Always remove short-lived objects from long-lived container objects when the task is over. For example, objects attached to a
java.nio.channels.SelectionKey object must be removed when they are no longer needed. Doing so reduces the likelihood of memory leaks. Similarly, use of array-based data structures such as
ArrayList can introduce a requirement to indicate the absence of an entry by explicitly setting
ArrayList's individual array elements to
This guideline specifically addresses objects referred to from containers. For an example where nulling out objects does not aid garbage collection, see OBJ54-J. Do not attempt to help the garbage collector by setting local reference variables to null.
Noncompliant Code Example (Removing Short-Lived Objects)
In this noncompliant code example, a long-lived
ArrayList contains references to both long- and short-lived elements. The programmer marks elements that have become irrelevant by setting a "dead" flag in the object.
The garbage collector cannot collect the dead
DataElement object until it becomes unreferenced. Note that all methods that operate on objects of class
DataElement must check whether the instance in hand is dead.
Compliant Solution (Set Reference to
In this compliant solution, rather than use a dead flag, the programmer assigns
ArrayList elements that have become irrelevant:
Note that all code that operates on the
longLivedList must now check for list entries that are null.
Compliant Solution (Use Null Object Pattern)
This compliant solution avoids the problems associated with intentionally null references by using a singleton sentinel object. This technique is known as the Null Object pattern (also as the Sentinel pattern).
When feasible, programmers should choose this design pattern over the explicit null reference values, as described in MET55-J. Return an empty array or collection instead of a null value for methods that return an array or collection.
When using this pattern, the null object must be a singleton and must be final. It may be either public or private, depending on the overall design of the
DataElement class. The state of the null object should be immutable after creation; immutability can be enforced either by using
final fields or by explicit code in the methods of the
DataElement class. See Chapter 8, "Behavioral Patterns, the Null Object," of Patterns in Java, Vol. 1, second edition [Grand 2002], for additional information on this design pattern, and also ERR08-J. Do not catch NullPointerException or any of its ancestors.
Leaving short-lived objects in long-lived container objects may consume memory that cannot be recovered by the garbage collector, leading to memory exhaustion and possible denial-of-service attacks.
Chapter 8, "Behavioral Patterns, the Null Object"