Simulating the trash recycler

Thursday Mar 1st 2001
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The nature of this problem is that the trash is thrown unclassified into a single bin, so the specific type information is lost. But later, the specific type information must be recovered to properly sort the trash. In the initial solution, RTTI (described in Chapter 11) is used.

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The nature of this problem is that the trash is thrown unclassified into a single bin, so the specific type information is lost. But later, the specific type information must be recovered to properly sort the trash. In the initial solution, RTTI (described in Chapter 11) is used.

This is not a trivial design because it has an added constraint. That’s what makes it interesting – it’s more like the messy problems you’re likely to encounter in your work. The extra constraint is that the trash arrives at the trash recycling plant all mixed together. The program must model the sorting of that trash. This is where RTTI comes in: you have a bunch of anonymous pieces of trash, and the program figures out exactly what type they are.

//: RecycleA.java 
// Recycling with RTTI
package c16.recyclea;
import java.util.*;
import java.io.*;
 
abstract class Trash {
  private double weight;
  Trash(double wt) { weight = wt; }
  abstract double value();
  double weight() { return weight; }
  // Sums the value of Trash in a bin:
  static void sumValue(Vector bin) {
    Enumeration e = bin.elements();
    double val = 0.0f;
    while(e.hasMoreElements()) {
      // One kind of RTTI:
      // A dynamically-checked cast
      Trash t = (Trash)e.nextElement();
      // Polymorphism in action:
      val += t.weight() * t.value();
      System.out.println(
        "weight of " +
        // Using RTTI to get type
        // information about the class:
        t.getClass().getName() +
        " = " + t.weight());
    }
    System.out.println("Total value = " + val);
  }
}
 
class Aluminum extends Trash {
  static double val  = 1.67f;
  Aluminum(double wt) { super(wt); }
  double value() { return val; }
  static void value(double newval) {
    val = newval;
  }
}
 
class Paper extends Trash {
  static double val = 0.10f;
  Paper(double wt) { super(wt); }
  double value() { return val; }
  static void value(double newval) {
    val = newval;
  }
}
 
class Glass extends Trash {
  static double val = 0.23f;
  Glass(double wt) { super(wt); }
  double value() { return val; }
  static void value(double newval) {
    val = newval;
  }
}
 
public class RecycleA {
  public static void main(String[] args) {
    Vector bin = new Vector();
    // Fill up the Trash bin:
    for(int i = 0; i < 30; i++)
      switch((int)(Math.random() * 3)) {
        case 0 :
          bin.addElement(new
            Aluminum(Math.random() * 100));
          break;
        case 1 :
          bin.addElement(new
            Paper(Math.random() * 100));
          break;
        case 2 :
          bin.addElement(new
            Glass(Math.random() * 100));
      }
    Vector 
      glassBin = new Vector(),
      paperBin = new Vector(),
      alBin = new Vector();
    Enumeration sorter = bin.elements();
    // Sort the Trash:
    while(sorter.hasMoreElements()) {
      Object t = sorter.nextElement();
      // RTTI to show class membership:
      if(t instanceof Aluminum)
        alBin.addElement(t);
      if(t instanceof Paper)
        paperBin.addElement(t);
      if(t instanceof Glass)
        glassBin.addElement(t);
    }
    Trash.sumValue(alBin);
    Trash.sumValue(paperBin);
    Trash.sumValue(glassBin);
    Trash.sumValue(bin);
  }
} ///:~ 

The first thing you’ll notice is the package statement:

package c16.recyclea;

This means that in the source code listings available for the book, this file will be placed in the subdirectory recyclea that branches off from the subdirectory c16 (for Chapter 16). The unpacking tool in Chapter 17 takes care of placing it into the correct subdirectory. The reason for doing this is that this chapter rewrites this particular example a number of times and by putting each version in its own package the class names will not clash.

Several Vector objects are created to hold Trash handles. Of course, Vectors actually hold Objects so they’ll hold anything at all. The reason they hold Trash (or something derived from Trash) is only because you’ve been careful to not put in anything except Trash. If you do put something “wrong” into the Vector, you won’t get any compile-time warnings or errors – you’ll find out only via an exception at run-time.

When the Trash handles are added, they lose their specific identities and become simply Object handles (they are upcast). However, because of polymorphism the proper behavior still occurs when the dynamically-bound methods are called through the Enumeration sorter, once the resulting Object has been cast back to Trash. sumValue( ) also uses an Enumeration to perform operations on every object in the Vector.

It looks silly to upcast the types of Trash into a collection holding base type handles, and then turn around and downcast. Why not just put the trash into the appropriate receptacle in the first place? (Indeed, this is the whole enigma of recycling). In this program it would be easy to repair, but sometimes a system’s structure and flexibility can benefit greatly from downcasting.

The program satisfies the design requirements: it works. This might be fine as long as it’s a one-shot solution. However, a useful program tends to evolve over time, so you must ask, “What if the situation changes?” For example, cardboard is now a valuable recyclable commodity, so how will that be integrated into the system (especially if the program is large and complicated). Since the above type-check coding in the switch statement could be scattered throughout the program, you must go find all that code every time a new type is added, and if you miss one the compiler won’t give you any help by pointing out an error.

The key to the misuse of RTTI here is that every type is tested . If you’re looking for only a subset of types because that subset needs special treatment, that’s probably fine. But if you’re hunting for every type inside a switch statement, then you’re probably missing an important point, and definitely making your code less maintainable. In the next section we’ll look at how this program evolved over several stages to become much more flexible. This should prove a valuable example in program design.

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