Core Java

Playing with Java 8 Lambdas in the JDT

Old Curmudgeon Dude Who Knows Smalltalk
Old Curmudgeon Dude Who Knows Smalltalk

I’ve been playing with the language a bit while tinkering with the Java 8 support under development by the Eclipse Java development tools (JDT) project.

I’ll admit that I’m a little underwhelmed by lambdas in Java 8. This, of course, comes from an Old Dude Who Knows Smalltalk (and LISP/Scheme).

Like any good Smalltalk curmudgeon, when I set about learning how to use lambdas, I naturally decided to implement the known and loved collections.

Starting from something like this:

OrderedCollection employees = new OrderedCollection();
employees.add(new Employee("Wayne", 10));
employees.add(new Employee("Joel", 9));
employees.add(new Employee("Jon", 6));
employees.add(new Employee("Anthony", 8));
employees.add(new Employee("Mary", 2));
employees.add(new Employee("Sue", 3));
employees.add(new Employee("Joanne", 7));
employees.add(new Employee("Shridar", 1));

In classic Java, you’d do something like this to find employees with more than five years of experience:

List longTerm = new ArrayList();
for(Employee employee : employees) 
	if (employee.years > 5) longTerm.add(employee);

Using lambdas, you might do something like this:

OrderedCollection longTerm = -> employee.years > 5);

It’s a little tighter than classic Java, and I personally find it very readable and understandable; readers with different experiences may have a different option. I believe that it is way better than the equivalent implementation with an anonymous class:

OrderedCollection longTerm = SelectBlock() {
	public boolean value(Employee employee) {
		return employee.years > 5;

Anonymous classes make babies cry.

Of course, babies aren’t particularly happy about the implementation of select() either:

public class OrderedCollection<T> extends ArrayList<T> {
	public OrderedCollection<T> select(SelectBlock<T> block) {
		OrderedCollection<T> select = new OrderedCollection<T>();
		for(T value : this) {
			if (block.value(value)) select.add(value);
		return select;

Lambdas are syntactic sugar for anonymous classes, and do arguably make some code easier to read. For my rather simplistic example, the benefit over the direct use of a for-loop is marginal from a readability point-of-view, but it’s far easier to understand than the anonymous class example. From a performance point-of-view, I expect that using lambdas or anonymous classes in this context would be something like an order of magnitude worse than just using a for-loop.

One of the cooler things that we do in Smalltalk is create our own control structures. Instead of creating a whole new collection, you could create custom iterators, e.g.:

payroll.longTermEmployeesDo(employee -> payroll.giveEmployeeARaise(employee));

Or something like that. I’m not sure if this makes it better or not.

Simple collections might not be the best use of lambdas. Lambdas are not quite as useful (or, I believe, as efficient) as blocks in Smalltalk. I’ll need to spend a little more time tinkering with examples where the use of anonymous classes is more natural in Java (Runnables and listeners seem like an obvious place to start).

Unfortunately, I think that trying to implement Smalltalk-like collections using lambdas in Java 8 will also make babies cry.

As a parting shot… try to wrap your brain around this:

double average = (double)employees.inject(0, 
	(sum, employee) -> sum + employee.years) / employees.size();

Totally readable. Totally.

Modified on Feb 18/2014. My initial observations led me to believe that lambdas are syntactic sugar for anonymous classes. I’ve since learned that this is not the case. Further, there are some optimizations that I need to better understand. I’ve struck out the incorrect statements (but have otherwise left it for posterity).


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10 years ago


I suppose lambdas are not syntax sugar for inner classes like Scala, in Java 8 they are compiled to a static method inside the same class and invoked using invokedynamic. Please refer and the first source dates back to 2012 and is a draft which may have changed, but when i decompiled a class with lambda was able to see it compiled as a private static method instead of an inner class. Correct me if I am wrong.


10 years ago

Nope. You’re right. I was wrong. I’ve updated the article to reflect this. Unfortunately, the strike-through that I used to indicate my errors isn’t reflected in this copy of my original

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