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1. Overview

Java 8 brought to the table a few brand new features, including lambda expressions, functional interfaces, method references, streams, Optional, and static and default methods in interfaces.

Some of them have been already covered in this article. Nonetheless, static and default methods in interfaces deserve a deeper look on their own.

In this article, we’ll discuss in depth how to use static and default methods in interfaces and go through some use cases where they can be useful.

2. Why Default Methods in Interfaces Are Needed

Like regular interface methods, default methods are implicitly public — there’s no need to specify the public modifier.

Unlike regular interface methods, they are declared with the default keyword at the beginning of the method signature, and they provide an implementation.

Let’s see a simple example:

public interface MyInterface {
    
    // regular interface methods
    
    default void defaultMethod() {
        // default method implementation
    }
}

The reason why default methods were included in the Java 8 release is pretty obvious.

In a typical design based on abstractions, where an interface has one or multiple implementations, if one or more methods are added to the interface, all the implementations will be forced to implement them too. Otherwise, the design will just break down.

Default interface methods are an efficient way to deal with this issue. They allow us to add new methods to an interface that are automatically available in the implementations. Thus, there’s no need to modify the implementing classes.

In this way, backward compatibility is neatly preserved without having to refactor the implementers.

3. Default Interface Methods in Action

To better understand the functionality of default interface methods, let’s create a simple example.

Say that we have a naive Vehicle interface and just one implementation. There could be more, but let’s keep it that simple:

public interface Vehicle {
    
    String getBrand();
    
    String speedUp();
    
    String slowDown();
    
    default String turnAlarmOn() {
        return "Turning the vehicle alarm on.";
    }
    
    default String turnAlarmOff() {
        return "Turning the vehicle alarm off.";
    }
}

And let’s write the implementing class:

public class Car implements Vehicle {

    private String brand;
    
    // constructors/getters
    
    @Override
    public String getBrand() {
        return brand;
    }
    
    @Override
    public String speedUp() {
        return "The car is speeding up.";
    }
    
    @Override
    public String slowDown() {
        return "The car is slowing down.";
    }
}

Lastly, let’s define a typical main class, which creates an instance of Car and calls its methods:

public static void main(String[] args) { 
    Vehicle car = new Car("BMW");
    System.out.println(car.getBrand());
    System.out.println(car.speedUp());
    System.out.println(car.slowDown());
    System.out.println(car.turnAlarmOn());
    System.out.println(car.turnAlarmOff());
}

Please notice how the default methods turnAlarmOn() and turnAlarmOff() from our Vehicle interface are automatically available in the Car class.

Furthermore, if at some point we decide to add more default methods to the Vehicle interface, the application will still continue working, and we won’t have to force the class to provide implementations for the new methods.

The most typical use of default methods in interfaces is to incrementally provide additional functionality to a given type without breaking down the implementing classes.

In addition, they can be used to provide additional functionality around an existing abstract method:

public interface Vehicle {
    
    // additional interface methods 
    
    double getSpeed();
    
    default double getSpeedInKMH(double speed) {
       // conversion      
    }
}

4. Multiple Interface Inheritance Rules

Default interface methods are a pretty nice feature indeed, but with some caveats worth mentioning. Since Java allows classes to implement multiple interfaces, it’s important to know what happens when a class implements several interfaces that define the same default methods.

To better understand this scenario, let’s define a new Alarm interface and refactor the Car class:

public interface Alarm {

    default String turnAlarmOn() {
        return "Turning the alarm on.";
    }
    
    default String turnAlarmOff() {
        return "Turning the alarm off.";
    }
}

With this new interface defining its own set of default methods, the Car class would implement both Vehicle and Alarm:

public class Car implements Vehicle, Alarm {
    // ...
}

In this case, the code simply won’t compile, as there’s a conflict caused by multiple interface inheritance (a.k.a the Diamond Problem). The Car class would inherit both sets of default methods. Which ones should be called then?

To solve this ambiguity, we must explicitly provide an implementation for the methods:

@Override
public String turnAlarmOn() {
    // custom implementation
}
    
@Override
public String turnAlarmOff() {
    // custom implementation
}

We can also have our class use the default methods of one of the interfaces.

Let’s see an example that uses the default methods from the Vehicle interface:

@Override
public String turnAlarmOn() {
    return Vehicle.super.turnAlarmOn();
}

@Override
public String turnAlarmOff() {
    return Vehicle.super.turnAlarmOff();
}

Similarly, we can have the class use the default methods defined within the Alarm interface:

@Override
public String turnAlarmOn() {
    return Alarm.super.turnAlarmOn();
}

@Override
public String turnAlarmOff() {
    return Alarm.super.turnAlarmOff();
}

Furthermore, it’s even possible to make the Car class use both sets of default methods:

@Override
public String turnAlarmOn() {
    return Vehicle.super.turnAlarmOn() + " " + Alarm.super.turnAlarmOn();
}
    
@Override
public String turnAlarmOff() {
    return Vehicle.super.turnAlarmOff() + " " + Alarm.super.turnAlarmOff();
}

5. Static Interface Methods

Aside from being able to declare default methods in interfaces, Java 8 allows us to define and implement static methods in interfaces.

Since static methods don’t belong to a particular object, they are not part of the API of the classes implementing the interface, and they have to be called by using the interface name preceding the method name.

To understand how static methods work in interfaces, let’s refactor the Vehicle interface and add to it a static utility method:

public interface Vehicle {
    
    // regular / default interface methods
    
    static int getHorsePower(int rpm, int torque) {
        return (rpm * torque) / 5252;
    }
}

Defining a static method within an interface is identical to defining one in a class. Moreover, a static method can be invoked within other static and default methods.

Now, say that we want to calculate the horsepower of a given vehicle’s engine. We just call the getHorsePower() method:

Vehicle.getHorsePower(2500, 480));

The idea behind static interface methods is to provide a simple mechanism that allows us to increase the degree of cohesion of a design by putting together related methods in one single place without having to create an object.

Pretty much the same can be done with abstract classes. The main difference lies in the fact that abstract classes can have constructors, state, and behavior.

Furthermore, static methods in interfaces make possible to group related utility methods, without having to create artificial utility classes that are simply placeholders for static methods.

6. Conclusion

In this article, we explored in depth the use of static and default interface methods in Java 8. At first glance, this feature may look a little bit sloppy, particularly from an object-oriented purist perspective. Ideally, interfaces shouldn’t encapsulate behavior and should be used only for defining the public API of a certain type.

When it comes to maintaining backward compatibility with existing code, however, static and default methods are a good trade-off.

And, as usual, all the code samples shown in this article are available over on GitHub.

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