Default Java interface methods Use cases

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Java 9 is near to come and more features will be added to Java interfaces, like private methods. default methods in interfaces were added in Java 8, essentially to support the use of lambdas inside collections without breaking retro-compatibility with previous versions of the language.

In Scala, methods inside traits are quite useful. However, Scala has a different approach treating traits than Java with default methods. Think to multiple inheritance resolution or the use of traits as mixins.

Apart the above use, which are the real scenarios in which using a default methods is worth? During this years is it arisen some pattern that uses them? Which problems can I solve using this kind of methods?


Brian Goetz and I covered some of this at our JavaOne 2015 talk, API Design with Java 8 Lambda and Streams. Despite the title, there is some material at the end about default methods.

Slides: https://stuartmarks.files.wordpress.com/2015/10/con6851-api-design-v2.pdf

Video: https://youtu.be/o10ETyiNIsM?t=24m

I'll summarize here what we said about default methods.

Interface Evolution

The primary use case of default methods is interface evolution. Mainly, this is the ability to add methods to interfaces without breaking backward compatibility. As noted in the question, this was most prominently employed to add methods allowing conversion of Collections to Streams and to add lambda-based APIs to Collections.

There are several other use cases, though.

Optional Methods

Sometimes interface methods are logically "optional". Consider mutator methods on immutable collections, for example. Of course, an implementation is required, but usually what it will do in such cases is to throw an exception. This can easily be done in a default method. Implementations can inherit the exception-throwing method if they don't want to provide it, or they can override it if they want to provide an implementation. Example: Iterator.remove.

Convenience Methods

Sometimes a method is provided for the convenience of callers, and there is an obvious and optimal implementation. This implementation can be provided by a default method. It's legal for an implementation to override the default, but there's generally no reason, so implementations will usually inherit it. Examples: Comparator.reversed, Spliterator.getExactSizeIfKnown, Spliterator.hasCharacteristics. Note that Spliterator was introduced in Java 8, including the default methods, so this clearly wasn't a case of interface evolution.

Simple Implementation, Intended to be Overridden

A default method can provide a simple, general implementation that works for all implementations, but that is probably suboptimal. This assists implementations during initial bring-up, because they can inherit the default and be assured of correct operation. However, in the long term, implementations will probably want to override the default and provide an improved, customized implementation.

Example: List.sort. The default implementation copies the list elements to a temporary array, sorts the array, and copies the elements back to the list. This is a correct implementation, and sometimes it can't be improved upon (e.g. for LinkedList). However, ArrayList overrides sort and sorts its internal array in-place. This avoids the copying overhead.

Now, obviously sort was retrofitted onto List and ArrayList in Java 8, so the evolution didn't happen this way. But you could easily imagine bringing up a new List implementation. You'd probably initially inherit the sort default implementation while you're getting the basics implemented properly. Later on, you might consider implementing a customized sort algorithm that's tuned to your new implementation's internal data organization.