Java – Correct way to close nested streams and writers in Java


Note: This question and most of its answers date to before the release of Java 7. Java 7 provides Automatic Resource Management functionality for doing this easilly. If you are using Java 7 or later you should advance to the answer of Ross Johnson.

What is considered the best, most comprehensive way to close nested streams in Java? For example, consider the setup:

FileOutputStream fos = new FileOutputStream(...)
BufferedOS bos = new BufferedOS(fos);
ObjectOutputStream oos = new ObjectOutputStream(bos);

I understand the close operation needs to be insured (probably by using a finally clause). What I wonder about is, is it necessary to explicitly make sure the nested streams are closed, or is it enough to just make sure to close the outer stream (oos)?

One thing I notice, at least dealing with this specific example, is that the inner streams only seem to throw FileNotFoundExceptions. Which would seem to imply that there's not technically a need to worry about closing them if they fail.

Here's what a colleague wrote:

Technically, if it were implemented right, closing the outermost
stream (oos) should be enough. But the implementation seems flawed.

BufferedOutputStream inherits close() from FilterOutputStream, which defines it as:

 155       public void close() throws IOException {
 156           try {
 157             flush();
 158           } catch (IOException ignored) {
 159           }
 160           out.close();
 161       }

However, if flush() throws a runtime exception for some reason, then
out.close() will never be called. So it seems "safest" (but ugly) to
mostly worry about closing FOS, which is keeping the file open.

What is considered to be the hands-down best, when-you-absolutely-need-to-be-sure, approach to closing nested streams?

And are there any official Java/Sun docs that deal with this in fine detail?

Best Solution

When closing chained streams, you only need to close the outermost stream. Any errors will be propagated up the chain and be caught.

Refer to Java I/O Streams for details.

To address the issue

However, if flush() throws a runtime exception for some reason, then out.close() will never be called.

This isn't right. After you catch and ignore that exception, execution will pick back up after the catch block and the out.close() statement will be executed.

Your colleague makes a good point about the RuntimeException. If you absolutely need the stream to be closed, you can always try to close each one individually, from the outside in, stopping at the first exception.