Programming and Documentation Conventions - Working with the Java Platform - Java in a Nutshell, 6th Edition (2015)

Java in a Nutshell, 6th Edition (2015)

Part II. Working with the Java Platform

Part II is an introduction to some of the core libraries that ship with Java and some programming techniques that are common to intermediate and advanced Java programs.

Chapter 7, Programming and Documentation Conventions
Chapter 8, Working with Java Collections and Arrays
Chapter 9, Handling Common Data Formats
Chapter 10, File handling and I/O
Chapter 11, Classloading, Reflection and Method Handles
Chapter 12, Nashorn
Chapter 13, Platform Tools and Profiles

Chapter 7. Programming and Documentation Conventions

This chapter explains a number of important and useful Java programming and documentation conventions. It covers:

§ General naming and capitalization conventions

§ Portability tips and conventions

§ javadoc documentation comment syntax and conventions

Naming and Capitalization Conventions

The following widely adopted naming conventions apply to packages, reference types, methods, fields, and constants in Java. Because these conventions are almost universally followed and because they affect the public API of the classes you define, they should be followed carefully:


It is customary to try to ensure that your publicly visible package names are unique. One very common way of doing this is by prefixing them with the inverted name of an Internet domain that you own (e.g., com.oreilly.javanutshell). All package names should be lowercase.

Packages of code used internally by applications distributed in self-contained JAR files are not publicly visible and need not follow this convention. It is common in this case to use the application name as the package name or as a package prefix.

Reference types

A type name should begin with a capital letter and be written in mixed case (e.g., String). If a class name consists of more than one word, each word should begin with a capital letter (e.g., StringBuffer). If a type name, or one of the words of a type name, is an acronym, the acronym can be written in all capital letters (e.g., URL, HTMLParser).

Because classes and enumerated types are designed to represent objects, you should choose class names that are nouns (e.g., Thread, Teapot, FormatConverter).

When an interface is used to provide additional information about the classes that implement it, it is common to choose an interface name that is an adjective (e.g., Runnable, Cloneable, Serializable). Annotation types are also commonly named in this way.

When an interface is intended to work more like an abstract superclass, use a name that is a noun (e.g., Document, FileNameMap, Collection).


A method name always begins with a lowercase letter. If the name contains more than one word, every word after the first begins with a capital letter (e.g., insert(), insertObject(), insertObjectAt()). This is usually referred to as “Camel-Case.”

Method names are typically chosen so that the first word is a verb. Method names can be as long as is necessary to make their purpose clear, but choose succinct names where possible. Avoid overly general method names, such as performAction(), go(), or the dreadful doIt().

Fields and constants

Nonconstant field names follow the same capitalization conventions as method names. If a field is a static final constant, it should be written in uppercase. If the name of a constant includes more than one word, the words should be separated with underscores (e.g., MAX_VALUE). A field name should be chosen to best describe the purpose of the field or the value it holds. The constants defined by enum types are also typically written in all capital letters.


Method parameters follow the same capitalization conventions as nonconstant fields. The names of method parameters appear in the documentation for a method, so you should choose names that make the purpose of the parameters as clear as possible. Try to keep parameter names to a single word and use them consistently. For example, if a WidgetProcessor class defines many methods that accept a Widget object as the first parameter, name this parameter widget or even w in each method.

Local variables

Local variable names are an implementation detail and never visible outside your class. Nevertheless, choosing good names makes your code easier to read, understand, and maintain. Variables are typically named following the same conventions as methods and fields.

In addition to the conventions for specific types of names, there are conventions regarding the characters you should use in your names. Java allows the $ character in any identifier, but, by convention, its use is reserved for synthetic names generated by source-code processors. For example, it is used by the Java compiler to make inner classes work. You should not use the $ character in any name that you create.

Java allows names to use any alphanumeric characters from the entire Unicode character set. While this can be convenient for non-English-speaking programmers, this has never really taken off and this usage is extremely rare.

Practical Naming

The names we give to our constructs matter—a lot. Naming is a key part of the process that conveys our abstract designs to our peers. The process of transferring a software design from one human mind to another is hard—harder, in many cases, than the process of transferring our design from our mind to the machines that will execute it.

We must, therefore, do everything we can to ensure that this process is eased. Names are a keystone of this. When reviewing code (and all code should be reviewed), the reviewer should pay particular attention to the names that have been chosen:

§ Do the names of the types reflect the purpose of those types?

§ Does each method do exactly what its name suggests? Ideally, no more, and no less?

§ Are the names descriptive enough? Could a more specific name be used instead?

§ Are the names well-suited for the domain they describe?

§ Are the names consistent across the domain?

§ Do the names mix metaphors?

§ Does the name reuse a common term of software engineering?

Mixed metaphors are common in software, especially after several releases of an application. A system that starts off perfectly reasonably with components called Receptionist (for handling incoming connections), Scribe (for persisting orders), and Auditor (for checking and reconciling orders) can quite easily end up in a later release with a class called Watchdog for restarting processes. This isn’t terrible, but it breaks the established pattern of people’s job titles that previously existed.

It is also incredibly important to realize that software changes a lot over time. A perfectly apposite name on release 1 can become highly misleading by release 4. Care should be taken that as the system focus and intent shifts, the names are refactored along with the code. Modern IDEs have no problem with global search and replace of symbols, so there is no need to cling to outdated metaphors once they are no longer useful.

One final note of caution—an overly strict interpretation of these guidelines can lead the developer to some very odd naming constructs. There are a number of excellent descriptions of some of the absurdities that can result by taking these conventions to their extremes.

In other words, none of the conventions described here are mandatory. Following them will, in the vast majority of cases, make your code easier to read and maintain. However, you should recall George Orwell’s maxim of style—“Break any of these rules rather than say anything outright barbarous”—and not be afraid to deviate from these guidelines if it makes your code easier to read.

Above all, you should have a sense of the expected lifetime of the code you are writing. A risk calculation system in a bank may have a lifetime of a decade or more, whereas a prototype for a startup may only be relevant for a few weeks. Document accordingly—the longer the code is likely to be live, the better its documentation needs to be.

Java Documentation Comments

Most ordinary comments within Java code explain the implementation details of that code. By contrast, the Java language specification defines a special type of comment known as a doc comment that serves to document the API of your code.

A doc comment is an ordinary multiline comment that begins with /** (instead of the usual /*) and ends with */. A doc comment appears immediately before a type or member definition and contains documentation for that type or member. The documentation can include simple HTML formatting tags and other special keywords that provide additional information. Doc comments are ignored by the compiler, but they can be extracted and automatically turned into online HTML documentation by the javadoc program. (See Chapter 13 for more information about javadoc.) Here is an example class that contains appropriate doc comments:


* This immutable class represents <i>complex numbers</i>.


* @author David Flanagan

* @version 1.0


public class Complex {


* Holds the real part of this complex number.

* @see #y


protected double x;


* Holds the imaginary part of this complex number.

* @see #x


protected double y;


* Creates a new Complex object that represents the complex number

* x+yi. @param x The real part of the complex number.

* @param y The imaginary part of the complex number.


public Complex(double x, double y) {

this.x = x;

this.y = y;



* Adds two Complex objects and produces a third object that

* represents their sum.

* @param c1 A Complex object

* @param c2 Another Complex object

* @return A new Complex object that represents the sum of

* <code>c1</code> and <code>c2</code>.

* @exception java.lang.NullPointerException

* If either argument is <code>null</code>.


public static Complex add(Complex c1, Complex c2) {

return new Complex(c1.x + c2.x, c1.y + c2.y);



Structure of a Doc Comment

The body of a doc comment should begin with a one-sentence summary of the type or member being documented. This sentence may be displayed by itself as summary documentation, so it should be written to stand on its own. The initial sentence may be followed by any number of other sentences and paragraphs that describe the class, interface, method, or field in full detail.

After the descriptive paragraphs, a doc comment can contain any number of other paragraphs, each of which begins with a special doc-comment tag, such as @author, @param, or @returns. These tagged paragraphs provide specific information about the class, interface, method, or field that the javadoc program displays in a standard way. The full set of doc-comment tags is listed in the next section.

The descriptive material in a doc comment can contain simple HTML markup tags, such as <i> for emphasis, <code> for class, method, and field names, and <pre> for multiline code examples. It can also contain <p> tags to break the description into separate paragraphs and <ul>, <li>, and related tags to display bulleted lists and similar structures. Remember, however, that the material you write is embedded within a larger, more complex HTML document. For this reason, doc comments should not contain major structural HTML tags, such as <h2> or <hr>, that might interfere with the structure of the larger document.

Avoid the use of the <a> tag to include hyperlinks or cross-references in your doc comments. Instead, use the special {@link} doc-comment tag, which, unlike the other doc-comment tags, can appear anywhere within a doc comment. As described in the next section, the {@link} tag allows you to specify hyperlinks to other classes, interfaces, methods, and fields without knowing the HTML-structuring conventions and filenames used by javadoc.

If you want to include an image in a doc comment, place the image file in a doc-files subdirectory of the source code directory. Give the image the same name as the class, with an integer suffix. For example, the second image that appears in the doc comment for a class named Circle can be included with this HTML tag:

<img src="doc-files/Circle-2.gif">

Because the lines of a doc comment are embedded within a Java comment, any leading spaces and asterisks (*) are stripped from each line of the comment before processing. Thus, you don’t need to worry about the asterisks appearing in the generated documentation or about the indentation of the comment affecting the indentation of code examples included within the comment with a <pre> tag.

Doc-Comment Tags

The javadoc program recognizes a number of special tags, each of which begins with an @ character. These doc-comment tags allow you to encode specific information into your comments in a standardized way, and they allow javadoc to choose the appropriate output format for that information. For example, the @param tag lets you specify the name and meaning of a single parameter for a method. javadoc can extract this information and display it using an HTML <dl> list, an HTML <table>, or however it sees fit.

The following doc-comment tags are recognized by javadoc; a doc comment should typically use these tags in the order listed here:

@author name

Adds an “Author:” entry that contains the specified name. This tag should be used for every class or interface definition but must not be used for individual methods and fields. If a class has multiple authors, use multiple @author tags on adjacent lines. For example:

@author Ben Evans

@author David Flanagan

List the authors in chronological order, with the original author first. If the author is unknown, you can use “unascribed.” javadoc does not output authorship information unless the -author command-line argument is specified.

@version text

Inserts a “Version:” entry that contains the specified text. For example:

@version 1.32, 08/26/04

This tag should be included in every class and interface doc comment but cannot be used for individual methods and fields. This tag is often used in conjunction with the automated version-numbering capabilities of a version control system, such as git, Perforce, or SVN. javadoc does not output version information in its generated documentation unless the -version command-line argument is specified.

@param parameter-name description

Adds the specified parameter and its description to the “Parameters:” section of the current method. The doc comment for a method or constructor must contain one @param tag for each parameter the method expects. These tags should appear in the same order as the parameters specified by the method. The tag can be used only in doc comments for methods and constructors.

You are encouraged to use phrases and sentence fragments where possible to keep the descriptions brief. However, if a parameter requires detailed documentation, the description can wrap onto multiple lines and include as much text as necessary. For readability in source-code form, consider using spaces to align the descriptions with each other. For example:

@param o the object to insert

@param index the position to insert it at

@return description

Inserts a “Returns:” section that contains the specified description. This tag should appear in every doc comment for a method, unless the method returns void or is a constructor. The description can be as long as necessary, but consider using a sentence fragment to keep it short. For example:

@return <code>true</code> if the insertion is successful, or

<code>false</code> if the list already contains the object.

@exception full-classname description

Adds a “Throws:” entry that contains the specified exception name and description. A doc comment for a method or constructor should contain an @exception tag for every checked exception that appears in its throws clause. For example:


If the specified file could not be found

The @exception tag can optionally be used to document unchecked exceptions (i.e., subclasses of RuntimeException) the method may throw, when these are exceptions that a user of the method may reasonably want to catch. If a method can throw more than one exception, use multiple @exception tags on adjacent lines and list the exceptions in alphabetical order. The description can be as short or as long as necessary to describe the significance of the exception. This tag can be used only for method and constructor comments. The @throws tag is a synonym for @exception.

@throws full-classname description

This tag is a synonym for @exception.

@see reference

Adds a “See Also:” entry that contains the specified reference. This tag can appear in any kind of doc comment. The syntax for the reference is explained later in this chapter in “Cross-References in Doc Comments”.

@deprecated explanation

This tag specifies that the following type or member has been deprecated and that its use should be avoided. javadoc adds a prominent “Deprecated” entry to the documentation and includes the specified explanation text. This text should specify when the class or member was deprecated and, if possible, suggest a replacement class or member and include a link to it. For example:

@deprecated As of Version 3.0, this method is replaced

by {@link #setColor}.

The @deprecated tag is an exception to the general rule that javac ignores all comments. When this tag appears, the compiler notes the deprecation in the class file it produces. This allows it to issue warnings for other classes that rely on the deprecated feature.

@since version

Specifies when the type or member was added to the API. This tag should be followed by a version number or other version specification. For example:

@since JNUT 3.0

Every doc comment for a type should include an @since tag, and any members added after the initial release of the type should have @since tags in their doc comments.

@serial description

Technically, the way a class is serialized is part of its public API. If you write a class that you expect to be serialized, you should document its serialization format using @serial and the related tags listed next. @serial should appear in the doc comment for any field that is part of the serialized state of a Serializable class.

For classes that use the default serialization mechanism, this means all fields that are not declared transient, including fields declared private. The description should be a brief description of the field and of its purpose within a serialized object.

You can also use the @serial tag at the class and package level to specify whether a “serialized form page” should be generated for the class or package. The syntax is:

@serial include

@serial exclude

@serialField name type description

A Serializable class can define its serialized format by declaring an array of ObjectStreamField objects in a field named serialPersistentFields. For such a class, the doc comment for serialPersistentFields should include an @serialField tag for each element of the array. Each tag specifies the name, type, and description for a particular field in the serialized state of the class.

@serialData description

A Serializable class can define a writeObject() method to write data other than that written by the default serialization mechanism. An Externalizable class defines a writeExternal() method responsible for writing the complete state of an object to the serialization stream. The @serialData tag should be used in the doc comments for these writeObject() and writeExternal() methods, and the description should document the serialization format used by the method.

Inline Doc-Comment Tags

In addition to the preceding tags, javadoc also supports several inline tags that may appear anywhere that HTML text appears in a doc comment. Because these tags appear directly within the flow of HTML text, they require the use of curly braces as delimiters to separate the tagged text from the HTML text. Supported inline tags include the following:

{@link reference }

The {@link} tag is like the @see tag except that instead of placing a link to the specified reference in a special “See Also:” section, it inserts the link inline. An {@link} tag can appear anywhere that HTML text appears in a doc comment. In other words, it can appear in the initial description of the class, interface, method, or field and in the descriptions associated with the @param, @returns, @exception, and @deprecated tags. The reference for the {@link} tag uses the syntax described next in “Cross-References in Doc Comments”. For example:

@param regexp The regular expression to search for. This string

argument must follow the syntax rules described for

{@link java.util.regex.Pattern}.

{@linkplain reference }

The {@linkplain} tag is just like the {@link} tag, except that the text of the link is formatted using the normal font rather than the code font used by the {@link} tag. This is most useful when reference contains both a feature to link to and a label that specifies alternate text to be displayed in the link. See “Cross-References in Doc Comments” for a discussion of the feature and label portions of the reference argument.


When a method overrides a method in a superclass or implements a method in an interface, you can omit a doc comment, and javadoc automatically inherits the documentation from the overridden or implemented method. The {@inheritDoc} tag allows you to inherit the text of individual tags. This tag also allows you to inherit and augment the descriptive text of the comment. To inherit individual tags, use it like this:

@param index @{inheritDoc}

@return @{inheritDoc}


This inline tag takes no parameters and is replaced with a reference to the root directory of the generated documentation. It is useful in hyperlinks that refer to an external file, such as an image or a copyright statement:

<img src="{@docroot}/images/logo.gif">

This is <a href="{@docRoot}/legal.html">Copyrighted</a> material.

{@literal text }

This inline tag displays text literally, escaping any HTML in it and ignoring any javadoc tags it may contain. It does not retain whitespace formatting but is useful when used within a <pre> tag.

{@code text }

This tag is like the {@literal} tag, but displays the literal text in code font. Equivalent to:

&lt;code&gt;{@literal <replaceable>text</replaceable>}&lt;/code&gt;


The {@value} tag, with no arguments, is used inline in doc comments for static final fields and is replaced with the constant value of that field.

{@value reference }

This variant of the {@value} tag includes a reference to a static final field and is replaced with the constant value of that field.

Cross-References in Doc Comments

The @see tag and the inline tags {@link}, {@linkplain}, and {@value} all encode a cross-reference to some other source of documentation, typically to the documentation comment for some other type or member.

reference can take three different forms. If it begins with a quote character, it is taken to be the name of a book or some other printed resource and is displayed as is. If reference begins with a < character, it is taken to be an arbitrary HTML hyperlink that uses the <a> tag and the hyperlink is inserted into the output documentation as is. This form of the @see tag can insert links to other online documents, such as a programmer’s guide or user’s manual.

If reference is not a quoted string or a hyperlink, it is expected to have the following form:

feature [label]

In this case, javadoc outputs the text specified by label and encodes it as a hyperlink to the specified feature. If label is omitted (as it usually is), javadoc uses the name of the specified feature instead.

feature can refer to a package, type, or type member, using one of the following forms:


A reference to the named package. For example:

@see java.lang.reflect


A reference to a class, interface, enumerated type, or annotation type specified with its full package name. For example:

@see java.util.List


A reference to a type specified without its package name. For example:

@see List

javadoc resolves this reference by searching the current package and the list of imported classes for a class with this name.

typename # methodname

A reference to a named method or constructor within the specified type. For example:


@see InputStream#close

If the type is specified without its package name, it is resolved as described for typename. This syntax is ambiguous if the method is overloaded or the class defines a field by the same name.

typename # methodname ( paramtypes )

A reference to a method or constructor with the type of its parameters explicitly specified. This is useful when cross-referencing an overloaded method. For example:

@see InputStream#read(byte[], int, int)

# methodname

A reference to a nonoverloaded method or constructor in the current class or interface or one of the containing classes, superclasses, or superinterfaces of the current class or interface. Use this concise form to refer to other methods in the same class. For example:

@see #setBackgroundColor

# methodname ( paramtypes )

A reference to a method or constructor in the current class or interface or one of its superclasses or containing classes. This form works with overloaded methods because it lists the types of the method parameters explicitly. For example:

@see #setPosition(int, int)

typename # fieldname

A reference to a named field within the specified class. For example:


If the type is specified without its package name, it is resolved as described for typename.

# fieldname

A reference to a field in the current type or one of the containing classes, superclasses, or superinterfaces of the current type. For example:

@see #x

Doc Comments for Packages

Documentation comments for classes, interfaces, methods, constructors, and fields appear in Java source code immediately before the definitions of the features they document. javadoc can also read and display summary documentation for packages. Because a package is defined in a directory, not in a single file of source code, javadoc looks for the package documentation in a file named package.html in the directory that contains the source code for the classes of the package.

The package.html file should contain simple HTML documentation for the package. It can also contain @see, @link, @deprecated, and @since tags. Because package.html is not a file of Java source code, the documentation it contains should be HTML and should not be a Java comment (i.e., it should not be enclosed within /** and */ characters). Finally, any @see and @link tags that appear in package.html must use fully qualified class names.

In addition to defining a package.html file for each package, you can also provide high-level documentation for a group of packages by defining an overview.html file in the source tree for those packages. When javadoc is run over that source tree, it uses overview.html as the highest level overview it displays.

Conventions for Portable Programs

One of the earliest slogans for Java was “write once, run anywhere.” This emphasizes that Java makes it easy to write portable programs, but it is still possible to write Java programs that do not automatically run successfully on any Java platform. The following tips help to avoid portability problems.

Native methods

Portable Java code can use any methods in the core Java APIs, including methods implemented as native methods. However, portable code must not define its own native methods. By their very nature, native methods must be ported to each new platform, so they directly subvert the “write once, run anywhere” promise of Java.

The Runtime.exec() method

Calling the Runtime.exec() method to spawn a process and execute an external command on the native system is rarely allowed in portable code. This is because the native OS command to be executed is never guaranteed to exist or behave the same way on all platforms. The only time it is legal to use Runtime.exec() in portable code is when the user is allowed to specify the command to run, either by typing the command at runtime or by specifying the command in a configuration file or preferences dialog box.

The System.getenv() method

Using System.getenv() is inherently nonportable.

Undocumented classes

Portable Java code must use only classes and interfaces that are a documented part of the Java platform. Most Java implementations ship with additional undocumented public classes that are part of the implementation but not part of the Java platform specification. Nothing prevents a program from using and relying on these undocumented classes, but doing so is not portable because the classes are not guaranteed to exist in all Java implementations or on all platforms.

Of particular note is the sun.misc.Unsafe class, which provides access to a number of “unsafe” methods, which can allow developers to circumvent a number of key restrictions of the Java platform. Developers should not make direct use of the Unsafe class under any circumstances.

The java.awt.peer package

The interfaces in the java.awt.peer package are part of the Java platform but are documented for use by AWT implementors only. Applications that use these interfaces directly are not portable.

Implementation-specific features

Portable code must not rely on features specific to a single implementation. For example, Microsoft distributed a version of the Java runtime system that included a number of additional methods that were not part of the Java platform as defined by the specifications. Any program that depends on such extensions is obviously not portable to other platforms.

Implementation-specific bugs

Just as portable code must not depend on implementation-specific features, it must not depend on implementation-specific bugs. If a class or method behaves differently than the specification says it should, a portable program cannot rely on this behavior, which may be different on different platforms, and ultimately may be fixed.

Implementation-specific behavior

Sometimes different platforms and different implementations present different behaviors, all of which are legal according to the Java specification. Portable code must not depend on any one specific behavior. For example, the Java specification does not indicate whether threads of equal priority share the CPU or if one long-running thread can starve another thread at the same priority. If an application assumes one behavior or the other, it may not run properly on all platforms.

Standard extensions

Portable code can rely on standard extensions to the Java platform, but, if it does so, it should clearly specify which extensions it uses and exit cleanly with an appropriate error message when run on a system that does not have the extensions installed.

Complete programs

Any portable Java program must be complete and self-contained: it must supply all the classes it uses, except core platform and standard extension classes.

Defining system classes

Portable Java code never defines classes in any of the system or standard extension packages. Doing so violates the protection boundaries of those packages and exposes package-visible implementation details.

Hardcoded filenames

A portable program contains no hardcoded file or directory names. This is because different platforms have significantly different filesystem organizations and use different directory separator characters. If you need to work with a file or directory, have the user specify the filename, or at least the base directory beneath which the file can be found. This specification can be done at runtime, in a configuration file, or as a command-line argument to the program. When concatenating a file or directory name to a directory name, use the File() constructor or theFile.separator constant.

Line separators

Different systems use different characters or sequences of characters as line separators. Do not hardcode \n, \r, or \r\n as the line separator in your program. Instead, use the println() method of PrintStream or PrintWriter, which automatically terminates a line with the line separator appropriate for the platform, or use the value of the line.separator system property. You can also use the “%n” format string to printf() and format() methods of java.util.Formatter and related classes.