Import on Demand is EVIL!


There should never exist any language feature such that adding a new type to a referenced package can break your existing code. Import-on-demand is one such feature… And it’s evil…

For example:

import a.b.*; // your package
import x.y.*; // 3rd-party code

class Foo {
	Bar bar;

Suppose that to start with, only a.b.Bar exists. You compile and check-in your code and all’s fine.

This code has a Bus Number of one…

A year later, after you’ve been hit by said bus and there have been some updates to the jars containing a.b or x.y, someone needs to make a mod. They check out the code and start cursing you because you had the nerve to check in code that doesn’t compile.

But you did check in compiling code! Turns out, the 3rd party lib you were using is now version 2 and includes class x.y.Bar. Worse, maybe Bar is similar to your Bar, making it even more difficult to determine which Bar you actually intended.

The Big Bang

This is language design at its worst, and Sun made this blow up in everyone’s face between JDK 1.1 and 1.2. In 1.1, there existed java.awt.List. Tons of folks wrote code that included

import java.util.*;
import java.awt.*;

I can’t begin to count the number of code examples that contained those two lines). If you used List in your class, like

List choices = new List();

Your code compiled fine in 1.1, but a runtime lib upgrade to Java 1.2 breaks your code!

BTW: Sun knew and announced this would happen. They should have created java.util.collections.List instead of java.util.List to prevent it. It forced lots of people to change existing code for no gain.

I’ve seen and heard of this happening again and again and again. Explicit imports make this all go away.

When I taught Java for MageLang Institute (now, my compromise advice was always “use import-on-demand when developing, then fix it before checking in.” I wrote a tool called “Importifier” for VisualAge for Java that did this expansion automatically. Fortunately, it’s in Eclipse, so I didn’t have to port it.

Tools can help!

With today’s tools (like Eclipse and IDEA), there’s never an excuse to use import on demand. You can easily expand imports, removing any possibility of this nasty problem. Even better, Eclipse at least  automatically adds the imports if you use code completion. I haven’t written “import” when coding in nearly three years! (What I mean by this is that for anything other than simple demos, I let Eclipse generate all of my imports just by using code completion.)

“Import on demand saves time” is not a valid argument. And if you’re one of those “You’re not a real programmer if you use an IDE” types, I truly pity your stubbornness and dedication to making life so much harder on yourself…

BTW: As for performance, there’s a minor gain in speed at compile time using explicit imports (the compiler doesn’t have to check all “*” imports to check which applies, but it’s nearly unnoticeable). However, there is absolutely no difference at runtime. In case you don’t know, all class name references are fully-resolved at compile time and hard-coded into the .class file. Of course this doesn’t apply to reflection.