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The Dreaded DefaultAbstractHelperImpl

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The Dreaded DefaultAbstractHelperImpl

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A while ago, we have published this fun game we like to call Spring API Bingo. It is a tribute and flattery to Spring’s immense creativeness when forming meaningful class names like

  • FactoryAdvisorAdapterHandlerLoader
  • ContainerPreTranslatorInfoDisposable
  • BeanFactoryDestinationResolver
  • LocalPersistenceManagerFactoryBean

Two of the above classes actually exist. Can you spot them? If no, playSpring API Bingo!

Clearly, the Spring API suffers from having…

To name things

There are only two hard problems in computer science. Cache invalidation, naming things, and off-by-one errors

- Tim Bray quoting Phil Karlton

There are a couple of these prefixes or suffixes that are just hard to get rid of in Java software. Consider this recent discussion on Twitter, that inevitably lead to an (very) interesting discussion:

Yes, the Impl suffix is an interesting topic. Why do we have it, and why do we keep naming things that way?

Specification vs. body

Java is a quirky language. At the time it was invented, object orientation was a hot topic. But procedural languages had interesting features as well. One very interesting language at the time was Ada (and also PL/SQL, which was largely derived from Ada). Ada (like PL/SQL) reasonably organises procedures and functions in packages, which come in two flavours: specification and body. From the wikipedia example:

-- Specification
package Example is
procedure Print_and_Increment (j: in out Number);
end Example;
-- Body
package body Example is
procedure Print_and_Increment (j: in out Number) is
-- [...]
end Print_and_Increment;
-- [...]
end Example;

You always have to do this, and the two things are named exactly the same:Example. And they’re stored in two different files called Example.ads (ad for Ada and s for specification) and Example.adb (b for body). PL/SQL followed suit and names package files Example.pks and Example.pkb with pk for Package.

Java went a different way mainly because of polymorphism and because of the way classes work:

  • Classes are both specification AND body in one
  • Interfaces cannot be named the same as their implementing classes (mostly, because there are many implementations, of course)

In particular, classes can be a hybrid of spec-only, with a partial body (when they’re abstract), and full spec and body (when they’re concrete).

How this translates to naming in Java

Not everyone appreciates clean separation of specs and body, and this can certainly be debated. But when you’re in that Ada-esque mind set, then you probably want one interface for every class, at least wherever API is exposed. We’re doing the same for jOOQ, where we have established the following policy to name things:


All implementations (bodies) that are in a 1:1 relationship with a corresponding interface are suffixed Impl. If ever possible, we try to keep those implementations package-private and thus sealed in theorg.jooq.impl package. Examples are:

This strict naming scheme makes it immediately clear, which one is the interface (and thus public API), and which one is the implementation. We wish Java were more like Ada with this respect, but we have polymorphism, which is great, and…


… and it leads to reusing code in base classes. As we all know, common base classes should (almost) always be abstract. Simply because they’re most often incomplete implementations (bodies) of their corresponding specification. Thus, we have a lot of partial implementations that are also in a 1:1 relationship with a corresponding interface, and we prefix them withAbstract. Most often, these partial implementations are also package-private and sealed in the org.jooq.impl package. Examples are:

In particular, ResultQuery is an interface that extends Query, and thusAbstractResultQuery is a partial implementation that extends theAbstractQuery, which is also a partial implementation.

Having partial implementations makes perfect sense in our API, because our API is an internal DSL (Domain-Specific Language) and thus has thousands of methods that are always the same, no matter what the concrete Fieldreally does – e.g. Substring


We do everything API related with interfaces. This has proven highly effective already in popular Java SE APIs, such as:

  • Collections
  • Streams
  • JDBC
  • DOM

We also do everything SPI (Service Provider Interface) related with interfaces. There is one essential difference between APIs and SPIs in terms of API evolution:

  • APIs are consumed by users, hardly implemented
  • SPIs are implemented by users, hardly consumed

If you’re not developing the JDK (and thus don’t have completely mad backwards-compatibility rules), you’re probably mostly safe adding new methods to API interfaces. In fact, we do so in every minor release as we do not expect anyone to implement our DSL (who’d want to implement Field‘s286 methods, or DSL‘s 677 methods. That’s mad!)

But SPIs are different. Whenever you provide your user with SPIs, such as anything suffixed *Listener or *Provider, you can’t just simply add new methods to them – at least not prior to Java 8, as that would break implementations, and there are many of them.

Well. We still do it, because we don’t have those JDK backwards-compatibility rules. We have more relaxed ones. But we suggest our users do not implement the interfaces directly themselves, but extend a Defaultimplementation instead, which is empty. For instance ExecuteListener and the corresponding DefaultExecuteListener:

public interface ExecuteListener {
void start(ExecuteContext ctx);
void renderStart(ExecuteContext ctx);
// [...]
public class DefaultExecuteListener
implements ExecuteListener {
public void start(ExecuteContext ctx) {}
public void renderStart(ExecuteContext ctx) {}
// [...]

So, Default* is a prefix that is commonly used to provide a single public implementation that API consumers can use and instantiate, or SPI implementors can extend – without risking backwards-compatibility issues. It’s pretty much a workaround for Java 6 / 7’s lack of interface default methods, which is why the prefix naming is even more appropriate.

Java 8 Version of this rule

In fact, this practice makes it evident that a “good” rule to specify Java-8 compatible SPIs is to use interfaces and to make all methods default with an empty body. If jOOQ didn’t support Java 6, we’d probably specify ourExecuteListener like this:

public interface ExecuteListener {
default void start(ExecuteContext ctx) {}
default void renderStart(ExecuteContext ctx) {}
// [...]

*Utils or *Helper

OK, so here’s one for the mock/testing/coverage experts and aficionados out there.

It’s TOTALLY OK to have a “dump” for all sorts of static utility methods. I mean, of course you could be a member of the object-orientation police. But…

Please. Don’t be “that guy”! :-)

So, there are various techniques of identifying utility classes. Ideally, you take a naming convention and then stick to it. E.g. *Utils.

From our perspective, ideally you’d even just dump all utility methods that are not stricly bound to a very specific domain in a single class, because frankly, when did you last appreciate having to go through millions of classes to find that utility method? Never. We have org.jooq.impl.Utils. Why? Because it’ll allow you to do:

import static org.jooq.impl.Utils.*;

This then almost feels as if you had something like “top-level functions” throughout your application. “global” functions. Which we think is a nice thing. And we totally don’t buy the “we can’t mock this” argument, so don’t even try starting a discussion


… or, in fact, let’s do start a discussion. What are your techniques, and why? Here are a couple of reactions to Tom Bujok’s original Tweet, to help get you started:

Let’s go ;-)

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Published at DZone with permission of Lukas Eder, DZone MVB. See the original article here.

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