Introduction to Collections

A collection — sometimes called a container — is simply an object that groups multiple elements into a single unit. Collections are used to store, retrieve, manipulate, and communicate aggregate data. Typically, they represent data items that form a natural group, such as a poker hand, a mail folder , or a telephone directory . If you have used the Java programming language — or just about any other programming language — you are already familiar with collections.

Java collections framework

The Java collections framework (JCF) is a set of classes and interfaces that implement commonly reusable collection data structures.

Although referred to as a framework, it works in a manner of a library. The JCF provides both interfaces that define various collections and classes that implement them.

A collections framework is a unified architecture for representing and manipulating collections. All collections frameworks contain the following:

Interfaces: These are abstract data types that represent collections. Interfaces allow collections to be manipulated independently of the details of their representation.
Implementations: These are the concrete implementations of the collection interfaces. In essence, they are reusable data structures.
Algorithms: These are the methods that perform useful computations, such as searching and sorting, on objects that implement collection interfaces. The algorithms are said to be polymorphic: that is, the same method can be used on many different implementations of the appropriate collection interface. In essence, algorithms are reusable functionality.

Apart from the Java Collections Framework, the best-known examples of collections frameworks are the C++ Standard Template Library (STL) and Smalltalk's collection hierarchy.

Java collections framework

Differences to Arrays

Collections and arrays are similar in that they both hold references to objects and they can be managed as a group. However, unlike arrays, collections do not need to be assigned a certain capacity when instantiated. Collections can also grow and shrink in size automatically when objects are added or removed. Collections cannot hold basic data type elements (primitive types) such as int, long, or double; instead, they hold Wrapper Classes such as Integer, Long, or Double

Benefits of the Java Collections Framework


The Java Collections Framework provides the following benefits:

Reduces programming effort: By providing useful data structures and algorithms, the Collections Framework frees you to concentrate on the important parts of your program rather than on the low-level "plumbing" required to make it work. By facilitating interoperability among unrelated APIs, the Java Collections Framework frees you from writing adapter objects or conversion code to connect APIs.
Increases program speed and quality: This Collections Framework provides high-performance, high-quality implementations of useful data structures and algorithms. The various implementations of each interface are interchangeable, so programs can be easily tuned by switching collection implementations. Because you're freed from the drudgery of writing your own data structures, you'll have more time to devote to improving programs' quality and performance.
Allows interoperability among unrelated APIs: The collection interfaces are the vernacular by which APIs pass collections back and forth. If my network administration API furnishes a collection of node names and if your GUI toolkit expects a collection of column headings, our APIs will interoperate seamlessly, even though they were written independently.
Reduces effort to learn and to use new APIs: Many APIs naturally take collections on input and furnish them as output. In the past, each such API had a small sub-API devoted to manipulating its collections. There was little consistency among these ad hoc collections sub-APIs, so you had to learn each one from scratch, and it was easy to make mistakes when using them. With the advent of standard collection interfaces, the problem went away.
Reduces effort to design new APIs: This is the flip side of the previous advantage. Designers and implementers don't have to reinvent the wheel each time they create an API that relies on collections; instead, they can use standard collection interfaces.
Fosters software reuse: New data structures that conform to the standard collection interfaces are by nature reusable. The same goes for new algorithms that operate on objects that implement these interfaces.

Architecture of Java collections framework

Almost all collections in Java are derived from the java.util.Collection interface.Collection defines the basic parts of all collections. The interface states the "add() and remove()" methods for adding to and removing from a collection respectively. Also required is the "toArray()" method, which converts the collection into a simple array of all the elements in the collection. Finally, the contains() method checks if a specified element is in the collection. The Collection interface is a subinterface of java.lang.Iterable so any Collection may be the target of a for-each statement. All collections have an iterator that goes through all of the elements in the collection. Additionally, Collection is a generic.

Types of Collection

• List interface
• Queue interfaces
• Double-ended queue (deque) interfaces
• Set interfaces
• Map interfaces

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