TL;DR: Read this Book, when…
- you are starting with Java and want some advice for producing quality code
- you are teaching Java and want your students to learn best practices
- you are working with junior developers and want them to get them up to speed
In a nutshell, Java by Comparison by Simon Harrer, Jörg Lenhard, and Linus Dietz teaches best practices in the Java programming language. It’s aimed at Java beginners and intermediates. As the name suggest, the book compares code snippets that have room for improvement with revised versions that have certain best practices applied.
Among other things, the book covers best practices on
- basic language features,
- usage of comments,
- naming things,
- exception handling,
- test assertions, and
- working with streams.
Each chapter covers one comparison of code snippets. The starting code snippet is displayed on one page and the revised edition on the next page, so both are visible to the reader at the same time (at least in the print and pdf versions). The improvements between the starting code and the revised code are discussed in the text.
The last chapter deviates from this structure in that it explains aspects of software development that are important for “real live” software projects that cannot be explained alongside of code examples. Among others, these topics include
- static code analysis,
- continuous integration, and
The book is very strictly structured with every chapter having the same rigid pattern of an initial code snippet and a revised version of this code snippet along with a discussion of what has been improved. This appeals to my nerd’s sense of symmetry.
The chapters are each very short. There is no chapter that should take more than about 5 minutes to read. I like short chapters very much, since that tends to pull me through a book faster than long chapters would.
I like the idea of direct comparison of code examples. In the print and PDF versions, you can see both the original and the improved code examples at a glance, which makes the changes much easier to grasp.
The best practices described in the book are directly applicable to every-day programming, so the contents will stick best if you read it while you are programming every day.
The last chapter about things like continuous integration, logging, and static code analysis is very valuable for beginners. In my experience, students fresh from college don’t know anything about such things. Just knowing the basic ideas explained in this book should help them get along better in job interviews.
Suggestions for Improvement
I missed mention of two basic tools I have used in every-day Java development for a couple of years know.
The first is AssertJ, which is the de-facto standard library to create highly readable assertions. The chapter about assertions discusses the JUnit framework, but does not mention AssertJ. I think AssertJ might even have deserved its own chapter, comparing unreadable assertions with beautiful AssertJ assertions.
Second, in the chapter about static code analysis, I would have mentioned spotless alongside Google Java Format as a tool for enforcing the same code format in a team. It’s more flexible in that it does not restrict you to the Google Code Format, but this might just be my personal taste, since there is a point in not having much freedom in code style.
In the chapter about combining state with behavior, I would have expected a mention of DDD and rich domain models. Just as a pointer for further research, so that the reader can connect the dots.
My Key Takeaways
Having more than 10 years of Java experience under my belt, I really did not learn very much from this book. As advertised, it’s a book for beginners. I would have profited greatly from the book, however, had it been available 8-10 years ago.
I did learn two things I was not aware of, though.
First, I learned that integer and long values in Java may contain underscores
to use as thousands separators, for instance (i.e.
1_000_000). It’s not discussed in a single word
in the book but used in enough of the code snippets to have made me google it.
Second, I was not aware of the chaining potential of
stream-like functional methods like
get(). This had a welcome
impact in my programming style.
The book did not contain a single best practice I did not agree with, so I definitely recommend it to anyone starting off with Java. If you have more than a couple years of practice with Java, though, you should not expect to learn too much from this book.
If you are a college student learning Java or a seasoned programmer switching to Java, Java by Comparison is definitely worth its money.
As the authors themselves do in the preface of the book, I explicitly suggest reading the PDF or print version and not the eBook version. The eBook version is no fun since you cannot see more than one code snippet at a time and often have to scroll back-and-forth.