Creating and initializing maps in Groovy vs Java

Java and Groovy maps are nicely general, permitting keys and values to be any classes that extend the Object class.
20 readers like this
20 readers like this

I’ve recently explored some of the differences between Java and Groovy when creating and initializing lists and building lists at runtime. I observed the simple facilities provided by Groovy for these purposes in comparison to the complexity required in Java.

In this article, I examine creating and initializing maps in Java and Groovy. Maps provide the ability to develop structures you can search by key. And if the key gets found, that returns the value associated with that key. Today, maps are implemented in many programming languages, including Java and Groovy, but also Python (where they are called dictionaries), Perl, awk, and many others. Another term commonly used to describe maps is associative arrays, which you can read about in this Wikipedia article. Java and Groovy maps are nicely general, permitting keys and values to be any classes that extend the Object class.

Install Java and Groovy

Groovy is based on Java and requires a Java installation as well. Both a recent and decent version of Java and Groovy might be in your Linux distribution’s repositories. Or, you can install Groovy following the instructions on the link mentioned above. A nice alternative for Linux users is SDKMan, which you can use to get multiple versions of Java, Groovy, and many other related tools. For this article, I’m using SDK’s releases of:

  • Java: version 11.0.12-open of OpenJDK 11;
  • Groovy: version 3.0.8.

Back to the problem

Java offers a number of ways to instantiate and initialize maps, and since Java 9, several new approaches got added. The most obvious candidate is the static method java.util.Map.of() which you can use as follows:     

var m1 = Map.of(
    "AF", "Afghanistan",
    "AX", "Åland Islands",
    "AL", "Albania",
    "DZ", "Algeria",
    "AS", "American Samoa",
    "AD", "Andorra",
    "AO", "Angola",
    "AI", "Anguilla",
    "AQ", "Antarctica");

System.out.println("m1 = " + m1);
System.out.println("m1 is an instance of " + m1.getClass());

It turns out that Map.of() used in this fashion bears two important restrictions. First, the map instance you create this way is immutable. Second, this way you can supply at most 20 arguments, representing ten key-value pairs.

Try adding tenth and eleventh pairs, say "AG", "Antigua and Barbuda", and "AR", "Argentina" to see what happens. You’ll see the Java compiler looking for a version of Map.of() that accepts 11 pairs and fails.

A quick look at the documentation for java.util.Map shows the reason for this second limitation, and shows a way out of that conundrum:

var m2 = Map.ofEntries(
    Map.entry("AF", "Afghanistan"),
    Map.entry("AX", "Åland Islands"),
    Map.entry("AL", "Albania"),
    Map.entry("DZ", "Algeria"),
    Map.entry("AS", "American Samoa"),
    Map.entry("AD", "Andorra"),
    Map.entry("AO", "Angola"),
    Map.entry("AI", "Anguilla"),
    Map.entry("AQ", "Antarctica"),
    Map.entry("AG", "Antigua and Barbuda"),
    Map.entry("AR", "Argentina"),
    Map.entry("AM", "Armenia"),
    Map.entry("AW", "Aruba"),
    Map.entry("AU", "Australia"),
    Map.entry("AT", "Austria"),
    Map.entry("AZ", "Azerbaijan"),
    Map.entry("BS", "Bahamas"),
    Map.entry("BH", "Bahrain"),
    Map.entry("BD", "Bangladesh"),
    Map.entry("BB", "Barbados")
);
       
System.out.println("m2 = " + m2);
System.out.println("m2 is an instance of " + m2.getClass());

As long as I don’t need to subsequently change the contents of the map created and initialized with Map.ofEntries(), this is a decent solution. Note above that rather than using Map.of() as in the first example, I used Map.ofEntries().

However, supposing I want to create and initialize a map instance with some entries and later add to that map, I need to do something like this:

var m3 = new HashMap<String,String>(Map.ofEntries(
    Map.entry("AF", "Afghanistan"),
    Map.entry("AX", "Åland Islands"),
    Map.entry("AL", "Albania"),
    Map.entry("DZ", "Algeria"),
    Map.entry("AS", "American Samoa"),
    Map.entry("AD", "Andorra"),
    Map.entry("AO", "Angola"),
    Map.entry("AI", "Anguilla"),
    Map.entry("AQ", "Antarctica"),
    Map.entry("AG", "Antigua and Barbuda"),
    Map.entry("AR", "Argentina"),
    Map.entry("AM", "Armenia"),
    Map.entry("AW", "Aruba"),
    Map.entry("AU", "Australia"),
    Map.entry("AT", "Austria"),
    Map.entry("AZ", "Azerbaijan"),
    Map.entry("BS", "Bahamas"),
    Map.entry("BH", "Bahrain"),
    Map.entry("BD", "Bangladesh"),
    Map.entry("BB", "Barbados")
));

System.out.println("m3 = " + m3);
System.out.println("m3 is an instance of " + m3.getClass());

m3.put("BY", "Belarus");
System.out.println("BY: " + m3.get("BY"));

Here, by using the immutable map created by Map.ofEntries() as an argument to the HashMap constructor, I create a mutable copy of it, which I can then alter—for example, with the put() method.

Take a look at the Groovy version of the above:

def m1 = [
    "AF": "Afghanistan",
    "AX": "Åland Islands",
    "AL": "Albania",
    "DZ": "Algeria",
    "AS": "American Samoa",
    "AD": "Andorra",
    "AO": "Angola",
    "AI": "Anguilla",
    "AQ": "Antarctica",
    "AG": "Antigua and Barbuda",
    "AR": "Argentina",
    "AM": "Armenia",
    "AW": "Aruba",
    "AU": "Australia",
    "AT": "Austria",
    "AZ": "Azerbaijan",
    "BS": "Bahamas",
    "BH": "Bahrain",
    "BD": "Bangladesh",
    "BB": "Barbados"]

println "m1 = $m1"
println "m1 is an instance of ${m1.getClass()}"

m1["BY"] = "Belarus"
println "m1 = $m1"

At a glance, you see Groovy uses the def keyword rather than var—although in late-model Groovy (version 3+), it’s possible to use var instead.

You also see that you can create a map representation by putting a list of key-value pairs between brackets. Moreover, the list instance so created is quite useful for a couple of reasons. First, it’s mutable, and second, it’s an instance of LinkedHashMap, which preserves the order of insertion. So when you run the Java version and print the variable m3, you see:

m3 = {BB=Barbados, BD=Bangladesh, AD=Andorra, AF=Afghanistan, AG=Antigua and Barbuda, BH=Bahrain, AI=Anguilla, AL=Albania, AM=Armenia, AO=Angola, AQ=Antarctica, BS=Bahamas, AR=Argentina, AS=American Samoa, AT=Austria, AU=Australia, DZ=Algeria, AW=Aruba, AX=Åland Islands, AZ=Azerbaijan}

When you run the Groovy version, you see:

m1 = [AF:Afghanistan, AX:Åland Islands, AL:Albania, DZ:Algeria, AS:American Samoa, AD:Andorra, AO:Angola, AI:Anguilla, AQ:Antarctica, AG:Antigua and Barbuda, AR:Argentina, AM:Armenia, AW:Aruba, AU:Australia, AT:Austria, AZ:Azerbaijan, BS:Bahamas, BH:Bahrain, BD:Bangladesh, BB:Barbados]

Once again, you see how Groovy simplifies the situation. The syntax is very straightforward, somewhat reminiscent of Python’s dictionaries, and no need to remember the various contortions necessary if you have an initial list longer than ten pairs. Note that we use the expression:

m1[“BY”] = “Belarus”

Rather than the Java:

m1.put(“BY”, “Belarus”)

Also, the map is by default mutable, which is arguably good or bad, depending on the needs. I think what bothers me about the “immutable default” of the Java situation is that there isn’t something like Map.mutableOfMutableEntries(). This forces the programmer, who has just figured out how to declare and initialize a map, to switch gears and think about just how to convert the immutable map they have into something mutable. I also kind of wonder about the business of creating something immutable just to throw it away.

Another thing to think about is the square brackets as key lookup works to replace both put() and get() in Java, so you can write:

m1[“ZZ”] = m1[“BY”]

Instead of:

m1.put(“ZZ”,m1.get(“BY”))

Sometimes, it’s nice to think of keys and their values in the same way you think of fields in the instance of a class. Imagine you have a bunch of properties you want to set: In Groovy, this could look like:

def properties = [
      verbose: true,
      debug: false,
      logging: false]

And then later you can change it as:

properties.verbose = false

This works because, as long as the key follows certain rules, you can omit the quotes and use the dot operator instead of square brackets. While this can be quite useful and pleasant, it also means that to use the value of a variable as a key value in a map representation, you must enclose the variable in parentheses, like:

def myMap = [(k1): v1, (k2): v2]

This is a good moment to remind the diligent reader that Groovy is particularly well-suited to scripting. Often, maps are a key element in scripts, providing lookup tables and generally functioning as an in-memory database. The example I’ve used here is a subset of the ISO 3166 two-character country codes and country names. The codes are familiar to anyone who accesses internet hostnames in countries around the world, which could form a useful part of a scripting utility that looks at internet hostnames in log files to learn about the geographic distribution of users.

Groovy resources

The Apache Groovy site has a lot of great documentation. Another great Groovy resource is Mr. Haki. The Baeldung site provides a lot of useful how-to in Java and Groovy. And a really great reason to learn Groovy is to go on and learn Grails, which is a wonderfully productive full-stack web framework built on top of excellent components like Hibernate, Spring Boot, and Micronaut.

Chris Hermansen portrait Temuco Chile
Seldom without a computer of some sort since graduating from the University of British Columbia in 1978, I have been a full-time Linux user since 2005, a full-time Solaris and SunOS user from 1986 through 2005, and UNIX System V user before that.

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