Lambda expressions in Java

Introduction

If you’re familiar with .NET then you already know what Lambda expressions are and how useful they can be. They were not available in Java before version 8. Let’s investigate how they can be applied in Java.

First example: an interface method with a single parameter

Say you have the following Employee class:

public class Employee
{
    private UUID id;
    private String name;
    private int age;

    public Employee(UUID id, String name, int age)
    {
        this.id = id;
        this.name = name;
        this.age = age;
    }
        
    public UUID getId()
    {
        return id;
    }

    public void setId(UUID id)
    {
        this.id = id;
    }

    public String getName()
    {
        return name;
    }

    public void setName(String name)
    {
        this.name = name;
    }    
    
    public int getAge()
    {
        return age;
    }

    public void setAge(int age)
    {
        this.age = age;
    }
}

You can judge whether or not an Employee is cool based on a number of factors. As the implementation of “coolness” can vary so let’s hide it behind an interface:

public interface EmployeeCoolnessJudger
{
    boolean isCool(Employee employee);
}

Here comes an anonymous implementation of the EmployeeCoolnessJudger interface based on the employee name. We simply say that everyone with the name “Elvis” is cool:

EmployeeCoolnessJudger nameBasedCoolnessJudger = new EmployeeCoolnessJudger()
{
            @Override
            public boolean isCool(Employee employee)
            {
                return employee.getName().equals("Elvis");
            }
};

In Java 8 this can be rewritten as follows:

EmployeeCoolnessJudger nameBasedCoolnessJudgerAsLambda = 
                (Employee employee) -> employee.getName().equals("Elvis");

If you know lambdas from .NET then this will look very familiar to you. We declare the input parameters within brackets to the isCool method. As the interface has only one method it’s not necessary to show its name anywhere, the compiler will “understand”. The parameter declaration is followed by a dash ‘-‘ and the greater-than sign, which is similar to ‘=>’ in .NET. Then we write what we want the function to return which will be a boolean. Note that we don’t need the return statement. Also, as the whole method implementation fits into a single line we didn’t need any curly braces.

The parameter type can in fact be omitted, which is again similar to .NET:

EmployeeCoolnessJudger nameBasedCoolnessJudgerAsLambda = 
                (employee) -> employee.getName().equals("Elvis");

…and if there’s only one parameter then the brackets can be omitted as well:

EmployeeCoolnessJudger nameBasedCoolnessJudgerAsLambda = 
                employee -> employee.getName().equals("Elvis");

How can we use this lambda implementation of EmployeeCoolnessJudger? You can pass it around like any other object. Say the Employee class has a function that accepts an EmployeeCoolnessJudger:

public boolean isCool(EmployeeCoolnessJudger coolnessJudger)
{
     return coolnessJudger.isCool(this);
}

Then you can construct an Employee object and pass the lambda expression name into the isCool method:

Employee coolEmployee = new Employee(UUID.randomUUID(), "Elvis", 50);
boolean isCool = coolEmployee.isCool(nameBasedCoolnessJudgerAsLambda);

…or you can pass the complete Lambda expression into the function…:

Employee coolEmployee = new Employee(UUID.randomUUID(), "Elvis", 50);
boolean isCool = coolEmployee.isCool(employee -> employee.getName().equals("Elvis"));

…which returns true as expected.

Second example: an interface with no parameters

The above example required a single parameter. How is the syntax affected if there are no parameters? Say that we want an employee to say something. Again, we can hide the implementation behind an interface:

public interface EmployeeSpeaker
{
    void speak();
}

We can implement an anonymous method of this to say “Hello World”:

EmployeeSpeaker helloWorldSpeaker = new EmployeeSpeaker()
{

            @Override
            public void speak()
            {
                System.out.println("I'm saying Hello World!");
            }
};

The anonymous helloWorldSpeaker implementation can be rewritten with a Lambda expression as follows:

EmployeeSpeaker helloWorldSpeaker = () ->  System.out.println("I'm saying Hello World!");

As the implementation doesn’t require any input parameters it’s enough to write empty brackets followed by dash and greater-than. If the method body spans more than one line of code we’ll need to put them within curly braces:

EmployeeSpeaker helloWorldSpeaker = () ->
        { 
            String sentence = "I'm saying Hello World!";
            System.out.println(sentence);        
        };

The usage is the same as above. The employee class can have a method that accepts an EmployeeSpeaker as input parameter:

public void saySomething(EmployeeSpeaker speaker)
    {
        speaker.speak();
    }

You can call it as follows:

coolEmployee.saySomething(helloWorldSpeaker);

…which will print “I’m saying Hello World!” to some console depending on the IDE you’re using.

Third example: an interface with 2 or more parameters

We want to compare the Employee objects based on their ages and sort them accordingly. One way to achieve this is to implement the generic Comparator interface. Say we have the following employees:

List<Employee> employees = new ArrayList<>();
        employees.add(new Employee(UUID.randomUUID(), "Elvis", 50));
        employees.add(new Employee(UUID.randomUUID(), "Marylin", 18));
        employees.add(new Employee(UUID.randomUUID(), "Freddie", 25));
        employees.add(new Employee(UUID.randomUUID(), "Mario", 43));
        employees.add(new Employee(UUID.randomUUID(), "John", 35));
        employees.add(new Employee(UUID.randomUUID(), "Julia", 55));        
        employees.add(new Employee(UUID.randomUUID(), "Lotta", 52));
        employees.add(new Employee(UUID.randomUUID(), "Eva", 42));
        employees.add(new Employee(UUID.randomUUID(), "Anna", 20));   

Here comes the anonymous class solution to implement Comparator of Employee:

Comparator<Employee> employeeAgeComparator = new Comparator<Employee>()
        {

            @Override
            public int compare(Employee employeeOne, Employee employeeTwo)
            {
                return Integer.compare(employeeOne.getAge(), employeeTwo.getAge());
            }
        };

…and here comes the lambda solution. Note that we have 2 input parameters:

Comparator<Employee> employeeAgeComparator = 
      (Employee employeeOne, Employee employeeTwo) -> Integer.compare(employeeOne.getAge(), employeeTwo.getAge());

…or without specifying the parameter types:

Comparator<Employee> employeeAgeComparator = 
                (employeeOne, employeeTwo) -> Integer.compare(employeeOne.getAge(), employeeTwo.getAge());

As we have more than one input parameters we cannot leave off the brackets.

We can use the custom comparator as follows:

Collections.sort(employees, employeeAgeComparator);
        
for (Employee employee : employees)
{
       System.out.println(employee.getName());
}

This prints out the names as follows:

Marylin
Anna
Freddie
John
Eva
Mario
Elvis
Lotta
Julia

Some things to note

Lambdas in Java also introduced a couple of new concepts::

  • The type definition of a Lambda expression is functional interface. Such an interface type can only have one abstract method.
  • You can use the @FunctionalInterface annotation to annotate functional interfaces if you prefer to be explicit about it, see example below
  • Lambda expressions can be used as variables and passed into other methods. We’ve seen examples of that above: nameBasedCoolnessJudgerAsLambda and employeeAgeComparator. As a consequence a Lambda expression can be returned by a method as well. E.g. nameBasedCoolnessJudger can be returned from a method whose return type is EmployeeCoolnessJudger
  • Creating Lambdas doesn’t involve as much overhead as creating an anonymous object with the “new” keyword so you can speed up the application by lambdas.

Here’s an example of the FunctionalInterface annotation:

@FunctionalInterface
public interface ISomeFunctionalInterface
{
    void doSomething(String param);
}

As soon as you try to add another abstract method to this interface you’ll get a compiler error:

@FunctionalInterface
public interface ISomeFunctionalInterface
{
    void doSomething(String param);
    int returnSomething();
}

…:

error: Unexpected @FunctionalInterface annotation
@FunctionalInterface
ISomeFunctionalInterface is not a functional interface
multiple non-overriding abstract methods found in interface ISomeFunctionalInterface

Syntactic sugar with ‘::’

There’s a new operator in Java 8: ‘::’, i.e. a double-colon. It’s used as a shortcut to write lambda expressions. Recall our Comparator implementation from the previous post:

Comparator<Employee> employeeAgeComparator = 
                (employeeOne, employeeTwo) -> Integer.compare(employeeOne.getAge(), employeeTwo.getAge());

That was an Employee comparison where the input parameters were of type Employee but we compared their ages which are of type Integer. Say that we first collect the age values into a separate integer list. We can then write a pure integer comparator in a very similar way:

Comparator<Integer> intComparator = (int1, int2) -> Integer.compare(int1, int2);

This can be rewritten as follows:

Comparator<Integer> intComparatorShort = Integer::compare;

This way of writing the lambda expression is called a method reference. We first write the object on which we want to invoke a method, i.e. “Integer”, followed by a double-colon, and finally we have the name of the method. The compiler will infer from the Comparator type that we want to compare two integers so we don’t need to write compare(int1, int2). We’ll see other examples of this later on but the difference between this syntax and the one we saw in the previous post is purely syntactic. There’s no performance gain or loss with either of them.

java.util.function

Java.util.function is a new package that provides a range of functional interfaces. If you work in an IDE which provides intellisense – such as NetBeans – then you can type “import java.util.function.” above a class declaration to see the list of interfaces within this package. You’ll see names such as…

BiConsumer<T, U>
Consumer<T>
LongSupplier

At first these interfaces probably look quite strange. They are out-of-the box functional interfaces that represent some frequently used methods so that they can be written as lambda expressions. Examples:

  • BiConsumer of T and U: represents a void method that accepts two arguments of types T and U
  • Consumer of T: same as BiConsumer but it accepts a single parameter only
  • IntSupplier: a method that returns an integer and accepts no arguments
  • BiPredicate of T and U: a function that returns a boolean and accepts two arguments
  • Function of T and R: a function that accepts an argument of type T and returns and object of type R

The input and output parameter types can be the same or different.

There are also specialised interfaces such as the UnaryOperator of T which extends Function of T and T. This means that UnaryOperator is a Function which returns an object of type T and returns an object of type T, i.e. both the input and output parameters are of the same type.

A simple example is System.out.println(String s). This is a void method that accepts a single argument of String, i.e. this fits the functional interface type of Consumer of String:

Consumer<String> systemPrint = s -> System.out.println(s);

We know from the above section that we can shorten this code to the following:

Consumer<String> systemPrint = System.out::println;

The Comparator of integers we saw above accepts two integers and returns another integer. This sounds like a BiFunction of int, int, int, i.e. a function that accepts 2 integers and returns another integer:

BiFunction<Integer, Integer, Integer> intComparatorFunctional = (t, t1) -> Integer.compare(t, t1);

…and as all types are the same we can use the shorthand notation:

BiFunction<Integer, Integer, Integer> intComparatorFunctional = Integer::compare;

We can further simplify this as there’s a specialised functional interface for the case of two integer inputs and one integer return value: IntBinaryOperator. The shortened version of the integer comparator looks like this:

IntBinaryOperator intComparatorAsBinaryOperator = Integer::compare;

So if you see that all parameters are of the same type then it’s worth checking what’s available in the java.util.function package because there might be a specialised interface. Choose the one that you think is most straightforward.

You can use these interfaces to pass around lambda expressions as input parameters. E.g. there’s a new method available for Collections, or objects that implement the Iterable interface to be exact: forEach, which accepts a Consumer of T. In other words you can iterate through the items in a collection and pass in a Consumer, i.e. a void method which accepts a single parameter to perform some action on each item in a collection in a single statement:

stringList.forEach(s -> System.out.println(s));

…or…:

stringList.forEach(System.out::println);

Other examples:

Add the items of a list to Employee objects to another list – we saw the Employee object in the previous post:

List<Employee> employees = new ArrayList<>();
        List<Employee> employeesCopy = new ArrayList<>();
        employees.add(new Employee(UUID.randomUUID(), "Elvis", 50));
        employees.add(new Employee(UUID.randomUUID(), "Marylin", 18));
        employees.add(new Employee(UUID.randomUUID(), "Freddie", 25));
        employees.add(new Employee(UUID.randomUUID(), "Mario", 43));
        employees.add(new Employee(UUID.randomUUID(), "John", 35));
        employees.add(new Employee(UUID.randomUUID(), "Julia", 55));        
        employees.add(new Employee(UUID.randomUUID(), "Lotta", 52));
        employees.add(new Employee(UUID.randomUUID(), "Eva", 42));
        employees.add(new Employee(UUID.randomUUID(), "Anna", 20));   
        
        Consumer<Employee> copyEmployees = employeesCopy::add;
        employees.forEach(copyEmployees);

employeesCopy will have the same objects as the employees list.

You can even chain Consumers with the “andThen” interface method:

Consumer<Employee> copyEmployees = employeesCopy::add;
Consumer<Employee> printEmployeeName = (Employee e) -> System.out.println(e.getName());
employees.forEach(copyEmployees.andThen(printEmployeeName));

View all posts related to Java here.

About Andras Nemes
I'm a .NET/Java developer living and working in Stockholm, Sweden.

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