Enumerators (iterators)

Bruce Eckel's Thinking in Java Contents | Prev | Next

In any collection class, you must have a way to put things in and a way to get things out. After all, that’s the primary job of a collection – to hold things. In the Vector, addElement( ) is the way that you insert objects, and elementAt( ) is one way to get things out. Vector is quite flexible – you can select anything at any time, and select multiple elements at once using different indexes.

The Java Enumeration[33] is an example of an iterator with these kinds of constraints. There’s not much you can do with one except:

  1. Ask a collection to hand you an Enumeration using a method called elements( ). This Enumeration will be ready to return the first element in the sequence on your first call to its nextElement( ) method.
  2. Get the next object in the sequence with nextElement( ).
  3. See if there are any more objects in the sequence with hasMoreElements( ).
//: CatsAndDogs2.java
// Simple collection with Enumeration
import java.util.*;
 
class Cat2 {
  private int catNumber;
  Cat2(int i) {
    catNumber = i;
  }
  void print() {
    System.out.println("Cat number " +catNumber);
  }
}
 
class Dog2 {
  private int dogNumber;
  Dog2(int i) {
    dogNumber = i;
  }
  void print() {
    System.out.println("Dog number " +dogNumber);
  }
}
 
public class CatsAndDogs2 {
  public static void main(String[] args) {
    Vector cats = new Vector();
    for(int i = 0; i < 7; i++)
      cats.addElement(new Cat2(i));
    // Not a problem to add a dog to cats:
    cats.addElement(new Dog2(7));
    Enumeration e = cats.elements();
    while(e.hasMoreElements())
      ((Cat2)e.nextElement()).print();
    // Dog is detected only at run-time
  }
} ///:~ 

You can see that the only change is in the last few lines. Instead of:

    for(int i = 0; i < cats.size(); i++)
      ((Cat)cats.elementAt(i)).print();

an Enumeration is used to step through the sequence:

while(e.hasMoreElements())
      ((Cat2)e.nextElement()).print();

With the Enumeration, you don’t need to worry about the number of elements in the collection. That’s taken care of for you by hasMoreElements( ) and nextElement( ).

//: HamsterMaze.java
// Using an Enumeration
import java.util.*;
 
class Hamster {
  private int hamsterNumber;
  Hamster(int i) {
    hamsterNumber = i;
  }
  public String toString() {
    return "This is Hamster #" + hamsterNumber;
  }
}
 
class Printer {
  static void printAll(Enumeration e) {
    while(e.hasMoreElements())
      System.out.println(
        e.nextElement().toString());
  }
}
 
public class HamsterMaze {
  public static void main(String[] args) {
    Vector v = new Vector();
    for(int i = 0; i < 3; i++)
      v.addElement(new Hamster(i));
    Printer.printAll(v.elements());
  }
} ///:~ 

Look closely at the printing method:

static void printAll(Enumeration e) {
  while(e.hasMoreElements())
    System.out.println(
      e.nextElement().toString());
}

Note that there’s no information about the type of sequence. All you have is an Enumeration, and that’s all you need to know about the sequence: that you can get the next object, and that you can know when you’re at the end. This idea of taking a collection of objects and passing through it to perform an operation on each one is powerful and will be seen throughout this book.


[33] The term iterator is common in C++ and elsewhere in OOP, so it’s difficult to know why the Java team used a strange name. The collections library in Java 1.2 fixes this as well as many other problems.



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