Java

Hire the Top 3% of Freelance Java Developers.

Toptal is a marketplace for top Java developers, engineers, programmers, coders, architects, and consultants. Top companies and start-ups choose Toptal Java freelancers for their mission-critical software projects.

No-Risk Trial, Pay Only If Satisfied.

Trusted by leading brands and startups

Hire Freelance Java Developers and Engineers

Radek Ostrowski

Freelance Java Developer

AustraliaToptal Member Since July 25, 2014

Radek is a certified Toptal Blockchain Engineer particularly interested in Ethereum and smart contracts. In the fiat world, he is experienced in big data/machine learning projects. He is a triple winner in two different international IBM Apache Spark competitions, co-creator of PlayStation 4's back-end, a successful hackathon competitor, and speaker at conferences in Australia, Poland, and Serbia.

Show More

Rizwan Rizvi

Freelance Java Developer

United StatesToptal Member Since May 21, 2018

Rizwan has a reputation for overcoming complex challenges through clear thinking, innovative approaches, and enhancing the communication between different parts of organizations. Throughout his career, he has optimized the efforts of diverse and dispersed teams of IT professionals and consistently has delivered projects profitably in challenging environments.

Show More

Dan Kozlowski

Freelance Java Developer

United StatesToptal Member Since July 8, 2019

Dan is has been working in technology for 20 years and has worked with many large firms such as Oracle and Accenture, with startups and in his own business. His technology focus as of late has been with e-commerce and full-stack web development and dev ops. Through his career, he has many opportunities to architect and deliver large scale solutions to clients but also has been able to stay hands-on with the technology throughout.

Show More

Keith Ewen

Freelance Java Developer

United StatesToptal Member Since February 16, 2019

Keith has nearly 40 years of experience in the IT industry with the last 20+, designing and developing using Oracle database and Oracle eBusiness Suite. He's also delivered presentations at Oracle Open World and Oracle Application User Group conferences. Keith has made individual contributions as well as managing on-shore/off-shore teams of up to ten resources. Keith is very detailed-oriented and always delivers a quality product.

Show More

Alex Gonzalez

Freelance Java Developer

United StatesToptal Member Since February 25, 2019

Alex has over ten years of experience developing software, especially web and mobile apps. He’s led the development of interactive projects for companies including AT&T, EMC, Legendary Pictures, Hewlett Packard, Foundation Capital, UCLA, Anaheim Ducks, and LA18 Television. Apps he’s developed have been featured in TechCrunch and iPod commercials. Alex graduated with a degree in Applied Mathematics from the University of California, Berkeley.

Show More

Ken Hoffman

Freelance Java Developer

United StatesToptal Member Since July 20, 2018

Ken has over 20 years of experience as an independent contractor providing application development services to his customers. For the last 12 years, he has developed applications on the .NET platform. His motivation to deliver value-added solutions and pull projects through to completion has earned him the respect of his clients resulting in long-term relationships.

Show More

Joseph McNulty

Freelance Java Developer

United StatesToptal Member Since December 20, 2017

Joseph is a man with strong leadership skills and who is also extremely experienced in software engineering—specializing in mission-critical systems in aerospace, defense, and telecommunications fields. He has over two decades of experience designing and developing sophisticated enterprise web applications using various technologies, most recently with ASP.NET MVC.

Show More

Fabian Ponce

Freelance Java Developer

United StatesToptal Member Since November 16, 2017

Fabian is a DevOps professional with a proven track record as a hands-on individual contributor—from early-stage startups to established enterprises, full-time, and consultant roles. He has experience wearing multiple hats and operating in highly regulated environments.

Show More

Joshua Ballanco

Freelance Java Developer

United StatesToptal Member Since November 22, 2013

Joshua is an architect, engineer, and scientist with experience building large-scale systems dealing with everything from massive amounts of video data to heavy web traffic. He also has experience breaking monoliths into scalable microservice architectures, and going the other way 'round. He's worked for Apple and AOL, and has also led a group of 50+ consultants as their chief scientist.

Show More

Abdelhamid Attaby

Freelance Java Developer

EgyptToptal Member Since November 8, 2019

Abdelhamid is a professional software engineer with 8+ years of experience. A former team leader and CTO of Coligo Technologies. He holds a Master of Science degree and a Ph.D. degree in Computer Science and Engineering. His specialties include JavaScript, Node.js, Python, REST API, Express, Redis, MongoDB, PostgreSQL, React, Redux, CI/CD, and cloud services.

Show More

Luigi Crispo

Freelance Java Developer

United Arab EmiratesToptal Member Since November 12, 2019

Luigi is a seasoned devops and leadership specialist with over two decades of professional experience in a variety of environments. He is passionate about technology and value-driven projects, and he is highly adaptable.

Show More

Sign up now to see more profiles.

Start Hiring

A Hiring Guide

Guide to Hiring a Great Java Developer

Mastering Java is no small feat. Its extensive class libraries contain a wide array of capabilities and nuances, many of which are lost on the average developer. Those who have mastered the language can have a significant positive impact on your team's productivity and on your system's performance. Here are some targeted questions to help identify true masters of the language.

Java Hiring Resources

Trustpilot
Toptal in the press

... allows corporations to quickly assemble teams that have the right skills for specific projects.

Despite accelerating demand for coders, Toptal prides itself on almost Ivy League-level vetting.

Our clients
Building a cross-platform app to be used worldwide
Thierry Jakicevic
Building a cross-platform app to be used worldwide
1
2
3
Creating an app for the game
Conor Kenney
Creating an app for the game
1
2
3
Leading a digital transformation
Elmar Platzer
Leading a digital transformation
1
2
3
Testimonials

Tripcents wouldn't exist without Toptal. Toptal Projects enabled us to rapidly develop our foundation with a product manager, lead developer, and senior designer. In just over 60 days we went from concept to Alpha. The speed, knowledge, expertise, and flexibility is second to none. The Toptal team were as part of tripcents as any in-house team member of tripcents. They contributed and took ownership of the development just like everyone else. We will continue to use Toptal. As a start up, they are our secret weapon.

Brantley Pace, CEO & Co-Founder

Tripcents

In addition to sharp technical skills, Faruk had a great attitude and is a really exceptional communicator. He always let us know where he was with his work, thoroughly and reliably. That's not always the case, and it made working remotely considerably easier. He was an easy integration into the team.

Leif Abraham, Co-Founder

AND CO Ventures Inc

I am more than pleased with our experience with Toptal. The professional I got to work with was on the phone with me within a couple of hours. I knew after discussing my project with him that he was the candidate I wanted. I hired him immediately and he wasted no time in getting to my project, even going the extra mile by adding some great design elements that enhanced our overall look.

Paul Fenley, Director

K Dunn & Associates

The developers I was paired with were incredible -- smart, driven, and responsive. It used to be hard to find quality engineers and consultants. Now it isn't.

Ryan Rockefeller, CEO

Radeeus

Toptal understood our project needs immediately. We were matched with an exceptional freelancer from Argentina who, from Day 1, immersed himself in our industry, blended seamlessly with our team, understood our vision, and produced top-notch results. Toptal makes connecting with superior developers and programmers very easy.

Jason Kulik, Co-Founder

ProHatch

As a small company with limited resources we can't afford to make expensive mistakes. Toptal provided us with an experienced programmer who was able to hit the ground running and begin contributing immediately. It has been a great experience and one we'd repeat again in a heartbeat.

Stuart Pocknee , Principal

Site Specific Software Solutions

We used Toptal to hire a developer with extensive Amazon Web Services experience. We interviewed four candidates, one of which turned out to be a great fit for our requirements. The process was quick and effective.

Abner Guzmán Rivera, CTO and Chief Scientist

Photo Kharma

Sergio was an awesome developer to work with. Top notch, responsive, and got the work done efficiently.

Dennis Baldwin, Chief Technologist and Co-Founder

PriceBlink

Working with Marcin is a joy. He is competent, professional, flexible, and extremely quick to understand what is required and how to implement it.

André Fischer, CTO

POSTIFY

We needed a expert engineer who could start on our project immediately. Simanas exceeded our expectations with his work. Not having to interview and chase down an expert developer was an excellent time-saver and made everyone feel more comfortable with our choice to switch platforms to utilize a more robust language. Toptal made the process easy and convenient. Toptal is now the first place we look for expert-level help.

Derek Minor, Senior VP of Web Development

Networld Media Group

Toptal's developers and architects have been both very professional and easy to work with. The solution they produced was fairly priced and top quality, reducing our time to launch. Thanks again, Toptal.

Jeremy Wessels, CEO

Kognosi

We had a great experience with Toptal. They paired us with the perfect developer for our application and made the process very easy. It was also easy to extend beyond the initial time frame, and we were able to keep the same contractor throughout our project. We definitely recommend Toptal for finding high quality talent quickly and seamlessly.

Ryan Morrissey, CTO

Applied Business Technologies, LLC

I'm incredibly impressed with Toptal. Our developer communicates with me every day, and is a very powerful coder. He's a true professional and his work is just excellent. 5 stars for Toptal.

Pietro Casoar, CEO

Ronin Play Pty Ltd

Working with Toptal has been a great experience. Prior to using them, I had spent quite some time interviewing other freelancers and wasn't finding what I needed. After engaging with Toptal, they matched me up with the perfect developer in a matter of days. The developer I'm working with not only delivers quality code, but he also makes suggestions on things that I hadn't thought of. It's clear to me that Amaury knows what he is doing. Highly recommended!

George Cheng, CEO

Bulavard, Inc.

As a Toptal qualified front-end developer, I also run my own consulting practice. When clients come to me for help filling key roles on their team, Toptal is the only place I feel comfortable recommending. Toptal's entire candidate pool is the best of the best. Toptal is the best value for money I've found in nearly half a decade of professional online work.

Ethan Brooks, CTO

Langlotz Patent & Trademark Works, Inc.

In Higgle's early days, we needed the best-in-class developers, at affordable rates, in a timely fashion. Toptal delivered!

Lara Aldag, CEO

Higgle

Toptal makes finding a candidate extremely easy and gives you peace-of-mind that they have the skills to deliver. I would definitely recommend their services to anyone looking for highly-skilled developers.

Michael Gluckman, Data Manager

Mxit

Toptal’s ability to rapidly match our project with the best developers was just superb. The developers have become part of our team, and I’m amazed at the level of professional commitment each of them has demonstrated. For those looking to work remotely with the best engineers, look no further than Toptal.

Laurent Alis, Founder

Livepress

Toptal makes finding qualified engineers a breeze. We needed an experienced ASP.NET MVC architect to guide the development of our start-up app, and Toptal had three great candidates for us in less than a week. After making our selection, the engineer was online immediately and hit the ground running. It was so much faster and easier than having to discover and vet candidates ourselves.

Jeff Kelly, Co-Founder

Concerted Solutions

We needed some short-term work in Scala, and Toptal found us a great developer within 24 hours. This simply would not have been possible via any other platform.

Franco Arda, Co-Founder

WhatAdsWork.com

© Java is owned by Oracle Corporation

Hire Java Developers Seamlessly with Toptal

1

Talk to One of Our Industry Experts

A Toptal director of engineering will work you to understand your goals, technical needs, and team dynamics.
2

Work With Hand-Selected Talent

Within days, we'll introduce you to the right Java developer for your project. Average time to match is under 24 hours.
3

The Right Fit, Guaranteed

Work with your new Java developer for a trial period (pay only if satisfied), ensuring they're the right fit before starting the engagement.

FAQs

  • How are Toptal Java Developers different?

    At Toptal, we thoroughly screen our Java Developers to ensure we only match you with talent of the highest caliber. Of the more than 100,000 people who apply to join the Toptal network each year, fewer than 3% make the cut. You'll work with engineering experts (never generalized recruiters or HR reps) to understand your goals, technical needs, and team dynamics. The end result: expert vetted talent from our network, custom matched to fit your business needs.

  • How fast can I hire Java Developers through Toptal?

    Depending on availability and how fast you can progress, you could start working with a Java Developer within 48 hours of signing up.

  • What is the no-risk trial period for Java Developers?

    We make sure that each engagement between you and your Java developer begins with a trial period of up to two weeks. This means that you have time to confirm the engagement will be successful. If you're completely satisfied with the results, we'll bill you for the time and continue the engagement for as long as you'd like. If you're not completely satisfied, you won't be billed. From there, we can either part ways, or we can provide you with another expert who may be a better fit and with whom we will begin a second, no-risk trial.

  • 1.1KSHARES

Java

How to Hire a Great Java Developer

The Challenge

Today, nearly 20 years after its initial launch, Java is reported to be the most in-demand language skill, and by a wide margin (twice as popular as the runner up, PHP).

With Java usage being so pervasive, there is no shortage of developers with Java listed on their resumes. But as with any technology, there’s knowing Java and then there’s really knowing Java. So how can you identify those who are true Java experts?

Java mastery, like many skills in life, takes time and a healthy dose of curiosity to fully leverage its power. Accordingly, as described in our post In Search of the Elite Few, an effective recruiting process needs to evaluate many dimensions of a candidate beyond just technical knowledge; attributes such as drive, integrity, and creativity are equally essential attributes of a master developer. Evaluating those dimensions of a candidate can then be augmented with questions – such as those presented herein – to help identify those who are true Java experts.

Assessing the Foundation

We begin with some questions that can help evaluate the depth of a candidate’s understanding of some fundamental Java paradigms and concepts.

Q: What are anonymous classes? When, why, and how would you use them? Provide an example.

Anonymous classes are in-line expressions, often single-use classes for convenience, that help make your code more concise. The following example instantiates a new ActionListener to handle events associated with a button:

button.addActionListener(new ActionListener() {
    public void actionPerformed(ActionEvent e) {
        /* do something in response to button action event */
    }
});

This makes sense since the class isn’t used elsewhere and doesn’t need a name. However, if you pass an anonymous class to a registration method, for instance, you may want to keep track of its reference, in order to be able to unregister it later. Let’s extend the above example to demonstrate this:

ActionListener listener = new ActionListener() {
    public void actionPerformed(ActionEvent e) {
        /* do something in response to button action event */
    };
button.addActionListener(listener);

/* some time later... */

button.removeActionListener(listener);

Q: What are abstract classes? When, why, and how would you use them? Provide an example.

Abstract classes are useful for defining abstract template methods that concrete subclasses must implement. All concrete subclasses are therefore guaranteed to honor the API specified by the abstract methods in the abstract class they inherit from. This is somewhat similar to the way in which a Java interface specifies an API for all classes that implement it.

The common use case is where there is a category of objects that have a common behavior (e.g., all shapes have an area), but the details of calculating or performing those functions varies from one object to another. For example:

 public abstract class Shape {
     public abstract double area();
 }
 
 public class Circle extends Shape {
     private double radius;
     
     public Circle(double radius) {
         this.radius = radius;
     }
     public double area() { return Math.PI * Math.pow(this.radius,2); }
 }
 
 public class Rectangle extends Shape {
     private double width, height;
     
     public Rectangle(double width, double height) {
         this.width = width;
         this.height = height;
     }
     public double area() { return this.width * this.height; }
 }

A couple of things worth noting:

  • Abstract classes may not be instantiated directly; only their concrete subclasses are instantiable.
  • A class may be declared abstract even if it has no abstract methods. This will preclude that class from being instantiated. This can be useful, for example, if a base class in a class hierarchy has no abstract methods but is not itself meant to be instantiated.

Q: Compare and contrast checked and unchecked exceptions. Provide examples.

Unchecked exceptions are exceptions that are not considered to be recoverable. Java doesn’t force you to catch or handle these because they indicate abnormal, unexpected problems with your code such as NullPointerException, ArithmeticException and IndexOutOfBoundsException. That is, these are problems you need to fix or prevent. Unchecked exceptions all derive from RuntimeException.

Checked exceptions are exceptions that are considered to be recoverable. Checked exceptions must explicitly be specified as part of a method’s API; that is, a method that may throw one or more checked exceptions must list those potential exceptions as part of its method declaration (the Java compiler will actually enforce this).

When calling a method that throws exceptions, the caller must either handle (i.e., catch) those exceptions or must throw them itself. For example, if a method throws a checked exception, the caller might decide to ignore the error and continue (swallow it), display a dialog to the user, or rethrow the exception to let a method higher up the call chain handle it (in which case it must also declare that it throws the checked exception).

For example:

public void readFile(File file) throws IOException, MyReadFileException {
    try {
        FileInputStream fis = new FileInputStream(file);
    } catch(FileNotFoundException e) {
        // We catch the FileNotFoundException and instead throw an IOException,
        // so we don't include FileNotFoundException in our "throws" clause above. 
        throw new IOException();
    }
    
    if (somethingBadHappened) {
        // We explicitly throw our own MyReadFileException here,
        // so we do include it in our "throws" clause above.
        throw new MyReadFileException();
    }
}

Checked exceptions clearly communicate and enforcing handling of error conditions. However, it can also be a pain for developers to continually need to include try/catch blocks to handle all known exceptions from the methods that they call. Although numerous checked exceptions are certainly permissible in Java, things can get a bit unwieldly. For example:

public void sillyMethod() throws DataFormatException, InterruptedException, 
	IOException, SQLException, TimeoutException, ParseException {
...
}

Accordingly, there has been raging debate for years on whether to use checked or unchecked exceptions when writing libaries, for example. As is true with many such debates, the truth is that there really is no one-size-fits-all, across-the-board correct answer. Checked and unchecked exceptions each have their own advantages and disadvantages, so the decision about which to use largely depends on the situation and context.

Q: Describe Generics and provide examples of generic methods and classes in Java.

Java generics enable programmers to specify, with a single method or class declaration, functionality that can be applied to multiple different data types. Generics also provide compile-time type safety that allows programmers to catch invalid types at compile time.

Here, for example, is a generic method that uses <E> as the placeholder for a generic type:

public <E> void printArray( E[] inputArray ) {
    // Display array elements              
    for ( E element : inputArray ) {        
        System.out.printf( "%s ", element );
    }
    System.out.println();
}

The above method could then be invoked with various types of arrays and would handle them all appropriately; e.g.:

// invoke generic printArray method with a Double array
Double[] doubleArray = { 1.1, 2.2, 3.3, 4.4 };
printArray(doubleArray);

// invoke generic printArray method with a Character array
Character[] charArray = { 'H', 'E', 'L', 'L', 'O' };
printArray(charArray);

There may be times, though, when you want to restrict the kinds of types that are allowed to be passed to a generic type parameter. For example, a method that operates on numbers might only want to accept instances of Number or its subclasses. This is accomplished in generic using a bounded type parameter, which list the type parameter’s name followed by the extends keyword. For example:

// determines the largest of three Comparable objects
public static <T extends Comparable<T>> T maximum(T x, T y, T z) {                      
  T max = x; // assume x is initially the largest       
  if ( y.compareTo( max ) > 0 ) {
     max = y; // y is the largest so far
  }
  if ( z.compareTo( max ) > 0 ) {
     max = z; // z is the largest now                 
  }
  return max; // returns the largest object   
}

As with generic methods, the type parameter section of a generic class can have one or more type parameters separated by commas. For example:

public class Cell<T> {
  private T val;

  public void set(T val) { this.val = val; }

  public T get() { return val; }

  public static void main(String[] args) {
     Cell<Integer> integerCell = new Box<Integer>();
     Cell<String> stringCell = new Box<String>();
    
     integerCell.add(new Integer(10));
     stringCell.add(new String("Hello World"));

     System.out.printf("Integer Value :%d\n\n", integerCell.get());
     System.out.printf("String Value :%s\n", stringCell.get());
  }
}

Q: What is multiple inheritance? What are some potential problems with it and why has Java traditionally not supported it? How has this changed with the release of Java 8?

Multiple inheritance is a feature of some object-oriented computer programming languages in which an object or class can inherit characteristics and features from more than one parent object or parent class. It is distinct from single inheritance, where an object or class may only inherit from one particular object or class.

Until Java 8, Java only supported single inheritance. We’ll discuss Java 8’s quasi-support for multiple inheritance shortly, but first let’s understand what problems can result from multiple inheritance and why it has been so heavily avoided in Java.

The main argument against multiple inheritance is the complexity, and potential ambiguity, that it can introduce. This is most typically exemplified by the commonly cited “diamond problem”, whereby classes B and C inherit from class A, and class D inherits from both classes B and C. Ambiguity arises if there is a method in A that both B and C have overridden. If D does not override it, then which version of the method does it inherit; that of B, or that of C?

Let’s consider a simple example. A university has people who are affiliated with it. Some are students, some are faculty members, some are administrators, and so on. So a simple inheritance scheme might have different types of people in different roles, all of whom inherit from one common “Person” class. The Person class could define an abstract getRole() method which would then be overridden by its subclasses to return the correct role type, i.e.:

But now what happens if we want to model a the role of a Teaching Assistant (TA)? Typically, a TA is both a grad student and a faculty member. This yields the classic diamond problem of multiple inheritance and the resulting ambiguity regarding the TA’s getRole() method:

(Incidentally, note the diamond shape of the above inheritance diagram, which is why this is referred to as the “diamond problem”.)

Which getRole() implementation should the TA inherit? That of the Faculty Member or that of the Grad Student? The simple answer might be to have the TA class override the getRole() method and return newly-defined role called “TA”. But that answer is also imperfect as it would hide the fact that a TA is, in fact, both a faculty member and a grad student. There are multiple design approaches and patterns for addressing this type of situation without multiple inheritance, which is why some languages (Java being one of them) have made the decision to simply steer clear of multiple inheritance.

Java 8, however, introduces a form of quasi-support for multiple inheritance by allowing default methods to be specified on interfaces (prior to Java 8, only method signatures, not method definitions, were allowed on interfaces). Since Java does allow a single class to implement multiple interfaces (whereas a single class can only extend a single parent class), the allowance in Java 8 for method definitions in an interface introduces the potential for the diamond problem in Java for the first time.

For example, if A, B, and C are interfaces, B and C can each provide a different implementation to an abstract method of A, causing the diamond problem for any class D that implements B and C. Either class D must reimplement the method (the body of which can simply forward the call to one of the super implementations), or the ambiguity will be rejected as a compile error.

Gourmet Java

Here we present some more advanced concepts and issues that master Java programmers can be expected to be familiar with.

Q: How can you exit a thread reliably using an external condition variable?

Sometimes developers want to terminate a thread when an external condition becomes true. Consider the following example of a bus thread that continues to drive indefinitely until the pleaseStop variable becomes true.

boolean pleaseStop = false; // The bus pull cord.

public void pleaseStopTheBus() {
    pleaseStop = true;
}

public void startTheBus() {
    new Thread("bus") {
        public void run() {
            // Infinitely drive the bus.
            while (!pleaseStop) {
                // Take some time driving to the next stop.
            }
            pleaseStop = false; // Reset pull cord.
        }
    }.start();
}

Seems straightforward. However, Java doesn’t guarantee variable synchronization implicitly between thread boundaries, so this thread is not guaranteed to exit reliably, causing a lot of head scratching with less experienced Java developers.

Getting the above code to work properly would require synchronizing the threads as follows:

volatile boolean pleaseStop = false; // The bus pull cord.
Object driver = new Object(); // We can synchronize on any Java object.

public void pleaseStopTheBus() {
	// Here in "thread 1", synchronize on the driver object
    synchronized (driver) {
        pleaseStop = true;
    }
}

public void startTheBus() {
    new Thread("bus") {
        public void run() {
            // Infinitely drive the bus.
            while (true) {
				// And here in "thread 2", also synchronize on the driver object
                synchronized (driver) {
                    if (pleaseStop) {
                        pleaseStop = false; // Reset pull cord.
                        return; // Bus stopped.
                    }
                }
                // Take some time driving to the next stop.
            }
        }
    }.start();
}

Q: How can null be problematic and how can you avoid its pitfalls?

For one thing, null is often ambiguous. It might be used to indicate success or failure. Or it might be used to indicate absence of a value. Or it might actually be a valid value in some contexts.

And even if one knows the meaning of null in a particular context, it can still cause trouble if the hapless developer forgets to check for it before de-referencing it, thereby triggering a NullPointerException.

One of the most common and effective techniques for avoiding these issues is to use meaningful, non-null defaults. In other words, simply avoid using null to the extent that you can. Avoid setting variables to null and avoid returning null from methods whenever possible (e.g., return an empty list rather than null).

In addition, as of JDK 8, Java has introduced support for the Optional<T> class (or if you’re using an earlier version of Java, you can use the Optional<T> class in the Guava libraries. Optional<T> represents and wraps absence and presence with a value. While Optional adds a bit more ceremony to your code, by forcing you to unwrap the Optional to obtain the non-null value, it avoids what might otherwise result in a NullPointerException.

Q: What is “boxing” and what are some of its problems to beware of?

Java’s primitive types are long, int, short, float, double, char, byte and boolean. Often it’s desirable to store primitive values as objects in various data structures that only accept objects such as ArrayList, HashMap, etc. So Java introduced the concept of “boxing” which boxes up primitives into object class equivalents, e.g., Integer for int, Float for float, and Boolean for boolean. Of course, as objects, they incur the overhead of object allocation, memory bloat and method calls, but they do achieve their purpose at some expense.

“Autoboxing” is the automatic conversion by the compiler of primitives to boxed objects and vice versa. This is simply a convenience, e.g.:

ArrayList<Integer> ints = new ArrayList<Integer>();

// Autoboxing.  Compiler automatically converts "35" into a boxed Integer.
ints.add(35); 

// So the above is equivalent to:  ints.add(new Integer(35));

Despite their convenience, though, boxed objects are notorious for introducing gnarly bugs, especially for less experienced Java developers.

For one thing, consider this:

System.out.println(new Integer(5) == new Integer(5));   // false

In the above line of code, we are comparing the identity of two Integer objects. Since each new Integer(5) creates a new object, one new Integer(5) will not equal another new Integer(5).

But even more troubling is the following seemingly inexplicable distinction:

System.out.println(Integer.valueOf(127) == Integer.valueOf(127));   // true
System.out.println(Integer.valueOf(128) == Integer.valueOf(128));   // false

Huh? How can one of those be true and the other be false? That doesn’t seem to make any sense. Indeed, the answer is quite subtle.

As explained in an easily overlooked note in the Javadoc for the Integer class, the valueOf() method method caches Integer objects for values in the range -128 to 127, inclusive, and may cache other values outside of this range as well. Therefore, the Integer object returned by one call to Integer.valueOf(127) will match the Integer object returned by another call to Integer.valueOf(127), since it is cached. But outside the range -128 to 127, Integer.valueOf() calls, even for the same value, will not necessarily return the same Integer object (since they are not necessarily cached).

It’s also important to note that computation using boxed objects can take around 6 times longer than using primitives, as can be evidenced by way of the following benchmarking code:

void sum() {
	Long sum = 0L; // Swap "Long" for "long" and speed dramatically improves.
	for (long i = 0; i <= Integer.MAX_VALUE; i++) {
		sum += i;
	}
}

Executing the above code with sum declared as Long took 6547ms whereas the same code with sum declared as long (i.e., the primitive type) took only 1138ms.

Q: What is type erasure?

The addition of Generics to the language has not been without its problems. A particularly thorny issue with Java Generics is that of type erasure.

As an example, consider the following code snippet:

List<String> a = new ArrayList<String>();
List<Integer> b = new ArrayList<Integer>();
return a.getClass() == b.getClass();  // returns true??!!

This should presumably return false since a and b are different class types (i.e., ArrayList<String> vs. ArrayList<Integer>), yet it returns true. Why?

The culprit here is type erasure. Once the above code passes all Java compiler validation, the compiler erases the String and Integer types in the above example, to maintain backward compatibility with older JDKs. The above code is therefore converted to the following by the Java compiler:

List a = new ArrayList();
List b = new ArrayList();
return a.getClass() == b.getClass();  // returns true (understandably)

And thus, in the compiled code, a and b are both simply untyped ArrayList objects, and the fact that one was an ArrayList<String> and the other was an ArrayList<Integer> is lost. Although in practice type erasure-related issues rarely cause problems for developers, it is an important issue to be aware of and can in certain cases lead to really gnarly bugs.

Q: Describe the Observer pattern and how to use it in Java. Provide an example.

The Observer pattern lets objects sign up to receive notifications from an observed object when it changes. Java has built-in support with the Observable class and Observer interface.

Here’s a simple example of an implementation of an Observable:

public class Exhibitionist {
	MyObservable myObservable = new MyObservable();

	public Exhibitionist() {}

	public java.util.Observable getObservable() {
		return myObservable;
	}

	private void trigger(String condition) {
		myObservable.invalidate();
		myObservable.notifyObservers(condition);
	}

	private class MyObservable extends java.util.Observable {
		private void invalidate() {
			setChanged();
		}
	}
}

And here’s a corresponding Observer example:

public class Voyeur implements Observer {

	public Voyeur(Exhibitionist exhibitionist) {
		// Register ourselves as interested in the Exhibitionist.
		exhibitionist.getObservable().addObserver(this);
	}
	
	@Override
	public void update(Observable o, Object arg) {
		// Called when the observable notifies its observers.
		System.out.println(arg.toString());
	}
}

There are a couple of downsides of using this though:

  1. The observed class must extend Observable and thus prevents it from extending a more desirable class (refer to our earlier discussion of multiple inheritance)
  2. Observed and observer classes are tightly coupled causing potential for NullPointerException’s if you are not careful.

To circumvent the first issue, an advanced developer can use a proxy (delegate) Observable object instead of extending it. To address the second issue, one can use a loosely coupled publish-subscribe pattern. For example, you might use Google’s Guava Library EventBus system where objects connect to a middleman.

Q: Describe strong, soft, and weak references in Java. When, why, and how would you use each?

In Java, when you allocate a new object and assign its reference (simply a pointer) to a variable, a strong reference is created by default; e.g.:

String name = new String(); // Strong reference

There are, however, two additional reference strengths in Java that you can specify explicitly: SoftReference and WeakReference. (There is actually one additional reference strength in Java which is known as a PhantomReference. This is so rarely used, though, that even highly experienced Java developers will most likely not be familiar with it, so we omit it from our discussion here.)

Why are soft and weak references needed and when are they useful?

Java’s garbage collector (GC) is a background process that periodically runs to free “dead” objects (one’s without strong references) from your application’s memory heap. Although the GC sometimes gives the impression of being a magical black box, it really isn’t that magical after all. Sometimes you have to help it out to prevent memory from filling up.

More specifically, the GC won’t free objects that are strongly reachable from a chain of strongly referenced objects. What that simply means is that, if the GC still thinks an object is needed, it leaves it alone, which is normally what you want (i.e., you don’t want an object you need to suddenly disappear when the GC kicks in).

But sometimes strong references are too strong which is where soft and weak references can come in handy. Specifically:

  • SoftReference objects are cleared at the discretion of the garbage collector in response to memory demand. Soft references are most often used to implement memory-sensitive caches.
  • WeakReference objects do not prevent their referents from being made finalizable, finalized, and then reclaimed. Weak references are most often used to implement canonicalized mappings.

Wrap up

Java continues to survive and thrive as a dominant and popular language. But as might be expected with any language that has gone through so many iterations, it has many nuances and subtleties that not all developers are familiar with. Moreover, the ever-increasing breadth of Java’s capabilities requires a great deal of experience to fully appreciate. Those who have mastered the language can therefore have a significant positive impact on your team’s productivity and your system’s performance, scalability, and stability.

The questions and tips presented herein can be valuable aids in identifying true Java masters. We hope you find them to be a useful foundation for “separating the wheat from the chaff” in your quest for the elite few among Java developers. Yet it is important to remember that these are merely intended as tools to be incorporated into the larger context of your overall recruiting toolbox and strategy.

(One final note: if your interest in Java is Android-centric, we suggest you read our Insider’s Guide to Android Interviewing as well.)

Featured Toptal Java Publications

Top Java Developers are in High Demand.

Start Hiring
By continuing to use this site you agree to our Cookie Policy.