List<Apple> greenApples = filterApplesByColor(inventory, "green");

List<Apple> redApples = filterApplesByColor(inventory, "red");


Too easy, right? Let’s complicate the example a bit. The farmer comes back to you and says, “It would be really cool to differentiate between light apples and heavy apples. Heavy apples typically have a weight greater than 150 g.”

Wearing your software engineering hat, you realize in advance that the farmer may want to vary the weight, so you create the following method to cope with various weights through an additional parameter:

public static List<Apple> filterApplesByWeight(List<Apple> inventory,

int weight) {

List<Apple> result = new ArrayList<>();

For (Apple apple: inventory){

if ( apple.getWeight() > weight ){




return result;


This is a good solution, but notice how you have to duplicate most of the implementation for traversing the inventory and applying the filtering criteria on each apple. This is somewhat disappointing because it breaks the DRY (don’t repeat yourself) principle of software engineering. What if you want to alter the filter traversing to enhance performance? You now have to modify the implementation of all of your methods instead of a single one. This is expensive from an engineering effort perspective.

You could combine the color and weight into one method called filter. But then you’d still need a way to differentiate what attribute you want to filter on. You could add a flag to differentiate between color and weight queries. (But never do this! We’ll explain why shortly.)

2.1.3. Third attempt: filtering with every attribute you can think of

Our ugly attempt of merging all attributes appears as follows:

You could use it as follows (but it’s really ugly):

List<Apple> greenApples = filterApples(inventory, "green", 0, true);

List<Apple> heavyApples = filterApples(inventory, "", 150, false);


This solution is extremely bad. First, the client code looks terrible. What do true and false mean? In addition, this solution doesn’t cope well with changing requirements. What if the farmer asks you to filter with different attributes of an apple, for example, its size, its shape, its origin, and so on? Furthermore, what if the farmer asks you for more complicated queries that combine attributes, such as green apples that are also heavy? You’d either have multiple duplicated filter methods or one giant, very complex method. So far you’ve parameterized the filterApplesmethod with values such as a String, an Integer, or a boolean. This can be fine for certain well-defined problems. But in this case what you need is a better way to tell your filterApples method the selection criteria for apples. In the next section we describe how to make use ofbehavior parameterization to attain that flexibility.

2.2. Behavior parameterization

You saw in the previous section that you need a better way than adding lots of parameters to cope with changing requirements. Let’s step back and find a better level of abstraction. One possible solution is to model your selection criteria: you’re working with apples and returning a booleanbased on some attributes of Apple (for example, is it green? is it heavier than 150 g?). We call this a predicate (that is, a function that returns a boolean). Let’s therefore define an interface to model the selection criteria:

public interface ApplePredicate{

boolean test (Apple apple);


You can now declare multiple implementations of ApplePredicate to represent different selection criteria, for example (and illustrated in figure 2.1):

Figure 2.1. Different strategies for selecting an Apple

You can see these criteria as different behaviors for the filter method. What you just did is related to the strategy design pattern,[1] which lets you define a family of algorithms, encapsulate each algorithm (called a strategy), and select an algorithm at run-time. In this case the family of algorithms is ApplePredicate and the different strategies are AppleHeavyWeightPredicate and AppleGreenColorPredicate.

1 See

But how can you make use of the different implementations of ApplePredicate? You need your filterApples method to accept ApplePredicate objects to test a condition on an Apple. This is what behavior parameterization means: the ability to tell a method to take multiple behaviors (or strategies) as parameters and use them internally to accomplish different behaviors.

To achieve this in the running example, you add a parameter to the filterApples method to take an ApplePredicate object. This has a great software engineering benefit: you can now separate the logic of iterating the collection inside the filterApples method with the behavior you want to apply to each element of the collection (in this case a predicate).

2.2.1. Fourth attempt: filtering by abstract criteria

Our modified filter method, which uses an ApplePredicate, looks like this:

Passing code/behavior

It’s worth pausing for a moment for a small celebration. This code is much more flexible than our first attempt, while at the same time it’s easy to read and to use! You can now create different ApplePredicate objects and pass them to the filterApples method. Free flexibility! For example, if the farmer asks you to find all red apples that are heavier than 150 g, all you need to do is create a class that implements the ApplePredicate accordingly. Your code is now flexible enough for any change of requirements involving the attributes of Apple:

public class AppleRedAndHeavyPredicate implements ApplePredicate{

public boolean test(Apple apple){

return "red".equals(apple.getColor())

&& apple.getWeight() > 150;



List<Apple> redAndHeavyApples =

filter(inventory, new AppleRedAndHeavyPredicate());

You’ve achieved something really cool: the behavior of the filterApples method depends on the code you pass to it via the ApplePredicate object. In other words, you’ve parameterized the behavior of the filterApples method!

Note that in the previous example, the only code that really matters is the implementation of the test method, as illustrated in figure 2.2; this is what defines the new behaviors for the filterApples method. Unfortunately, because the filterApples method can only take objects, you have to wrap that code inside an ApplePredicate object. What you’re doing is similar to “passing code” inline, because you’re passing a boolean expression through an object that implements the test method. You’ll see in section 2.3 (and in more detail in chapter 3) that by using lambdas, you’ll be able to directly pass the expression "red".equals(apple.getColor()) && apple.getWeight() > 150 to the filterApples method without having to define multiple ApplePredicate classes and thus removing unnecessary verbosity.

Figure 2.2. Parameterizing the behavior of filterApples and passing different filter strategies

Multiple behaviors, one parameter

As we explained earlier, behavior parameterization is great because it enables you to separate the logic of iterating the collection to filter and the behavior to apply on each element of that collection. As a consequence, you can reuse the same method and give it different behaviors to achieve different things, as illustrated in figure 2.3. This is why behavior parameterization is a useful concept you should have in your toolset for creating flexible APIs.

Figure 2.3. Parameterizing the behavior of filterApples and passing different filter strategies

To make sure you feel comfortable with the idea of behavior parameterization, have a go at Quiz 2.1!

Quiz 2.1: Write a flexible prettyPrintApple method

Write a prettyPrintApple method that takes a List of Apples and that can be parameterized with multiple ways to generate a String output from an apple (a bit like multiple customized toString methods). For example, you could tell your pretty-PrintApple method to print only the weight of each apple. In addition, you could tell your prettyPrintApple method to print each apple individually and mention whether it’s heavy or light. The solution is similar to the filtering examples we’ve explored so far. To help you get started, we provide a rough skeleton of the prettyPrintApple method:

public static void prettyPrintApple(List<Apple> inventory, ???){

for(Apple apple: inventory) {

String output = ???.???(apple);





First, you need a way to represent a behavior that takes an Apple and returns a formatted String result. You did something similar when you created an ApplePredicate interface:

public interface AppleFormatter{

String accept(Apple a);


You can now represent multiple formatting behaviors by implementing the Apple-Formatter interface:

public class AppleFancyFormatter implements AppleFormatter{

public String accept(Apple apple){

String characteristic = apple.getWeight() > 150 ? "heavy" : "light";

return "A " + characteristic +

" " + apple.getColor() +" apple";



public class AppleSimpleFormatter implements AppleFormatter{

public String accept(Apple apple){

return "An apple of " + apple.getWeight() + "g";



Finally, you need to tell your prettyPrintApple method to take AppleFormatter objects and use them internally. You can do this by adding a parameter to prettyPrintApple:

public static void prettyPrintApple(List<Apple> inventory,

AppleFormatter formatter){

for(Apple apple: inventory){

String output = formatter.accept(apple);




Bingo! You’re now able to pass multiple behaviors to your prettyPrintApple method. You do this by instantiating implementations of AppleFormatter and giving them as arguments to prettyPrintApple:

prettyPrintApple(inventory, new AppleFancyFormatter());

This will produce an output along the lines of

A light green apple

A heavy red apple


Or try this:

prettyPrintApple(inventory, new AppleSimpleFormatter());

This will produce an output along the lines of

An apple of 80g

An apple of 155g


You’ve seen that you can abstract over behavior and make your code adapt to requirement changes, but the process is verbose because you need to declare multiple classes that you instantiate only once. Let’s see how to improve that.

2.3. Tackling verbosity

We all know that a feature or concept that’s cumbersome to use will be avoided. At the moment, when you want to pass new behavior to your filterApples method, you’re forced to declare several classes that implement the ApplePredicate interface and then instantiate severalApplePredicate objects that you allocate only once, as shown in the following listing that summarizes what you’ve seen so far. There’s a lot of verbosity involved and it’s a time-consuming process!

Listing 2.1. Behavior parameterization: filtering apples with predicates

This is unnecessary overhead; can you do better? Java has a mechanism called anonymous classes, which let you declare and instantiate a class at the same time. They enable you to improve your code one step further by making it a little more concise. But they’re not entirely satisfactory.Section 2.3.3 shows a short preview of how lambda expressions can make your code more readable before we discuss them in detail in the next chapter.

2.3.1. Anonymous classes

Anonymous classes are like the local classes (a class defined in a block) that you’re already familiar with in Java. But anonymous classes don’t have a name. They allow you to declare and instantiate a class at the same time. In other words, they allow you to create ad hoc implementations.

2.3.2. Fifth attempt: using an anonymous class

The following code shows how to rewrite the filtering example by creating an object that implements ApplePredicate using an anonymous class:

Anonymous classes are often used in the context of GUI applications to create event-handler objects (here using the JavaFX API, a modern UI platform for Java):

button.setOnAction(new EventHandler<ActionEvent>() {

public void handle(ActionEvent event) {

System.out.println("Woooo a click!!");



But anonymous classes are still not good enough. First, they tend to be very bulky because they take a lot of space, as shown in the highlighted code here using the same two examples used previously:

Second, many programmers find them confusing to use. For example, Quiz 2.2 shows a classic Java puzzler that catches most programmers off guard! Try your hand at it.

Quiz 2.2: Anonymous class puzzler

What will the output be when this code is executed: 4, 5, 6, or 42?


The answer is 5, because this refers to the enclosing Runnable, not the enclosing class MeaningOfThis.

Verbosity in general is bad; it discourages the use of a language feature because it takes a long time to write and maintain verbose code, and it’s not pleasant to read! Good code should be easy to comprehend at a glance. Even though anonymous classes somewhat tackle the verbosity associated with declaring multiple concrete classes for an interface, they’re still unsatisfactory. In the context of passing a simple piece of code (for example, a boolean expression representing a selection criterion), you still have to create an object and explicitly implement a method to define a new behavior (for example, the method test for Predicate or the method handle for EventHandler).

Ideally we’d like to encourage programmers to use the behavior parameterization pattern, because as you’ve just seen, it makes your code more adaptive to requirement changes. In chapter 3 you’ll see that the Java 8 language designers solved this problem by introducing lambda expressions, a more concise way to pass code. Enough suspense; here’s a short preview of how lambda expressions can help you in your quest for clean code.

2.3.3. Sixth attempt: using a lambda expression

The previous code can be rewritten as follows in Java 8 using a lambda expression:

List<Apple> result =

filterApples(inventory, (Apple apple) -> "red".equals(apple.getColor()));

You have to admit this code looks a lot cleaner than our previous attempts! It’s great because it’s starting to look a lot closer to the problem statement. We’ve now tackled the verbosity issue. Figure 2.4 summarizes our journey so far.

Figure 2.4. Behavior parameterization vs. value parameterization

2.3.4. Seventh attempt: abstracting over List type

There’s one more step that you can do in your journey toward abstraction. At the moment, the filterApples method works only for Apple. But you can also abstract on the List type to go beyond the problem domain you’re thinking of right now:

You can now use the method filter with a List of bananas, oranges, Integers, or Strings! Here’s an example, using lambda expressions:

List<Apple> redApples =

filter(inventory, (Apple apple) -> "red".equals(apple.getColor()));

List<String> evenNumbers =

filter(numbers, (Integer i) -> i % 2 == 0);

Isn’t it cool? You’ve managed to find the sweet spot between flexibility and conciseness, which wasn’t possible prior to Java 8!

2.4. Real-world examples

You’ve now seen that behavior parameterization is a useful pattern to easily adapt to changing requirements. This pattern lets you encapsulate a behavior (a piece of code) and parameterize the behavior of methods by passing and using these behaviors you create (for example, different predicates for an Apple). We mentioned earlier that this approach is similar to the strategy design pattern. You may have already used this pattern in practice. Many methods in the Java API can be parameterized with different behaviors. These methods are often used together with anonymous classes. We show three examples, which should solidify the idea of passing code for you: sorting with a Comparator, executing a block of code with Runnable, and GUI event handling.

2.4.1. Sorting with a Comparator

Sorting a collection is a recurring programming task. For example, say your farmer wants you to sort the inventory of apples based on their weight. Or perhaps he changes his mind and wants you to sort the apples by color. Sound familiar? Yes, you need a way to represent and use different sorting behaviors to easily adapt to changing requirements.

In Java 8, a List comes with a sort method (you could also use Collections .sort). The behavior of sort can be parameterized using a java.util.Comparator object, which has the following interface:

// java.util.Comparator

public interface Comparator<T> {

public int compare(T o1, T o2);


You can therefore create different behaviors for the sort method by creating an ad hoc implementation of Comparator. For example, you can use it to sort the inventory by increasing weight using an anonymous class:

inventory.sort(new Comparator<Apple>() {

public int compare(Apple a1, Apple a2){

return a1.getWeight().compareTo(a2.getWeight());



If the farmer changes his mind about how to sort apples, you can create an ad hoc Comparator to match the new requirement and pass it to the sort method! The internal details of how to sort are abstracted away. With a lambda expression it would look like this:


(Apple a1, Apple a2) -> a1.getWeight().compareTo(a2.getWeight()));

Again, don’t worry about this new syntax for now; the next chapter covers in detail how to write and use lambda expressions.

2.4.2. Executing a block of code with Runnable

Threads are like a lightweight process: they execute a block of code on their own. But how can you tell a thread what block of code to run? Several threads may run different code. What you need is a way to represent a piece of code to be executed later. In Java, you can use the Runnableinterface to represent a block of code to be executed; note that the code will return no result (that is, void):

// java.lang.Runnable

public interface Runnable{

public void run();


You can use this interface to create threads with different behaviors as follows:

Thread t = new Thread(new Runnable() {

public void run(){

System.out.println("Hello world");



With a lambda expression it would look like this:

Thread t = new Thread(() -> System.out.println("Hello world"));

2.4.3. GUI event handling

A typical pattern in GUI programming is to perform an action in response to a certain event such as clicking or hovering over text. For example, if the user clicks the Send button, you may wish to display a popup or perhaps log the action in a file. Again, you need a way to cope with changes; you should be able to perform any response. In JavaFX you can use an EventHandler to represent a response to an event by passing it to setOnAction:

Button button = new Button("Send");

button.setOnAction(new EventHandler<ActionEvent>() {

public void handle(ActionEvent event) {




Here, the behavior of the setOnAction method is parameterized with EventHandler objects. With a lambda expression it would look like this:

button.setOnAction((ActionEvent event) -> label.setText("Sent!!"));

2.5. Summary

Following are the key concepts you should take away from this chapter:

· Behavior parameterization is the ability for a method to take multiple different behaviors as parameters and use them internally to accomplish different behaviors.

· Behavior parameterization lets you make your code more adaptive to changing requirements and saves on engineering efforts in the future.

· Passing code is a way to give new behaviors as arguments to a method. But it’s verbose prior to Java 8. Anonymous classes helped a bit before Java 8 to get rid of the verbosity associated with declaring multiple concrete classes for an interface that are needed only once.

· The Java API contains many methods that can be parameterized with different behaviors, which include sorting, threads, and GUI handling.