I originally approached Java as “just another programming language,” which in many senses it is.
But as time passed and I studied it more deeply, I began to see that the fundamental intent of this language was different from other languages I had seen up to that point.
Programming is about managing complexity: the complexity of the problem you want to solve, laid upon the complexity of the machine in which it is solved. Because of this complexity, most of our programming projects fail. And yet, of all the programming languages of which I am aware, almost none have gone all out and decided that their main design goal would be to conquer the complexity of developing and maintaining programs. 1 Of course, many language design decisions were made with complexity in mind, but at some point there were always other issues that were considered essential to be added into the mix. Inevitably, those other issues are what cause programmers to eventually “hit the wall” with that language. For example, C++ had to be backwards-compatible with C (to allow easy migration for C programmers), as well as efficient. Those are both very useful goals and account for much of the success of C++, but they also expose extra complexity that prevents some projects from being finished (certainly, you can blame programmers and management, but if a language can help by catching your mistakes, why shouldn’t it?). As another example, Visual BASIC (VB) was tied to BASIC, which wasn’t really designed to be an extensible language, so all the extensions piled upon VB have produced some truly unmaintainable syntax. Perl is backwards-compatible with awk, sed, grep, and other Unix tools it was meant to replace, and as a result it is often accused of producing “write-only code” (that is, after a while you can’t read it). On the other hand, C++, VB, Perl, and other languages like Smalltalk had some of their design efforts focused on the issue of complexity and as a result are remarkably successful in solving certain types of problems.
What has impressed me most as I have come to understand Java is that somewhere in the mix of Sun’s design objectives, it seems that there was a goal of reducing complexity for the programmer. As if to say, “We care about reducing the time and difficulty of producing robust code.” In the early days, this goal resulted in code that didn’t run very fast (although this has improved over time), but it has indeed produced amazing reductions in development time—half or less of the time that it takes to create an equivalent C++ program. This result alone can save incredible amounts of time and money, but Java doesn’t stop there. It goes on to wrap many of the complex tasks that have become important, such as multithreading and network programming, in language features or libraries that can at times make those tasks easy. And finally, it tackles some really big complexity problems: cross-platform programs, dynamic code changes, and even security, each of which can fit on your complexity spectrum anywhere from “impediment” to “show-stopper.” So despite the performance problems that we’ve seen, the promise of Java is tremendous: It can make us significantly more productive programmers.
In all ways—creating the programs, working in teams, building user interfaces to communicate with the user, running the programs on different types of machines, and easily writing programs that communicate across the Internet—Java increases the communication bandwidth between people.
I think that the results of the communication revolution may not be seen from the effects of moving large quantities of bits around. We shall see the true revolution because we will all communicate with each other more easily: one-on-one, but also in groups and as a planet. I’ve heard it suggested that the next revolution is the formation of a kind of global mind that results from enough people and enough interconnectedness. Java may or may not be the tool that foments that revolution, but at least the possibility has made me feel like I’m doing something meaningful by attempting to teach the language.
Java SE5 and SE6
This edition of the book benefits greatly from the improvements made to the Java language in what Sun originally called JDK 1.5, and then later changed to JDK5 or J2SE5, then finally they dropped the outdated “2” and changed it to Java SE5. Many of the Java SE5 language changes were designed to improve the experience of the programmer. As you shall see, the Java language designers did not completely succeed at this task, but in general they made large steps in the right direction.
One of the important goals of this edition is to completely absorb the improvements of Java SE5/6, and to introduce and use them throughout this book. This means that this edition takes the somewhat bold step of being “Java SE5/6-only,” and much of the code in the book will not compile with earlier versions of Java; the build system will complain and stop if you try. However, I think the benefits are worth the risk.
If you are somehow fettered to earlier versions of Java, I have covered the bases by providing free downloads of previous editions of this book via www.MindView.net. For various reasons, I have decided not to provide the current edition of the book in free electronic form, but only the prior editions.
This book was a monumental, time-consuming project, and before it was published, Java SE6 (code-named mustang) appeared in beta form. Although there were a few minor changes in Java SE6 that improved some of the examples in the book, for the most part the focus of Java SE6 did not affect the content of this book; the features were primarily speed improvements and library features that were outside the purview of this text.
The code in this book was successfully tested with a release candidate of Java SE6, so I do not expect any changes that will affect the content of this book. If there are any important changes by the time Java SE6 is officially released, these will be reflected in the book’s source code, which is downloadable from www.MindView.net.
The cover indicates that this book is for “Java SE5/6,” which means “written for Java SE5 and the very significant changes that version introduced into the language, but is equally applicable to Java SE6.”
The 4th edition
The satisfaction of doing a new edition of a book is in getting things “right,” according to what I have learned since the last edition came out. Often these insights are in the nature of the saying “A learning experience is what you get when you don’t get what you want,” and my opportunity is to fix something embarrassing or simply tedious. Just as often, creating the next edition produces fascinating new ideas, and the embarrassment is far outweighed by the delight of discovery and the ability to express ideas in a better form than what I have previously achieved.
There is also the challenge that whispers in the back of my brain, that of making the book something that owners of previous editions will want to buy. This presses me to improve, rewrite and reorganize everything that I can, to make the book a new and valuable experience for dedicated readers.
The CD-ROM that has traditionally been packaged as part of this book is not part of this edition. The essential part of that CD, the Thinking in C multimedia seminar (created for MindView by Chuck Allison), is now available as a downloadable Flash presentation. The goal of that seminar is to prepare those who are not familiar enough with C syntax to understand the material presented in this book. Although two of the chapters in this book give decent introductory syntax coverage, they may not be enough for people without an adequate background, and Thinking in C is intended to help those people get to the necessary level.
The Concurrency chapter (formerly called “Multithreading”) has been completely rewritten to match the major changes in the Java SE5 concurrency libraries, but it still gives you a basic foundation in the core ideas of concurrency. Without that core, it’s hard to understand more complex issues of threading. I spent many months working on this, immersed in that netherworld called “concurrency,” and in the end the chapter is something that not only provides a basic foundation but also ventures into more advanced territory.
There is a new chapter on every significant new Java SE5 language feature, and the other new features have been woven into modifications made to the existing material. Because of my continuing study of design patterns, more patterns have been introduced throughout the book as well.
The book has undergone significant reorganization. Much of this has come from the teaching process together with a realization that, perhaps, my perception of what a “chapter” was could stand some rethought. I have tended towards an unconsidered belief that a topic had to be “big enough” to justify being a chapter. But especially while teaching design patterns, I find that seminar attendees do best if I introduce a single pattern and then we immediately do an exercise, even if it means I only speak for a brief time (I discovered that this pace was also more enjoyable for me as a teacher). So in this version of the book I’ve tried to break chapters up by topic, and not worry about the resulting length of the chapters. I think it has been an improvement.
I have also come to realize the importance of code testing. Without a built-in test framework with tests that are run every time yo...