Generic Programming and Collection Classes
How to avoid reinventing the wheel? Many data structures and algorithms, such as those from Chapter 9, have been studied, programmed, and re-programmed by generations of computer science students. This is a valuable learning experience. Unfortunately, they have also been programmed and re-programmed by generations of working computer professionals, taking up time that could be devoted to new, more creative work. A programmer who needs a list or a binary tree shouldn't have to re-code these data structures from scratch. They are well-understood and have been programmed thousands of times before. The problem is how to make pre-written, robust data structures available to programmers. In this chapter, we'll look at Java's attempt to address this problem.
You have already seen part of the solution in Section 7.3. That section introduced parameterized types and the ArrayList class. Parameterized types make it possible for the same class to work with many different kinds of data. This idea -- that the same code can be used for a variety of data types -- is called generic programming.