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About Rohit Joshi

Rohit Joshi
Rohit Joshi is a Senior Software Engineer from India. He is a Sun Certified Java Programmer and has worked on projects related to different domains. His expertise is in Core Java and J2EE technologies, but he also has good experience with front-end technologies like Javascript, JQuery, HTML5, and JQWidgets.

Visitor Design Pattern Example

This article is part of our Academy Course titled Java Design Patterns.

In this course you will delve into a vast number of Design Patterns and see how those are implemented and utilized in Java. You will understand the reasons why patterns are so important and learn when and how to apply each one of them. Check it out here!
 
 
 
 
 
 

1 Introduction

To understand the Visitor Design Pattern, let us revisit the Composite Design Pattern. The Composite Pattern allows you to compose objects into tree structures to represent part-whole hierarchies.

In the Composite Pattern example, we had created an html structure composed of different types of objects. Now suppose that we need to add a css class to the html tags. One way to do this is by adding the class when adding a start tag using the setStartTag method. But this hard coded setting will create inflexibility to our code.

Another way of doing this is by adding a new method like addClass in the parent abstract HtmlTag class. All the child classes will override this method and will provide the css class. One major drawback of this approach is that, if there are many child classes (will be in large html page), it will become very expensive and hectic to implement this method in all the child classes. And suppose, later we need to add another style element in the tags, we again need to do the same thing.

The Visitor Design Pattern provides you with a way to add new operations on the objects without changing the classes of the elements, especially when the operations change quite often.

2. What is the Visitor Design Pattern

The intent of the Visitor Design Pattern is to represent an operation to be performed on the elements of an object structure. Visitor lets you define a new operation without changing the classes of the elements on which it operates.

The Visitor pattern is useful when designing an operation across a heterogeneous collection of objects of a class hierarchy. The Visitor pattern allows the operation to be defined without changing the class of any of the objects in the collection. To accomplish this, the Visitor pattern suggests defining the operation in a separate class referred to as a visitor class. This separates the operation from the object collection that it operates on. For every new operation to be defined, a new visitor class is created. Since the operation is to be performed across a set of objects, the visitor needs a way of accessing the public members of these objects. This requirement can be addressed by implementing the following two design ideas.

Figure 1 - Visitor design pattern Class diagram

Figure 1 – Visitor design pattern Class diagram

Visitor

  • Declares a Visit operation for each class of ConcreteElement in the object structure. The operation’s name and signature identifies the class that sends the Visit request to the visitor. That lets the visitor determine the concrete class of the element being visited. Then the visitor can access the element directly through its particular interface.

ConcreteVisitor

  • Implements each operation declared by Visitor. Each operation implements a fragment of the algorithm defined for the corresponding class of object in the structure. ConcreteVisitor provides the context for the algorithm and stores its local state. This state often accumulates results during the traversal of the structure.

Element

  • Defines an Accept operation that takes a visitor as an argument.

ConcreteElement

  • Implements an Accept operation that takes a visitor as an argument.

ObjectStructure

  • Can enumerate its elements.
  • May provide a high-level interface to allow the visitor to visit its elements.
  • May either be a composite or a collection such as a list or a set.

3. Implement the Visitor Design Pattern

To implement the Visitor Design Pattern, we will use the same Composite Pattern code and will introduce some new interfaces, classes and methods to it.

Implementing Visitor Pattern requires two important interfaces, an Element interface which will contain an accept method with an argument of type Visitor. This interface will be implemented by all the classes that need to allow visitors to visit them. In our case, the HtmlTag will implement the Element interface, as the HtmlTag is the parent abstract class of all the concrete html classes, the concrete classes will inherit and will override the accept method of the Element interface.

The other important interface is the Visitor interface; this interface will contain visit methods with an argument of a class that implements the Element interface. Please also note that we have added two new methods in our HtmlTag class, the getStartTag and the getEndTag as opposed to the example shown in the Composite Design Pattern lesson.

package com.javacodegeeks.patterns.visitorpattern;

public interface Element {
	
	public void accept(Visitor visitor);
}

package com.javacodegeeks.patterns.visitorpattern;

public interface Visitor {
	public void visit(HtmlElement element);
	public void visit(HtmlParentElement parentElement);
}

The code below is from the Composite Pattern example with a few changes.

package com.javacodegeeks.patterns.visitorpattern;

import java.util.List;


public abstract class HtmlTag implements Element{
	
	public abstract String getTagName();
	public abstract void setStartTag(String tag);
	public abstract String getStartTag();
	public abstract String getEndTag();
	public abstract void setEndTag(String tag);
	public void setTagBody(String tagBody){
		throw new UnsupportedOperationException("Current operation is not support for this object");
	}
	public void addChildTag(HtmlTag htmlTag){
		throw new UnsupportedOperationException("Current operation is not support for this object");
	}
	public void removeChildTag(HtmlTag htmlTag){
		throw new UnsupportedOperationException("Current operation is not support for this object");
	}
	public List<HtmlTag>getChildren(){
		throw new UnsupportedOperationException("Current operation is not support for this object");
	}
	public abstract void generateHtml();

}

The abstract HtmlTag class implements the Element interface. The below concrete classes will override the accept method of the Element interface and will call the visit method, and will pass this operator as an argument. This will allow the visitor method to get all the public members of the object, to add new operations on it.

package com.javacodegeeks.patterns.visitorpattern;

import java.util.ArrayList;
import java.util.List;

public class HtmlParentElement extends HtmlTag {

	private String tagName;
	private String startTag; 
	private String endTag;
	private List<HtmlTag>childrenTag;
	
	public HtmlParentElement(String tagName){
		this.tagName = tagName;
		this.startTag = "";
		this.endTag = "";
		this.childrenTag = new ArrayList<>();
	}
	
	@Override
	public String getTagName() {
		return tagName;
	}

	@Override
	public void setStartTag(String tag) {
		this.startTag = tag;
	}

	@Override
	public void setEndTag(String tag) {
		this.endTag = tag;
	}
	
	@Override
	public String getStartTag() {
		return startTag;
	}
	
	@Override
	public String getEndTag() {
		return endTag;
	}
	
	@Override
	public void addChildTag(HtmlTag htmlTag){
		childrenTag.add(htmlTag);
	}
	
	@Override
	public void removeChildTag(HtmlTag htmlTag){
		childrenTag.remove(htmlTag);
	}
	
	@Override
	public List<HtmlTag>getChildren(){
		return childrenTag;
	}

	@Override
	public void generateHtml() {
		System.out.println(startTag);
		for(HtmlTag tag : childrenTag){
			tag.generateHtml();
		}
		System.out.println(endTag);
		
	}

	@Override
	public void accept(Visitor visitor) {
		visitor.visit(this);
	}

}
package com.javacodegeeks.patterns.visitorpattern;

public class HtmlElement extends HtmlTag{

	private String tagName;
	private String startTag; 
	private String endTag;
	private String tagBody;
	
	public HtmlElement(String tagName){
		this.tagName = tagName;
		this.tagBody = "";
		this.startTag = "";
		this.endTag = "";
	}
	
	@Override
	public String getTagName() {
		return tagName;
	}

	@Override
	public void setStartTag(String tag) {
		this.startTag = tag;
	}
	
	@Override
	public void setEndTag(String tag) {
		this.endTag = tag;
	}
	
	@Override
	public String getStartTag() {
		return startTag;
	}
	
	@Override
	public String getEndTag() {
		return endTag;
	}
	
	@Override
	public void setTagBody(String tagBody){
		this.tagBody = tagBody;
	}
	
	@Override
	public void generateHtml() {
		System.out.println(startTag+""+tagBody+""+endTag);
	}

	@Override
	public void accept(Visitor visitor) {
		visitor.visit(this);
	}

}

Now, the concrete visitor classes: we have created two concrete classes, one will add a css class visitor to all html tags and the other one will change the width of the tag using the style attribute of the html tag.

package com.javacodegeeks.patterns.visitorpattern;

public class CssClassVisitor implements Visitor{

	@Override
	public void visit(HtmlElement element) {
		element.setStartTag(element.getStartTag().replace(">", " class='visitor'>"));
		
	}

	@Override
	public void visit(HtmlParentElement parentElement) {
		parentElement.setStartTag(parentElement.getStartTag().replace(">", " class='visitor'>"));
	}

}
package com.javacodegeeks.patterns.visitorpattern;

public class StyleVisitor implements Visitor {

	@Override
	public void visit(HtmlElement element) {
		element.setStartTag(element.getStartTag().replace(">", " style='width:46px;'>"));
		
	}

	@Override
	public void visit(HtmlParentElement parentElement) {
		parentElement.setStartTag(parentElement.getStartTag().replace(">", " style='width:58px;'>"));
	}

}

Now, let’s test the above example.

package com.javacodegeeks.patterns.visitorpattern;

public class TestVisitorPattern {
	
	public static void main(String[] args) {
		
		System.out.println("Before visitor......... \\n");
		
		HtmlTag parentTag = new HtmlParentElement("<html>");
		parentTag.setStartTag("<html>");
		parentTag.setEndTag("</html>");
		
		HtmlTag p1 = new HtmlParentElement("<body>");
		p1.setStartTag("<body>");
		p1.setEndTag("</body>");
		
		parentTag.addChildTag(p1);
		
		HtmlTag child1 = new HtmlElement("<p>");
		child1.setStartTag("<p>");
		child1.setEndTag("</p>");
		child1.setTagBody("Testing html tag library");
		p1.addChildTag(child1);
		
		child1 = new HtmlElement("<p>");
		child1.setStartTag("<p>");
		child1.setEndTag("</p>");
		child1.setTagBody("Paragraph 2");
		p1.addChildTag(child1);
		
		parentTag.generateHtml();
		
		System.out.println("\\nAfter visitor....... \\n");
		
		Visitor cssClass = new CssClassVisitor();
		Visitor style = new StyleVisitor();
		
		parentTag = new HtmlParentElement("<html>");
		parentTag.setStartTag("<html>");
		parentTag.setEndTag("</html>");
		parentTag.accept(style);
		parentTag.accept(cssClass);
		
		p1 = new HtmlParentElement("<body>");
		p1.setStartTag("<body>");
		p1.setEndTag("</body>");
		p1.accept(style);
		p1.accept(cssClass);
		
		parentTag.addChildTag(p1);
		
		child1 = new HtmlElement("<p>");
		child1.setStartTag("<p>");
		child1.setEndTag("</p>");
		child1.setTagBody("Testing html tag library");
		child1.accept(style);
		child1.accept(cssClass);
		
		p1.addChildTag(child1);
		
		child1 = new HtmlElement("<p>");
		child1.setStartTag("<p>");
		child1.setEndTag("</p>");
		child1.setTagBody("Paragraph 2");
		child1.accept(style);
		child1.accept(cssClass);
		
		p1.addChildTag(child1);
		
		parentTag.generateHtml();
	}

}

The above code will result to the following output:

Before visitor......... 

<html>
<body>
<p>Testing html tag library</p>
<p>Paragraph 2</p>
</body>
</html>

After visitor....... 

<html style='width:58px;' class='visitor'>
<body style='width:58px;' class='visitor'>
<p style='width:46px;' class='visitor'>Testing html tag library</p>
<p style='width:46px;' class='visitor'>Paragraph 2</p>
</body>
</html>

The output after ‘Before Visitor…’ is the same as it results in the Composite Pattern lesson. Later, we created two concrete visitors and then added them to the concrete html objects using the accept method. The output ‘After visitor…’ shows you the result, in which css class and style elements are added into the html tags.

Please note that the advantage of the Visitor Pattern is that we can add new operations to the objects without changing its classes. For example, we can add some javascript functions like onclick or some angularjs ng tags without modifying the classes.

4. When to use the Visitor Design Pattern

Use the Visitor pattern when:

  • An object structure contains many classes of objects with differing interfaces, and you want to perform operations on these objects that depend on their concrete classes.
  • Many distinct and unrelated operations need to be performed on objects in an object structure, and you want to avoid “polluting” their classes with these operations. Visitor lets you keep related operations together by defining them in one class. When the object structure is shared by many applications, use Visitor to put operations in just those applications that need them.
  • The classes defining the object structure rarely change, but you often want to define new operations over the structure. Changing the object structure classes requires redefining the interface to all visitors, which is potentially costly. If the object structure classes change often, then it’s probably better to define the operations in those classes.

5. Visitor Design Pattern in JDK

  • javax.lang.model.element.Element and javax.lang.model.element.ElementVisitor
  • javax.lang.model.type.TypeMirror and javax.lang.model.type.TypeVisitor

6. Download the Source Code

This was a lesson on the Visitor Design Pattern. You may download the relevant source code here: VisitorPattern-Project

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