Chapter: Java The Complete Reference - The Java Language - Enumerations, Autoboxing, and Annotations (Metadata)

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Annotations (Metadata)

Since JDK 5, Java has supported a feature that enables you to embed supplemental information into a source file. This information, called an annotation, does not change the actions of a program. Thus, an annotation leaves the semantics of a program unchanged.

Annotations (Metadata)

Since JDK 5, Java has supported a feature that enables you to embed supplemental information into a source file. This information, called an annotation, does not change the actions of a program. Thus, an annotation leaves the semantics of a program unchanged.

However, this information can be used by various tools during both development and deployment. For example, an annotation might be processed by a source-code generator. The term metadata is also used to refer to this feature, but the term annotation is the most descriptive and more commonly used.

 

Annotation Basics

 

An annotation is created through a mechanism based on the interface. Let’s begin with an example. Here is the declaration for an annotation called MyAnno:

 

// A simple annotation type.

@interface MyAnno {

 

String str(); int val();

 

}

 

First, notice the @ that precedes the keyword interface. This tells the compiler that an annotation type is being declared. Next, notice the two members str( ) and val( ). All annotations consist solely of method declarations. However, you don’t provide bodies for these methods. Instead, Java implements these methods. Moreover, the methods act much like fields, as you will see.

An annotation cannot include an extends clause. However, all annotation types automatically extend the Annotation interface. Thus, Annotation is a super-interface of all annotations. It is declared within the java.lang.annotation package. It overrides hashCode( ), equals( ), and toString( ), which are defined by Object. It also specifies annotationType( ), which returns a Class object that represents the invoking annotation.

 

Once you have declared an annotation, you can use it to annotate something. Prior to JDK 8, annotations could be used only on declarations, and that is where we will begin. (JDK 8 adds the ability to annotate type use, and this is described later in this chapter. However, the same basic techniques apply to both kinds of annotations.) Any type of declaration can have an annotation associated with it. For example, classes, methods, fields, parameters, and enum constants can be annotated. Even an annotation can be annotated. In all cases, the annotation precedes the rest of the declaration.

When you apply an annotation, you give values to its members. For example, here is an example of MyAnno being applied to a method declaration:

 

// Annotate a method.

 

@MyAnno(str = "Annotation Example", val = 100)

public static void myMeth() { // ...

This annotation is linked with the method myMeth( ). Look closely at the annotation syntax. The name of the annotation, preceded by an @, is followed by a parenthesized list of member initializations. To give a member a value, that member’s name is assigned a value. Therefore, in the example, the string "Annotation Example" is assigned to the str member of MyAnno. Notice that no parentheses follow str in this assignment. When an annotation member is given a value, only its name is used. Thus, annotation members look like fields in this context.

Specifying a Retention Policy

 

Before exploring annotations further, it is necessary to discuss annotation retention policies. A retention policy determines at what point an annotation is discarded. Java defines three such policies, which are encapsulated within the java.lang.annotation.RetentionPolicy enumeration. They are SOURCE, CLASS, and RUNTIME.

 

An annotation with a retention policy of SOURCE is retained only in the source file and is discarded during compilation.

An annotation with a retention policy of CLASS is stored in the .class file during compilation. However, it is not available through the JVM during run time.

An annotation with a retention policy of RUNTIME is stored in the .class file during compilation and is available through the JVM during run time. Thus, RUNTIME retention offers the greatest annotation persistence.

 

A retention policy is specified for an annotation by using one of Java’s built-in annotations: @Retention. Its general form is shown here:

 

@Retention(retention-policy)

 

Here, retention-policy must be one of the previously discussed enumeration constants. If no retention policy is specified for an annotation, then the default policy of CLASS is used.

 

The following version of MyAnno uses @Retention to specify the RUNTIME retention policy. Thus, MyAnno will be available to the JVM during program execution.

 

@Retention(RetentionPolicy.RUNTIME)

@interface MyAnno {

 

String str(); int val();

 

}

 

Obtaining Annotations at Run Time by Use of Reflection

 

Although annotations are designed mostly for use by other development or deployment tools, if they specify a retention policy of RUNTIME, then they can be queried at run time by any Java program through the use of reflection. Reflection is the feature that enables information about a class to be obtained at run time. The reflection API is contained in the java.lang.reflect package. There are a number of ways to use reflection, and we won’t examine them all here. We will, however, walk through a few examples that apply to annotations.

 

The first step to using reflection is to obtain a Class object that represents the class whose annotations you want to obtain. Class is one of Java’s built-in classes and is defined in java.lang. It is described in detail in Part II. There are various ways to obtain a Class object. One of the easiest is to call getClass( ), which is a method defined by Object. Its general form is shown here:

 

final Class<?> getClass( )

It returns the Class object that represents the invoking object.

After you have obtained a Class object, you can use its methods to obtain information about the various items declared by the class, including its annotations. If you want to obtain the annotations associated with a specific item declared within a class, you must first obtain an object that represents that item. For example, Class supplies (among others) the getMethod( ), getField( ), and getConstructor( ) methods, which obtain information about a method, field, and constructor, respectively. These methods return objects of type

Method, Field, and Constructor.

 

To understand the process, let’s work through an example that obtains the annotations associated with a method. To do this, you first obtain a Class object that represents the class, and then call getMethod( ) on that Class object, specifying the name of the method. getMethod( ) has this general form:

 

Method getMethod(String methName, Class<?> ... paramTypes)

 

The name of the method is passed in methName. If the method has arguments, then Class objects representing those types must also be specified by paramTypes. Notice that paramTypes is a varargs parameter. This means that you can specify as many parameter types as needed, including zero. getMethod( ) returns a Method object that represents the method. If the method can’t be found, NoSuchMethodException is thrown.

From a Class, Method, Field, or Constructor object, you can obtain a specific annotation associated with that object by calling getAnnotation( ). Its general form is shown here:

 

<A extends Annotation> getAnnotation(Class<A> annoType)

 

Here, annoType is a Class object that represents the annotation in which you are interested. The method returns a reference to the annotation. Using this reference, you can obtain the values associated with the annotation’s members. The method returns null if the annotation is not found, which will be the case if the annotation does not have RUNTIME retention.

 

Here is a program that assembles all of the pieces shown earlier and uses reflection to display the annotation associated with a method:

 

import java.lang.annotation.*;

import java.lang.reflect.*;

 

// An annotation type declaration.

 @Retention(RetentionPolicy.RUNTIME) @interface MyAnno {

 

String str(); int val();

 

}

 

class Meta {

 

// Annotate a method.

 

@MyAnno(str = "Annotation Example", val = 100)

public static void myMeth() { Meta ob = new Meta();

 

     Obtain the annotation for this method

 

     and display the values of the members.

 

     try {

 

     //First, get a Class object that represents

 

     //this class.

 

Class<?> c = ob.getClass();

 

     Now, get a Method object that represents

 

     this method.

 

Method m = c.getMethod("myMeth");

 

     //Next, get the annotation for this class.

     MyAnno anno = m.getAnnotation(MyAnno.class);

 

     //Finally, display the values.

 

     System.out.println(anno.str() + " " + anno.val());

 

} catch (NoSuchMethodException exc) {

System.out.println("Method Not Found.");

}

 

}

 

public static void main(String args[]) { myMeth();

 

}

 

}

 

The output from the program is shown here:

 

Annotation Example 100

 

This program uses reflection as described to obtain and display the values of str and val in the MyAnno annotation associated with myMeth( ) in the Meta class. There are two things to pay special attention to. First, in this line

 

MyAnno anno = m.getAnnotation(MyAnno.class);

 

notice the expression MyAnno.class. This expression evaluates to a Class object of type MyAnno, the annotation. This construct is called a class literal. You can use this type of expression whenever a Class object of a known class is needed. For example, this statement could have been used to obtain the Class object for Meta:

 

Class<?> c = Meta.class;

 

Of course, this approach only works when you know the class name of an object in advance, which might not always be the case. In general, you can obtain a class literal for classes, interfaces, primitive types, and arrays. (Remember, the <?> syntax relates to Java’s generics feature. It is described in Chapter 14.)

 

The second point of interest is the way the values associated with str and val are obtained when they are output by the following line:

 

System.out.println(anno.str() + " " + anno.val());

 

Notice that they are invoked using the method-call syntax. This same approach is used whenever the value of an annotation member is required.

 

A Second Reflection Example

 

In the preceding example, myMeth( ) has no parameters. Thus, when getMethod( ) was called, only the name myMeth was passed. However, to obtain a method that has parameters, you must specify class objects representing the types of those parameters as arguments to getMethod( ). For example, here is a slightly different version of the preceding program:

 

import java.lang.annotation.*;

import java.lang.reflect.*;

 

@Retention(RetentionPolicy.RUNTIME)

@interface MyAnno {

 

String str(); int val();

 

}

 

class Meta {

 

// myMeth now has two arguments.

@MyAnno(str = "Two Parameters", val = 19)

public static void myMeth(String str, int i)

 

{

 

Meta ob = new Meta();

 

try {           

Class<?>    c = ob.getClass();

// Here,        the parameter types are specified.

Method m   = c.getMethod("myMeth",       String.class, int.class);

MyAnno anno = m.getAnnotation(MyAnno.class);

 

System.out.println(anno.str() + " " + anno.val()); } catch (NoSuchMethodException exc) {

 

System.out.println("Method Not Found.");

 

}

 

}

 

public static void main(String args[]) { myMeth("test", 10);

 

}

 

}

 

The output from this version is shown here:

Two Parameters 19

In this version, myMeth( ) takes a String and an int parameter. To obtain information about this method, getMethod( ) must be called as shown here:

 

Method m = c.getMethod("myMeth", String.class, int.class);

 

Here, the Class objects representing String and int are passed as additional arguments.

 

Obtaining All Annotations

 

You can obtain all annotations that have RUNTIME retention that are associated with an item by calling getAnnotations( ) on that item. It has this general form:

 

Annotation[ ] getAnnotations( )

 

It returns an array of the annotations. getAnnotations( ) can be called on objects of type

 

Class, Method, Constructor, and Field, among others.

 

Here is another reflection example that shows how to obtain all annotations associated with a class and with a method. It declares two annotations. It then uses those annotations to annotate a class and a method.

 

// Show all annotations for a class and a method.

import java.lang.annotation.*;

 

import java.lang.reflect.*;

 

@Retention(RetentionPolicy.RUNTIME)

@interface MyAnno {

 

String str(); int val();

 

}

 

@Retention(RetentionPolicy.RUNTIME) @interface What {

 

String description();

 

}

 

@What(description = "An annotation test class") @MyAnno(str = "Meta2", val = 99)

 

class Meta2 {

 

@What(description = "An annotation test method") @MyAnno(str = "Testing", val = 100)

 

public static void myMeth() { Meta2 ob = new Meta2();

 

try {

 

Annotation annos[] = ob.getClass().getAnnotations();

 

// Display all annotations for Meta2.

System.out.println("All annotations for Meta2:"); for(Annotation a : annos)

 

System.out.println(a);

System.out.println();

// Display all annotations for myMeth.

Method m = ob.getClass( ).getMethod("myMeth");

annos = m.getAnnotations();

 

System.out.println("All annotations for myMeth:");

for(Annotation a : annos)

 

System.out.println(a);

 

} catch (NoSuchMethodException exc) {

System.out.println("Method Not Found.");

}

 

}

 

public static void main(String args[]) { myMeth();

 

}

 

}

 

The output is shown here:

 

All annotations for Meta2: @What(description=An annotation test class) @MyAnno(str=Meta2, val=99)

 

All annotations for myMeth: @What(description=An annotation test method) @MyAnno(str=Testing, val=100)

 

The program uses getAnnotations( ) to obtain an array of all annotations associated with the Meta2 class and with the myMeth( ) method. As explained, getAnnotations( ) returns an array of Annotation objects. Recall that Annotation is a super-interface of all annotation interfaces and that it overrides toString( ) in Object. Thus, when a reference to an Annotation is output, its toString( ) method is called to generate a string that describes the annotation, as the preceding output shows.

 

The AnnotatedElement Interface

 

The methods getAnnotation( ) and getAnnotations( ) used by the preceding examples are defined by the AnnotatedElement interface, which is defined in java.lang.reflect. This interface supports reflection for annotations and is implemented by the classes Method,

Field, Constructor, Class, and Package, among others.

 

In addition to getAnnotation( ) and getAnnotations( ), AnnotatedElement defines several other methods. Two have been available since JDK 5. The first is getDeclaredAnnotations( ), which has this general form:

 

Annotation[ ] getDeclaredAnnotations( )

 

It returns all non-inherited annotations present in the invoking object. The second is isAnnotationPresent( ), which has this general form:

 

boolean isAnnotationPresent(Class<? extends Annotation> annoType)

 

It returns true if the annotation specified by annoType is associated with the invoking object. It returns false otherwise. To these, JDK 8 adds getDeclaredAnnotation( ), getAnnotationsByType( ), and getDeclaredAnnotationsByType( ). Of these, the last two automatically work with a repeated annotation.(Repeated annotations are discussed at the end of this chapter.)

 

Using Default Values

 

You can give annotation members default values that will be used if no value is specified when the annotation is applied. A default value is specified by adding a default clause to a member’s declaration. It has this general form:

 

type member( ) default value ;

 

Here, value must be of a type compatible with type.

 

Here is @MyAnno rewritten to include default values:

 

// An annotation type declaration that includes defaults. @Retention(RetentionPolicy.RUNTIME)

 

@interface MyAnno {

 

String str() default "Testing";

int val() default 9000;

}

This declaration gives a default value of "Testing" to str and 9000 to val. This means that neither value needs to be specified when @MyAnno is used. However, either or both can be given values if desired. Therefore, following are the four ways that @MyAnno can be used:

 

@MyAnno() // both str and val default

@MyAnno(str = "some string")

// val defaults

@MyAnno(val = 100) // str defaults

 

@MyAnno(str = "Testing", val = 100) // no defaults

 

The following program demonstrates the use of default values in an annotation.

 

import java.lang.annotation.*;

import java.lang.reflect.*;

 

// An annotation type declaration that includes defaults.

@Retention(RetentionPolicy.RUNTIME)

 

@interface MyAnno {

 

String str() default "Testing";

int val() default 9000;

}

 

class Meta3 {

 

// Annotate a method using the default values.

@MyAnno()

 

public static void myMeth() {

Meta3 ob = new Meta3();

 

     //Obtain the annotation for this method and display the values of the members.

try {

Class<?> c = ob.getClass();

Method m = c.getMethod("myMeth");

 

MyAnno anno = m.getAnnotation(MyAnno.class);

 

System.out.println(anno.str() + " " + anno.val()); }

catch (NoSuchMethodException exc) {

 

System.out.println("Method Not Found.");

 

}

 

}

 

public static void main(String args[]) {

myMeth();

 

}

 

}

 

The output is shown here:

 

Testing 9000

 

Marker Annotations

 

A marker annotation is a special kind of annotation that contains no members. Its sole purpose is to mark an item. Thus, its presence as an annotation is sufficient. The best way to determine if a marker annotation is present is to use the method isAnnotationPresent( ), which is defined by the AnnotatedElement interface.

Here is an example that uses a marker annotation. Because a marker interface contains no members, simply determining whether it is present or absent is sufficient.

 

import java.lang.annotation.*;

import java.lang.reflect.*;

 

// A marker annotation.

@Retention(RetentionPolicy.RUNTIME) @interface MyMarker { }

 

class Marker {

 

     //Annotate a method using a marker.

 

     //Notice that no ( ) is needed.

 

     @MyMarker

 

public static void myMeth() { Marker ob = new Marker();

 

try {

 

Method m = ob.getClass().getMethod("myMeth");

 

// Determine if the annotation is present.

if(m.isAnnotationPresent(MyMarker.class))

System.out.println("MyMarker is present.");

 

} catch (NoSuchMethodException exc) { System.out.println("Method Not Found.");

}

 

}

 

public static void main(String args[]) { myMeth();

 

}

 

}

 

The output, shown here, confirms that @MyMarker is present:

 

MyMarker is present.

 

In the program, notice that you do not need to follow @MyMarker with parentheses when it is applied. Thus, @MyMarker is applied simply by using its name, like this:

 

@MyMarker

 

It is not wrong to supply an empty set of parentheses, but they are not needed.

 

Single-Member Annotations

 

A single-member annotation contains only one member. It works like a normal annotation except that it allows a shorthand form of specifying the value of the member. When only one member is present, you can simply specify the value for that member when the annotation is applied—you don’t need to specify the name of the member. However,

 

in order to use this shorthand, the name of the member must be value. Here is an example that creates and uses a single-member annotation:

 

import java.lang.annotation.*;

import java.lang.reflect.*;

 

// A single-member annotation.

@Retention(RetentionPolicy.RUNTIME) @interface MySingle {

 

int value(); // this variable name must be value

 

}

 

class Single {

 

// Annotate a method using a single-member annotation.

 @MySingle(100)

 

public static void myMeth() { Single ob = new Single();

 

try {

 

Method m = ob.getClass().getMethod("myMeth");

 

MySingle anno = m.getAnnotation(MySingle.class);

 

System.out.println(anno.value()); // displays 100

 

} catch (NoSuchMethodException exc) { System.out.println("Method Not Found.");

}

public static void main(String args[]) { myMeth();

 

}

 

}

 

As expected, this program displays the value 100. In the program, @MySingle is used to annotate myMeth( ), as shown here:

 

@MySingle(100)

 

Notice that value = need not be specified.

 

You can use the single-value syntax when applying an annotation that has other members, but those other members must all have default values. For example, here the value xyz is added, with a default value of zero:

 

@interface SomeAnno { int value();

 

int xyz() default 0;

 

}

 

In cases in which you want to use the default for xyz, you can apply @SomeAnno, as shown next, by simply specifying the value of value by using the single-member syntax.

 

@SomeAnno(88)

 

In this case, xyz defaults to zero, and value gets the value 88. Of course, to specify a different value for xyz requires that both members be explicitly named, as shown here:

 

@SomeAnno(value = 88, xyz = 99)

 

Remember, whenever you are using a single-member annotation, the name of that member must be value.

 

The Built-In Annotations

 

Java defines many built-in annotations. Most are specialized, but nine are general purpose. Of these, four are imported from java.lang.annotation: @Retention, @Documented, @Target, and @Inherited. Five—@Override, @Deprecated, @FunctionalInterface,

 

@SafeVarargs, and @SuppressWarnings—are included in java.lang. Each is described here.

@Retention

@Retention is designed to be used only as an annotation to another annotation. It specifies the retention policy as described earlier in this chapter.

@Documented

 

The @Documented annotation is a marker interface that tells a tool that an annotation is to be documented. It is designed to be used only as an annotation to an annotation declaration.

 

@Target

 

The @Target annotation specifies the types of items to which an annotation can be applied. It is designed to be used only as an annotation to another annotation. @Target takes one argument, which is an array of constants of the ElementType enumeration. This argument specifies the types of declarations to which the annotation can be applied. The constants are shown here along with the type of declaration to which they correspond:


You can specify one or more of these values in a @Target annotation. To specify multiple values, you must specify them within a braces-delimited list. For example, to specify that an annotation applies only to fields and local variables, you can use this @Target annotation:

 

@Target( { ElementType.FIELD, ElementType.LOCAL_VARIABLE } )

 

If you don't use @Target, then, except for type parameters, the annotation can be used on any declaration. For this reason, it is often a good idea to explicitly specify the target or targets so as to clearly indicate the intended uses of an annotation.

 

@Inherited

 

@Inherited is a marker annotation that can be used only on another annotation declaration. Furthermore, it affects only annotations that will be used on class declarations. @Inherited causes the annotation for a superclass to be inherited by a subclass. Therefore, when a request for a specific annotation is made to the subclass, if that annotation is not present in the subclass, then its superclass is checked. If that annotation is present in the superclass, and if it is annotated with @Inherited, then that annotation will be returned.

@Override

 

@Override is a marker annotation that can be used only on methods. A method annotated with @Override must override a method from a superclass. If it doesn’t, a compile-time error will result. It is used to ensure that a superclass method is actually overridden, and not simply overloaded.

 

@Deprecated

 

@Deprecated is a marker annotation. It indicates that a declaration is obsolete and has been replaced by a newer form.

 

@FunctionalInterface

 

@FunctionalInterface is a marker annotation added by JDK 8 and designed for use on interfaces. It indicates that the annotated interface is a functional interface. A functional interface is an interface that contains one and only one abstract method. Functional interfaces are used by lambda expressions. (See Chapter 15 for details on functional interfaces and lambda expressions.) If the annotated interface is not a functional interface, a compilation error will be reported. It is important to understand that @FunctionalInterface is not needed to create a functional interface. Any interface with exactly one abstract method is, by definition, a functional interface. Thus, @FunctionalInterface is purely informational.

 

@SafeVarargs

 

@SafeVarargs is a marker annotation that can be applied to methods and constructors. It indicates that no unsafe actions related to a varargs parameter occur. It is used to suppress unchecked warnings on otherwise safe code as it relates to non-reifiable vararg types and parameterized array instantiation. (A non-reifiable type is, essentially, a generic type. Generics are described in Chapter 14.) It must be applied only to vararg methods or constructors that are static or final.

 

@SuppressWarnings

 

@SuppressWarnings specifies that one or more warnings that might be issued by the compiler are to be suppressed. The warnings to suppress are specified by name, in string form.


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