looking into the Palantir

Whats Next After Java 9

With Java 9 out the door, you might wonder what the future holds for Java. I do too, so I had a quick look at current JEPs and Projects candidates to see what is looming ahead (you’ll get this joke in a second 😁).

In this article I will glance at the ones that stood out to me. Keep in mind most of these are not finalized, some are even just exploratory…

Without further ceremony, let’s dive in!

Table of Contents

🎰 Value Types

This is part of Project Valhalla, under JEP-169. The initial design document can be seen here.

Project Valhalla has been announced some time ago, in July 2014. One of its focus is to bring Value Types to the JVM: types that are neither primitive nor Object, but something in the middle:

Codes like a class, works like an int!

Such types, like primitive types, would have no identity and would be immutable. This in turns allow efficient memory layout where all the data backing the type is colocated in memory and doesn’t need things like boxing. The typical example used in the JEP is that of a Point, which is just an aggregate type around two ints (the x and y coordinates). A Point doesn’t need mutability, and equality is defined by that of its coordinates, not its reference.

With value types, another improvement would occur with arrays of Points: there would be no dereference of pointers needed with a Point[] like there is eg. for a String[]:

Similarly, an array of Points would be laid out as a packed array of alternating x and y values, rather than a series of references.

Other than that, Value Types have all the features of regular classes (except those that rely on the concept of identity, eg. cloning, locking…).

Foreseen usage range from custom numeric types (like complex numbers) to flatter data structures (Map with less levels of indirection anyone?), Tuples and algebraic data types like Either or Optional.

🃏 Generics Over Primitive Types

This is part of Project Valhalla, under JEP-218.

In this proposal, also part of Project Valhalla, generic types are improved by allowing generic classes to be generified over non-Object types.

So far, having a generic class work with a primitive type would involve the overhead of boxing that primitive type (eg. from an int to Integer). Alternatively, one would need to introduce artificial specialized types (like the IntStream in Java 8).

more memory, more more indirection, allocation, and more garbage collection

With the upcoming introduction of value types, this become even more problematic, as there would be a proliferation of types that are “hostile to generics”.

So the JEP aims at overcoming these limitations of generics in Java and making them compatible with both primitive types and value types 👍.

📦 Data Classes

This is explored in Project Amber by Brian Goetz here (not a proposal yet).

In this very nascent proposal (early design document dates from October 2017), Brian Goetz explores the possibility of having Data Classes in Java.

Data classes are readily available in other JVM like Kotlin and Scala (where they’re called case classes). The document notes that there are different flavors of data classes, listed in a light and funny way as personas:

  • Algebraic Annie (“a data class is just an algebraic product type”, fits well with pattern matching)
  • Boilerplate Billy (“a data class is just an ordinary class with better syntax”)
  • Tuple Tommy (“a data class is just a nominal tuple”)
  • Values Victor (“a data class is really just a more transparent value type”)

But in essence, the document falls on the definition where a data class is a class where the state can be described directly in the class header and is a “plain data carrier”: it is the data, the whole data, and nothing but the data.

This implies a strong relationship between the class and its state vector: a data class can be constructed by simply providing its state, and can be deconstructed down to its state components. Additionally, deconstructing an instance to its state vector then reconstructing another instance from that is always going to yield an equivalent instance.

The constraints listed allow to safely remove some boilerplate (although Brian seems to think of it as a bonus rather than the end goal: I guess he’s no Boilerplate Billy 😄).

Namely, Data Classes would not require the developer to write constructors, accessors, Object methods (equals(), hashcode() and toString())… They would also be a very good fit for externalization, eg. marshaling to JSON.

This doesn’t mean that it would not be possible to have custom constructors, on the contrary! The only limitation would be that such constructors must call the default one (potentially via a default() keyword rather than super()). As the typical use case for that sort of constructor would be to do state vector checks (e.g. to do invariant checks, like preventing the construction of a rational number with a 0 denominator), the limitations of super() constructor calls would be partially lifted:

// Explicit principal constructor
public Range(int lo, int hi) {
    // validation logic can happen before call to default constructor
    if (lo > hi)
        throw new IllegalArgumentException(...);

    // delegate to default constructor
    default(lo, hi);

Furthermore, data classes would be like regular classes in many regards (much like enums): nothing would prevent them from being generic, having methods, implementing interfaces, etc…

Things like mutability of fields are still up in the air however.

An interesting section of the design document covers the overlap between data classes and value types, concluding with the following:

the notion of a “value data class” is perfectly sensible for things like extended numerics or tuples.

Value types sacrifice the notion of identity for a gain in terms of memory (a “flat and dense layout of objects in memory”). Data classes have different restrictions (most likely, at least, no read access encapsulation) and associated gains (including less boilerplate).

Overall, this design document is a very informative and entertaining read, and it will be interesting to see the final direction the JEP takes.

💄 Better Enums

This is discussed in the Candidate JEP-301.

This one is all about improving enums, most notably by enabling generics on enums:

public enum Key<X> {


  private final X defaultValue;

  Key(X def) {
    this.defaultValue = def;

  public X defaultValue() {
    return defaultValue;

Additionally, the generic type would have better retention on enums in order for the compiler to perform sharper type checking for enum constants. That would have two direct applications:

  • NAME and AGE above would be of distinct types, preventing e.g. to pass a NAME to a method that takes a Key<Integer> as a parameter.
  • The type specialization would allow to access methods declared at the levels of a specific enum constant.

Here is an example of such a case:

public enum Key<X> {

  TELEPHONE<String>("") {
    boolean validatePhone(String phone) { return phone != null && phone.startsWith("+"); }


String phone;
if (Key.TELEPHONE.validatePhone(phone)) {
  map.put(Key.TELEPHONE, phone);

🍂 Lambdas Leftovers

This is discussed in the Candidate JEP-302.

There are three main areas where lambdas can still be improved in Java 10 and beyond, which are the focus of this proposal:

  • Treatment of underscores
  • Shadowing of lambda parameters
  • Better disambiguation for functional expressions

Treatment of Underscores

The first one has been prepared for in both Java 8 and Java 9: a simple underscore identifier _:

  • was A-OK in Java 7 and below
  • would produce a compiler warning discouraging in in methods in Java 8. It was also forbidden by the compiler for lambda parameters.
  • became forbidden by the compiler in Java 9.

Thus the goal of this proposal is to build on that preparation to rehabilitate _ as a reserved identifier denoting unused parameters (be it in methods, lambdas or catch clauses). In the future, one will be able to use _ to tell the compiler this is a parameter one doesn’t intend to use, allowing stronger static checks in that regard:

//Given Map's computeIfPresent(K key, BiFunction<K, V, V> remapping):
someMap.computeIfPresent("foo", (_, currentValue) -> currentValue + 1);

Shadowing of Lambda Parameters

In Java 8 and 9, lambda parameters cannot have the same name as a variable in the lambda’s enclosing scope:

Map<String, Integer> msi;//...
String key = computeSomeKey();
msi.computeIfAbsent(key, key -> key.length()); //error

The error occurs because the lambda declares a parameter key that has the same name as a variable in the scope.

This proposal offers to allow such shadowing, as it has become a recurring pain point of lambdas.

Better Disambiguation of Functional Expressions

This one is considered optional in the proposal, but sounds appealing to me. The typical problem it proposes to solve is the case where a class has two or more method overloads that take functional interfaces as parameter, and the compiler sees an ambiguity when calling these methods with a lambda expression:

public class Value {
  Value operate(Predicate<String> filter);
  Value operate(Function<String, String> transform);

Value v = new Value();
v.operate(v -> false);

Although it seems rather obvious that the Function<String, String> variant doesn’t apply here, the compiler doesn’t see it that way. This is because it considers an implicit lambda as not pertinent to applicability, and then performs a relaxed check where only the arity of parameter is compared to that of the target function type.

In order to eliminate the accidental ambiguity there, the compiler could still look at the lambda’s return type and detect that it doesn’t match the candidate function type, eliminating the Function<String, String> variant from its list of candidates.

⚡️ Project Loom, Lightweight Threads on the JVM

Aka Fibers, Coroutines

Project Loom is currently in the Call For Votes phase, until November 10th 2017. With only “yes” votes so far, things are looking good :)

Since I work on a library that aims, among other things, at making concurrent programming easier in Java, this one is of the most interest to me 😎 ✨

Project Loom aims at adding a new concurrency tool to the Java toolbelt: fibers. Fibers are defined as lightweight Threads, eliminating classic threads limitations such as their overhead, switching cost and instance count threshold (it would be perfectly fine to spawn millions of fibers on a single JVM).

Project Loom’s end goal is described as:

to eliminate the tradeoff between simplicity and efficiency in writing concurrent programs.

A light thread can run code written in imperative style, issuing blocking calls. It is made up of a scheduler and of what is called continuation. Project Loom assesses that Java already has a plenty capable scheduler in the form of the ForkJoinPool, so it will focus on bringing continuations on the JVM. Since continuations have other applications, it will probably be a user-facing concept as well, embedded in the Java language itself.

But what’s a continuation? A thread (in the general sense) is a sequence of instructions that run sequentially on a CPU core. It has the ability to suspend itself and automatically resume at a later point in time (eg. while waiting on IO). The pausable sequence of instructions is what we called the continuation. The proposed flavor is called a delimited continuation or coroutine. In a way, this is akin to Go and Kotlin’s coroutines.

The other piece of the puzzle is the scheduler: it is its responsibility to assign the continuation to a particular CPU core and ensure a ready-to-resume continuation will eventually be assigned a core.

Current Thread in Java are kernel-mode threads: the scheduler is the OS, so it runs in kernel space and has no particular knowledge of the work that is being done by the continuation (in user space). Furthermore, user/kernel mode switches have a cost.

Project Loom’s lightweight threads, or fibers, are user-mode threads: the scheduling will also happens within the JVM. This allows the scheduler to make more pinpointed assumptions about the usage pattern, and optimize scheduling accordingly.

Fibers would be very similar in terms of API to Thread (so much so that it might be possible to implement them by just modifying the Thread class), but would additionally

  1. have a pluggable scheduler (allowing switching schedulers when a fiber is paused).
  2. be serializable.

Once again, the design document is a very informative and accessible read. It exposes the concepts and challenges around bringing fibers to the JVM, as well as some additional applications of continuations. Definitely a recommended read!


As you can see, plenty of interesting stuff is on the table for future versions of Java 🎉

With the switch to a release cycle with higher frequency, some of these features might not be that far ahead of us, although they haven’t been associated to an exact roadmap yet. Time will tell 📆 🔮 👀