Java – Interfaces with static fields in java for sharing ‘constants’


I'm looking at some open source Java projects to get into Java and notice a lot of them have some sort of 'constants' interface.

For instance, has an interface called, and most other core classes implement this interface. The interface is riddled with static members. Is there a reason for this approach, or is this considered bad practice? Why not use enums where it makes sense, or a static class?

I find it strange to use an interface to allow for some sort of pseudo 'global variables'.

public interface PConstants {

  // LOTS OF static fields...

  static public final int SHINE = 31;

  // emissive (by default kept black)
  static public final int ER = 32;
  static public final int EG = 33;
  static public final int EB = 34;

  // has this vertex been lit yet
  static public final int BEEN_LIT = 35;

  static public final int VERTEX_FIELD_COUNT = 36;

  // renderers known to processing.core

  static final String P2D    = "processing.core.PGraphics2D";
  static final String P3D    = "processing.core.PGraphics3D";
  static final String JAVA2D = "processing.core.PGraphicsJava2D";
  static final String OPENGL = "processing.opengl.PGraphicsOpenGL";
  static final String PDF    = "processing.pdf.PGraphicsPDF";
  static final String DXF    = "processing.dxf.RawDXF";

  // platform IDs for PApplet.platform

  static final int OTHER   = 0;
  static final int WINDOWS = 1;
  static final int MACOSX  = 2;
  static final int LINUX   = 3;

  static final String[] platformNames = {
    "other", "windows", "macosx", "linux"

  // and on and on


Best Solution

It's generally considered bad practice. The problem is that the constants are part of the public "interface" (for want of a better word) of the implementing class. This means that the implementing class is publishing all of these values to external classes even when they are only required internally. The constants proliferate throughout the code. An example is the SwingConstants interface in Swing, which is implemented by dozens of classes that all "re-export" all of its constants (even the ones that they don't use) as their own.

But don't just take my word for it, Josh Bloch also says it's bad:

The constant interface pattern is a poor use of interfaces. That a class uses some constants internally is an implementation detail. Implementing a constant interface causes this implementation detail to leak into the class's exported API. It is of no consequence to the users of a class that the class implements a constant interface. In fact, it may even confuse them. Worse, it represents a commitment: if in a future release the class is modified so that it no longer needs to use the constants, it still must implement the interface to ensure binary compatibility. If a nonfinal class implements a constant interface, all of its subclasses will have their namespaces polluted by the constants in the interface.

An enum may be a better approach. Or you could simply put the constants as public static fields in a class that cannot be instantiated. This allows another class to access them without polluting its own API.