Java – Efficiency of Java “Double Brace Initialization”

collectionsinitializationjavaperformance

In Hidden Features of Java the top answer mentions Double Brace Initialization, with a very enticing syntax:

Set<String> flavors = new HashSet<String>() {{
    add("vanilla");
    add("strawberry");
    add("chocolate");
    add("butter pecan");
}};

This idiom creates an anonymous inner class with just an instance initializer in it, which "can use any […] methods in the containing scope".

Main question: Is this as inefficient as it sounds? Should its use be limited to one-off initializations? (And of course showing off!)

Second question: The new HashSet must be the "this" used in the instance initializer … can anyone shed light on the mechanism?

Third question: Is this idiom too obscure to use in production code?

Summary: Very, very nice answers, thanks everyone. On question (3), people felt the syntax should be clear (though I'd recommend an occasional comment, especially if your code will pass on to developers who may not be familiar with it).

On question (1), the generated code should run quickly. The extra .class files do cause jar file clutter, and slow program startup slightly (thanks to @coobird for measuring that). @Thilo pointed out that garbage collection can be affected, and the memory cost for the extra loaded classes may be a factor in some cases.

Question (2) turned out to be most interesting to me. If I understand the answers, what's happening in DBI is that the anonymous inner class extends the class of the object being constructed by the new operator, and hence has a "this" value referencing the instance being constructed. Very neat.

Overall, DBI strikes me as something of an intellectual curiousity. Coobird and others point out you can achieve the same effect with Arrays.asList, varargs methods, Google Collections, and the proposed Java 7 Collection literals. Newer JVM languages like Scala, JRuby, and Groovy also offer concise notations for list construction, and interoperate well with Java. Given that DBI clutters up the classpath, slows down class loading a bit, and makes the code a tad more obscure, I'd probably shy away from it. However, I plan to spring this on a friend who's just gotten his SCJP and loves good natured jousts about Java semantics! 😉 Thanks everyone!

7/2017: Baeldung has a good summary of double brace initialization and considers it an anti-pattern.

12/2017: @Basil Bourque notes that in the new Java 9 you can say:

Set<String> flavors = Set.of("vanilla", "strawberry", "chocolate", "butter pecan");

That's for sure the way to go. If you're stuck with an earlier version, take a look at Google Collections' ImmutableSet.

Best Solution

Here's the problem when I get too carried away with anonymous inner classes:

2009/05/27  16:35             1,602 DemoApp2$1.class
2009/05/27  16:35             1,976 DemoApp2$10.class
2009/05/27  16:35             1,919 DemoApp2$11.class
2009/05/27  16:35             2,404 DemoApp2$12.class
2009/05/27  16:35             1,197 DemoApp2$13.class

/* snip */

2009/05/27  16:35             1,953 DemoApp2$30.class
2009/05/27  16:35             1,910 DemoApp2$31.class
2009/05/27  16:35             2,007 DemoApp2$32.class
2009/05/27  16:35               926 DemoApp2$33$1$1.class
2009/05/27  16:35             4,104 DemoApp2$33$1.class
2009/05/27  16:35             2,849 DemoApp2$33.class
2009/05/27  16:35               926 DemoApp2$34$1$1.class
2009/05/27  16:35             4,234 DemoApp2$34$1.class
2009/05/27  16:35             2,849 DemoApp2$34.class

/* snip */

2009/05/27  16:35               614 DemoApp2$40.class
2009/05/27  16:35             2,344 DemoApp2$5.class
2009/05/27  16:35             1,551 DemoApp2$6.class
2009/05/27  16:35             1,604 DemoApp2$7.class
2009/05/27  16:35             1,809 DemoApp2$8.class
2009/05/27  16:35             2,022 DemoApp2$9.class

These are all classes which were generated when I was making a simple application, and used copious amounts of anonymous inner classes -- each class will be compiled into a separate class file.

The "double brace initialization", as already mentioned, is an anonymous inner class with an instance initialization block, which means that a new class is created for each "initialization", all for the purpose of usually making a single object.

Considering that the Java Virtual Machine will need to read all those classes when using them, that can lead to some time in the bytecode verfication process and such. Not to mention the increase in the needed disk space in order to store all those class files.

It seems as if there is a bit of overhead when utilizing double-brace initialization, so it's probably not such a good idea to go too overboard with it. But as Eddie has noted in the comments, it's not possible to be absolutely sure of the impact.


Just for reference, double brace initialization is the following:

List<String> list = new ArrayList<String>() {{
    add("Hello");
    add("World!");
}};

It looks like a "hidden" feature of Java, but it is just a rewrite of:

List<String> list = new ArrayList<String>() {

    // Instance initialization block
    {
        add("Hello");
        add("World!");
    }
};

So it's basically a instance initialization block that is part of an anonymous inner class.


Joshua Bloch's Collection Literals proposal for Project Coin was along the lines of:

List<Integer> intList = [1, 2, 3, 4];

Set<String> strSet = {"Apple", "Banana", "Cactus"};

Map<String, Integer> truthMap = { "answer" : 42 };

Sadly, it didn't make its way into neither Java 7 nor 8 and was shelved indefinitely.


Experiment

Here's the simple experiment I've tested -- make 1000 ArrayLists with the elements "Hello" and "World!" added to them via the add method, using the two methods:

Method 1: Double Brace Initialization

List<String> l = new ArrayList<String>() {{
  add("Hello");
  add("World!");
}};

Method 2: Instantiate an ArrayList and add

List<String> l = new ArrayList<String>();
l.add("Hello");
l.add("World!");

I created a simple program to write out a Java source file to perform 1000 initializations using the two methods:

Test 1:

class Test1 {
  public static void main(String[] s) {
    long st = System.currentTimeMillis();

    List<String> l0 = new ArrayList<String>() {{
      add("Hello");
      add("World!");
    }};

    List<String> l1 = new ArrayList<String>() {{
      add("Hello");
      add("World!");
    }};

    /* snip */

    List<String> l999 = new ArrayList<String>() {{
      add("Hello");
      add("World!");
    }};

    System.out.println(System.currentTimeMillis() - st);
  }
}

Test 2:

class Test2 {
  public static void main(String[] s) {
    long st = System.currentTimeMillis();

    List<String> l0 = new ArrayList<String>();
    l0.add("Hello");
    l0.add("World!");

    List<String> l1 = new ArrayList<String>();
    l1.add("Hello");
    l1.add("World!");

    /* snip */

    List<String> l999 = new ArrayList<String>();
    l999.add("Hello");
    l999.add("World!");

    System.out.println(System.currentTimeMillis() - st);
  }
}

Please note, that the elapsed time to initialize the 1000 ArrayLists and the 1000 anonymous inner classes extending ArrayList is checked using the System.currentTimeMillis, so the timer does not have a very high resolution. On my Windows system, the resolution is around 15-16 milliseconds.

The results for 10 runs of the two tests were the following:

Test1 Times (ms)           Test2 Times (ms)
----------------           ----------------
           187                          0
           203                          0
           203                          0
           188                          0
           188                          0
           187                          0
           203                          0
           188                          0
           188                          0
           203                          0

As can be seen, the double brace initialization has a noticeable execution time of around 190 ms.

Meanwhile, the ArrayList initialization execution time came out to be 0 ms. Of course, the timer resolution should be taken into account, but it is likely to be under 15 ms.

So, there seems to be a noticeable difference in the execution time of the two methods. It does appear that there is indeed some overhead in the two initialization methods.

And yes, there were 1000 .class files generated by compiling the Test1 double brace initialization test program.