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Comparable and Comparator Interfaces Ben Rodes. Disclaimer.

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1 Comparable and Comparator Interfaces Ben Rodes

2 Disclaimer

3 Interfaces  Problem: You don’t know what an interface is yet! Seems problematic  So what is an interface? Its not a class! A group of related methods with no bodies (no definition, just method signatures)

4 Interfaces  A class may implement any number of interfaces.  To implement an interface is a contract. The implementer must define the interface functions!  Why do this? We can use objects of an interface type, without knowing their actual instance type. Let’s look at an example.

5 Interfaces public interface TimeKeeper { public Time getTime(); public void setTime(Time); …. }

6 Interfaces public class Watch implements TimeKeeper { //Whatever fields go here //Constructor, methods …. public Time getTime() { //Define this function } public void setTime() { //Define this function }

7 Interfaces You can think of Watch in these ways: You can treat a Watch object as a TimeKeeper A Watch object can do “TimeKeeper things” A Watch object can be used anywhere a TimeKeeper is legal to use  A Watch object has more than one type It’s a Watch (defined by the class Watch) It’s a TimeKeeper (defined by the interface)

8 Interfaces  Okay but why? Hold on, I am getting there!  Let’s pretend you want to write some generic function to work on TimeKeepers

9 Interfaces public Time getAVGClkDiff(ArrayList clocks) { //Loop over each element in clocks //for each element e e.getTime(); //Get the time, store it, take an average }  This may not be the exactly right syntax, but the right idea

10 Interfaces  Okay, dumb example, but … We don’t care what the actual time keepers are Because an interface is a contract, we know a TimeKeeper has a getTime function, and we can treat each element as a TimeKeeper, rather than whatever instance it actually is.  Similar idea to inheritance, but is subtly different. Interfaces do not show inheritance. Relationships are maintained among diverse objects. More to come later.

11 The Comparable Interface  Comparable is an interface Defined in the Java API  Contains only one method compareTo(SomeObject o2)  There are functions in the Java API you can use to do useful things if your objects implement this interface.

12 Check out the Collections class  Class Collections utility methods for doing operations on Collections  Note very similar Arrays class See MSD textbook, Section 9.5, pp. 666f  Methods (static, mostly for Lists) search a list for an item: binarySearch() sort(), max(), min() -- uses compareTo() or Comparator object reverse(), fill(), shuffle(), copy(), replaceAll() List list2 = Collections.unmodifiableList(list1); // p. 668

13 Collections Sort  Accepts a List of comparable objects.  How might a sort() or any other method use this? Imagine: Perhaps items stored as a list of Objects: List theList …;  Inside a loop, code might look like this: Comparable item1 = (Comparable) theList.get(i); Comparable item2 = (Comparable) theList.get(j); int cmpResult = item1.compareTo(item2);  Such code will work when the list stores any class that implements Comparable!  But, what happens if list-elements are of different classes (still Comparable, but different)? compareTo() fails!  Lets look at an example!

14 Example: Writing compareTo()  Imagine something like an entry in a phonebook Order by last name, first name, then number int compareTo(PhoneBookEntry item2 ) { int retVal= last.compareTo(item2.last); if ( retVal != 0 ) return retVal; retVal = first.compareTo(item2.first); if ( retVal != 0 ) return retVal; retVal = phNum - item2.phNum; return retVal; }

15 Comparable Problems  Lack of flexibility  Just one way to compare is possible, because there’s just one compareTo method per class  Possible solutions: Separate functions: sortByName(), sortByNum(),…  We can’t predict in advance how you’ll want to sort! Pass a parameter to indicate control: sort(theList, “byName”) or sort(theList, “byNum”);  Ugh. Same problem as before  And the internals of sort() will grow to become very ugly

16 Function Objects  We need to somehow pass “how to execute” information as a parameter to sort() We pass objects as parameters Can we pass a method/operation as an object?  Many languages support this, but in different ways: C and C++ – pointers to functions C# – delegates Java – “function objects” that  implement a specified interface, and  the one method in that interface does the needed work

17 Function Objects in Java  Idea: encapsulate a function inside a class  Note: not our usual idea of a class State? (None.) Identity? (Just need one instance.) Represents an entity? (Nope! Just a place to stash a function so it can be passed as a parameter.)  Warning / caveat! This idea is contrary to many OO principles, but… Useful if done in limited circumstances Use it when the libraries make it available Not often part of your own class-design  But use it in libraries when it’s part of the framework

18 Example: Comparator objects  We want to pass a function-object to a method: Collections.sort(someList, function-object-goes-here); But what type should this object be? Use an Interface:  Interface name can be used as a type in the parameter list  Interface defines the method name itself!  Java’s Comparator interface: int compare( Object o1, Object o2); Notes: not compareTo()! Takes two parameters!  Define a class for each kind of comparison you want. E.g. Classes: CmpStudentByGpa, CmpStudentByGpaDesc Classes: CmpDogByName, CmpDogByBreed  Example?

19 Writing a Comparator Class  Example on following slides like one from MSD text, p We have a Dog class with name, breed and gender  But see simpler example in Java on website list of Student objects sort by name, gpa  Also sort in descending order too  Look at testSorting1() in TestDriver class  Look at compareTo() in Student  Look at use of comparator classes


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