Wednesday, 6 August 2014

StringJoiner in Java SE 8

Java SE 8 added a new class for joining strings - StringJoiner. But is it any good?


Here is what the Javadoc of the new class says:

StringJoiner is used to construct a sequence of characters separated by a delimiter and optionally starting with a supplied prefix and ending with a supplied suffix.

Sounds good! Maybe we can finally stop using the Joiner class in Guava.

Unfortunately, the JDK StringJoiner is not a general purpose string joiner in the way that the Guava Joiner is. The first clue is in the API:

// constructors
 StringJoiner(CharSequence delimiter)
 StringJoiner(CharSequence delimiter, CharSequence prefix, CharSequence suffix)
 // methods
 StringJoiner setEmptyValue(CharSequence emptyValue)
 StringJoiner add(CharSequence newElement)
 StringJoiner merge(StringJoiner other)
 int length()
 String toString()

There are two constructors, one taking the separator (delimiter) and one allowing a prefix and suffix. There are then just 5 other methods. By contrast, the Guava version has 15 other methods on top of 2 factory methods.

But the real missing thing? A method to add multiple elements at once to the joiner!

Every time I want to join, I have a list, set or other iterable. With Guava I simply say:

 String joined = Joiner.on(", ").join(list);

StringJoiner has no equivalent method. You have to add the elements one by one using add(CharSequence)!

 StringJoiner joiner = new StringJoiner(", ");
 for (String str : list) {
 String joined = joiner.toString();

I think we'd all agree that rather defeats the purpose of having a joiner at all!

However, it turns out that it is kind of possible to add multiple with the JDK, but you might not spot it:

 String joined = String.join(", ", list);

So, not too bad then?

Firstly, I don't expect the method to actually perform a useful join to be on String, I expect it to be on StringJoiner. The method on String is not referenced from StringJoiner at all.

Secondly, the method on String is static, whereas the Guava method is an instance method. This means that the Guava method can pickup additional state from the builder phase of the joiner, such as the ability to handle null. The Guava joiner can in fact handle Map joins as well thanks to its clever immutable instance-based design.

Thirdly, StringJoiner only works on CharSequence. By contrast, Guava's Joiner works on Object, which is much more useful in most circumstances.


So, why was StringJoiner written this way?

Well, partly, it is just bad API design. But the reason why no-one noticed is because you are not supposed to actually use the class!

The whole StringJoiner API is designed to be a tool used as a Collector, the mutable reduction phase of the new Java SE 8 stream API. In this context StringJoiner itself is not visible:

 String joined =
   .collect(Collectors.joining(", "));

In the simple case, this is longer than Guava and less discoverable, plus I had to manually map to a string. However, in more advanced stream cases it is a great tool to have.

The other advantage of StringJoiner over Guava Joiner is that it handles prefixes and suffixes. This is actually really useful, the classic example being to output the '[' and ']' at the start and end of a list. Ideally, Guava would add prefix and suffix handling to their Joiner.

The good news is that some of the flaws in StringJoiner can be mitigated in a later JDK version. However, since StringJoiner is fundamentally stateful and mutable it will never be comparable to Guava's Joiner.


Amusingly, for many of the day-to-day tasks in string building, the class I developed in Commons-Lang over 12 years ago, StrBuilder is still the best option. It takes the concept of StringBuilder class and adds many additional methods. Relevant to this discussion is:

 return new StrBuilder()
   .appendWithSeparators(list, ", ")

Note how the joining occurs naturally within the middle of a fluent set of method calls. Neither Guava nor JDK joiners can be used in this way.


The Java SE 8 StringJoiner class is in my opinion nothing more than a behind-the-scenes tool. It should only be used indirectly from String.join() or Collectors.joining(). If you use it directly you are liable to be frustrated.

Personally, I plan to continue using the Guava joiner, unless I am performing a mutable reduction of a stream.