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Object serialization

Thursday Mar 1st 2001

Java 1.1 has added an interesting feature called object serialization that allows you to take any object that implements the Serializable interface and turn it into a sequence of bytes that can later be restored fully into the original object. This is even true across a network, which means that the serialization mechanism automatically compensates for differences in operating systems. That is, you can create an object on a Windows machine, serialize it, and send it across the network to a Unix machine where it will be correctly reconstructed. You don’t have to worry about the data representations on the different machines, the byte ordering, or any other details.

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Java 1.1 has added an interesting feature called object serialization that allows you to take any object that implements the Serializable interface and turn it into a sequence of bytes that can later be restored fully into the original object. This is even true across a network, which means that the serialization mechanism automatically compensates for differences in operating systems. That is, you can create an object on a Windows machine, serialize it, and send it across the network to a Unix machine where it will be correctly reconstructed. You don’t have to worry about the data representations on the different machines, the byte ordering, or any other details.

By itself, object serialization is interesting because it allows you to implement lightweight persistence . Remember that persistence means an object’s lifetime is not determined by whether a program is executing – the object lives in between invocations of the program. By taking a serializable object and writing it to disk, then restoring that object when the program is re-invoked, you’re able to produce the effect of persistence. The reason it’s called “lightweight” is that you can’t simply define an object using some kind of “persistent” keyword and let the system take care of the details (although this might happen in the future). Instead, you must explicitly serialize and de-serialize the objects in your program.

Object serialization was added to the language to support two major features. Java 1.1’s remote method invocation (RMI) allows objects that live on other machines to behave as if they live on your machine. When sending messages to remote objects, object serialization is necessary to transport the arguments and return values. RMI is discussed in Chapter 15.

Object serialization is also necessary for Java Beans, introduced in Java 1.1. When a Bean is used, its state information is generally configured at design time. This state information must be stored and later recovered when the program is started; object serialization performs this task.

Serializing an object is quite simple, as long as the object implements the Serializable interface (this interface is just a flag and has no methods). In Java 1.1, many standard library classes have been changed so they’re serializable, including all of the wrappers for the primitive types, all of the collection classes, and many others. Even Class objects can be serialized. (See Chapter 11 for the implications of this.)

To serialize an object, you create some sort of OutputStream object and then wrap it inside an ObjectOutputStream object. At this point you need only call writeObject( ) and your object is serialized and sent to the OutputStream. To reverse the process, you wrap an InputStream inside an ObjectInputStream and call readObject( ). What comes back is, as usual, a handle to an upcast Object, so you must downcast to set things straight.

A particularly clever aspect of object serialization is that it not only saves an image of your object but it also follows all the handles contained in your object and saves those objects, and follows all the handles in each of those objects, etc. This is sometimes referred to as the “web of objects” that a single object can be connected to, and it includes arrays of handles to objects as well as member objects. If you had to maintain your own object serialization scheme, maintaining the code to follow all these links would be a bit mind–boggling. However, Java object serialization seems to pull it off flawlessly, no doubt using an optimized algorithm that traverses the web of objects. The following example tests the serialization mechanism by making a “worm” of linked objects, each of which has a link to the next segment in the worm as well as an array of handles to objects of a different class, Data:

//: Worm.java
// Demonstrates object serialization in Java 1.1
import java.io.*;
 
class Data implements Serializable {
  private int i;
  Data(int x) { i = x; }
  public String toString() {
    return Integer.toString(i);
  }
}
 
public class Worm implements Serializable {
  // Generate a random int value:
  private static int r() {
    return (int)(Math.random() * 10);
  }
  private Data[] d = {
    new Data(r()), new Data(r()), new Data(r())
  };
  private Worm next;
  private char c;
  // Value of i == number of segments
  Worm(int i, char x) {
    System.out.println(" Worm constructor: " + i);
    c = x;
    if(--i > 0)
      next = new Worm(i, (char)(x + 1));
  }
  Worm() {
    System.out.println("Default constructor");
  }
  public String toString() {
    String s = ":" + c + "(";
    for(int i = 0; i < d.length; i++)
      s += d[i].toString();
    s += ")";
    if(next != null)
      s += next.toString();
    return s;
  }
  public static void main(String[] args) {
    Worm w = new Worm(6, 'a');
    System.out.println("w = " + w);
    try {
      ObjectOutputStream out =
        new ObjectOutputStream(
          new FileOutputStream("worm.out"));
      out.writeObject("Worm storage");
      out.writeObject(w);
      out.close(); // Also flushes output
      ObjectInputStream in =
        new ObjectInputStream(
          new FileInputStream("worm.out"));
      String s = (String)in.readObject();
      Worm w2 = (Worm)in.readObject();
      System.out.println(s + ", w2 = " + w2);
    } catch(Exception e) {
      e.printStackTrace();
    }
    try {
      ByteArrayOutputStream bout =
        new ByteArrayOutputStream();
      ObjectOutputStream out =
        new ObjectOutputStream(bout);
      out.writeObject("Worm storage");
      out.writeObject(w);
      out.flush();
      ObjectInputStream in =
        new ObjectInputStream(
          new ByteArrayInputStream(
            bout.toByteArray()));
      String s = (String)in.readObject();
      Worm w3 = (Worm)in.readObject();
      System.out.println(s + ", w3 = " + w3);
    } catch(Exception e) {
      e.printStackTrace();
    }
  }
} ///:~ 

To make things interesting, the array of Data objects inside Worm are initialized with random numbers. (This way you don’t suspect the compiler of keeping some kind of meta-information.) Each Worm segment is labeled with a char that’s automatically generated in the process of recursively generating the linked list of Worms. When you create a Worm, you tell the constructor how long you want it to be. To make the next handle it calls the Worm constructor with a length of one less, etc. The final next handle is left as null, indicating the end of the Worm.

The point of all this was to make something reasonably complex that couldn’t easily be serialized. The act of serializing, however, is quite simple. Once the ObjectOutputStream is created from some other stream, writeObject( ) serializes the object. Notice the call to writeObject( ) for a String, as well. You can also write all the primitive data types using the same methods as DataOutputStream (they share the same interface).

There are two separate try blocks that look similar. The first writes and reads a file and the second, for variety, writes and reads a ByteArray. You can read and write an object using serialization to any DataInputStream or DataOutputStream including, as you will see in the networking chapter, a network. The output from one run was:

Worm constructor: 6
Worm constructor: 5
Worm constructor: 4
Worm constructor: 3
Worm constructor: 2
Worm constructor: 1
w = :a(262):b(100):c(396):d(480):e(316):f(398)
Worm storage, w2 = :a(262):b(100):c(396):d(480):e(316):f(398)
Worm storage, w3 = :a(262):b(100):c(396):d(480):e(316):f(398)

You can see that the deserialized object really does contain all of the links that were in the original object.

Note that no constructor, not even the default constructor, is called in the process of deserializing a Serializable object. The entire object is restored by recovering data from the InputStream.

Object serialization is another Java 1.1 feature that is not part of the new Reader and Writer hierarchies, but instead uses the old InputStream and OutputStream hierarchies. Thus you might encounter situations in which you’re forced to mix the two hierarchies.

Finding the class

You might wonder what’s necessary for an object to be recovered from its serialized state. For example, suppose you serialize an object and send it as a file or through a network to another machine. Could a program on the other machine reconstruct the object using only the contents of the file?

The best way to answer this question is (as usual) by performing an experiment. The following file goes in the subdirectory for this chapter:

//: Alien.java
// A serializable class
import java.io.*;
 
public class Alien implements Serializable {
} ///:~ 

The file that creates and serializes an Alien object goes in the same directory:

//: FreezeAlien.java
// Create a serialized output file
import java.io.*;
 
public class FreezeAlien {
  public static void main(String[] args) 
      throws Exception {
    ObjectOutput out = 
      new ObjectOutputStream(
        new FileOutputStream("file.x"));
    Alien zorcon = new Alien();
    out.writeObject(zorcon); 
  }
} ///:~ 

Rather than catching and handling exceptions, this program takes the quick and dirty approach of passing the exceptions out of main( ), so they’ll be reported on the command line.

Once the program is compiled and run, copy the resulting file.x to a subdirectory called xfiles, where the following code goes:

//: ThawAlien.java
// Try to recover a serialized file without the 
// class of object that's stored in that file.
package c10.xfiles;
import java.io.*;
 
public class ThawAlien {
  public static void main(String[] args) 
      throws Exception {
    ObjectInputStream in =
      new ObjectInputStream(
        new FileInputStream("file.x"));
    Object mystery = in.readObject();
    System.out.println(
      mystery.getClass().toString());
  }
} ///:~ 

This program opens the file and reads in the object mystery successfully. However, as soon as you try to find out anything about the object – which requires the Class object for Alien – the Java Virtual Machine (JVM) cannot find Alien.class (unless it happens to be in the Classpath, which it shouldn’t be in this example). You’ll get a ClassNotFoundException. (Once again, all evidence of alien life vanishes before proof of its existence can be verified!)

If you expect to do much after you’ve recovered an object that has been serialized, you must make sure that the JVM can find the associated .class file either in the local class path or somewhere on the Internet.

Controlling serialization

As you can see, the default serialization mechanism is trivial to use. But what if you have special needs? Perhaps you have special security issues and you don’t want to serialize portions of your object, or perhaps it just doesn’t make sense for one sub-object to be serialized if that part needs to be created anew when the object is recovered.

You can control the process of serialization by implementing the Externalizable interface instead of the Serializable interface. The Externalizable interface extends the Serializable interface and adds two methods, writeExternal( ) and readExternal( ), that are automatically called for your object during serialization and deserialization so that you can perform your special operations.

The following example shows simple implementations of the Externalizable interface methods. Note that Blip1 and Blip2 are nearly identical except for a subtle difference (see if you can discover it by looking at the code):

//: Blips.java
// Simple use of Externalizable & a pitfall
import java.io.*;
import java.util.*;
 
class Blip1 implements Externalizable {
  public Blip1() {
    System.out.println("Blip1 Constructor");
  }
  public void writeExternal(ObjectOutput out)
      throws IOException {
    System.out.println("Blip1.writeExternal");
  }
  public void readExternal(ObjectInput in)
     throws IOException, ClassNotFoundException {
    System.out.println("Blip1.readExternal");
  }
}
 
class Blip2 implements Externalizable {
  Blip2() {
    System.out.println("Blip2 Constructor");
  }
  public void writeExternal(ObjectOutput out)
      throws IOException {
    System.out.println("Blip2.writeExternal");
  }
  public void readExternal(ObjectInput in)
     throws IOException, ClassNotFoundException {
    System.out.println("Blip2.readExternal");
  }
}
 
public class Blips {
  public static void main(String[] args) {
    System.out.println("Constructing objects:");
    Blip1 b1 = new Blip1();
    Blip2 b2 = new Blip2();
    try {
      ObjectOutputStream o =
        new ObjectOutputStream(
          new FileOutputStream("Blips.out"));
      System.out.println("Saving objects:");
      o.writeObject(b1);
      o.writeObject(b2);
      o.close();
      // Now get them back:
      ObjectInputStream in =
        new ObjectInputStream(
          new FileInputStream("Blips.out"));
      System.out.println("Recovering b1:");
      b1 = (Blip1)in.readObject();
      // OOPS! Throws an exception:
//!   System.out.println("Recovering b2:");
//!   b2 = (Blip2)in.readObject();
    } catch(Exception e) {
      e.printStackTrace();
    }
  }
} ///:~ 

The output for this program is:

Constructing objects:
Blip1 Constructor
Blip2 Constructor
Saving objects:
Blip1.writeExternal
Blip2.writeExternal
Recovering b1:
Blip1 Constructor
Blip1.readExternal

The reason that the Blip2 object is not recovered is that trying to do so causes an exception. Can you see the difference between Blip1 and Blip2? The constructor for Blip1 is public, while the constructor for Blip2 is not, and that causes the exception upon recovery. Try making Blip2’s constructor public and removing the //! comments to see the correct results.

When b1 is recovered, the Blip1 default constructor is called. This is different from recovering a Serializable object, in which the object is constructed entirely from its stored bits, with no constructor calls. With an Externalizable object, all the normal default construction behavior occurs (including the initializations at the point of field definition), and then readExternal( ) is called. You need to be aware of this – in particular the fact that all the default construction always takes place – to produce the correct behavior in your Externalizable objects.

Here’s an example that shows what you must do to fully store and retrieve an Externalizable object:

//: Blip3.java
// Reconstructing an externalizable object
import java.io.*;
import java.util.*;
 
class Blip3 implements Externalizable {
  int i;
  String s; // No initialization
  public Blip3() {
    System.out.println("Blip3 Constructor");
    // s, i not initialized
  }
  public Blip3(String x, int a) {
    System.out.println("Blip3(String x, int a)");
    s = x;
    i = a;
    // s & i initialized only in non-default
    // constructor.
  }
  public String toString() { return s + i; }
  public void writeExternal(ObjectOutput out)
      throws IOException {
    System.out.println("Blip3.writeExternal");
    // You must do this:
    out.writeObject(s); out.writeInt(i);
  }
  public void readExternal(ObjectInput in)
     throws IOException, ClassNotFoundException {
    System.out.println("Blip3.readExternal");
    // You must do this:
    s = (String)in.readObject(); 
    i =in.readInt();
  }
  public static void main(String[] args) {
    System.out.println("Constructing objects:");
    Blip3 b3 = new Blip3("A String ", 47);
    System.out.println(b3.toString());
    try {
      ObjectOutputStream o =
        new ObjectOutputStream(
          new FileOutputStream("Blip3.out"));
      System.out.println("Saving object:");
      o.writeObject(b3);
      o.close();
      // Now get it back:
      ObjectInputStream in =
        new ObjectInputStream(
          new FileInputStream("Blip3.out"));
      System.out.println("Recovering b3:");
      b3 = (Blip3)in.readObject();
      System.out.println(b3.toString());
    } catch(Exception e) {
      e.printStackTrace();
    }
  }
} ///:~ 

The fields s and i are initialized only in the second constructor, but not in the default constructor. This means that if you don’t initialize s and i in readExternal, it will be null (since the storage for the object gets wiped to zero in the first step of object creation). If you comment out the two lines of code following the phrases “You must do this” and run the program, you’ll see that when the object is recovered, s is null and i is zero.

If you are inheriting from an Externalizable object, you’ll typically call the base-class versions of writeExternal( ) and readExternal( ) to provide proper storage and retrieval of the base-class components.

So to make things work correctly you must not only write the important data from the object during the writeExternal( ) method (there is no default behavior that writes any of the member objects for an Externalizable object), but you must also recover that data in the readExternal( ) method. This can be a bit confusing at first because the default construction behavior for an Externalizable object can make it seem like some kind of storage and retrieval takes place automatically. It does not.

The transient keyword
When you’re controlling serialization, there might be a particular subobject that you don’t want Java’s serialization mechanism to automatically save and restore. This is commonly the case if that subobject represents sensitive information that you don’t want to serialize, such as a password. Even if that information is private in the object, once it’s serialized it’s possible for someone to access it by reading a file or intercepting a network transmission.

One way to prevent sensitive parts of your object from being serialized is to implement your class as Externalizable, as shown previously. Then nothing is automatically serialized and you can explicitly serialize only the necessary parts inside writeExternal( ).

If you’re working with a Serializable object, however, all serialization happens automatically. To control this, you can turn off serialization on a field-by-field basis using the transient keyword, which says “Don’t bother saving or restoring this – I’ll take care of it.”

For example, consider a Login object that keeps information about a particular login session. Suppose that, once you verify the login, you want to store the data, but without the password. The easiest way to do this is by implementing Serializable and marking the password field as transient. Here’s what it looks like:

//: Logon.java
// Demonstrates the "transient" keyword
import java.io.*;
import java.util.*;
 
class Logon implements Serializable {
  private Date date = new Date();
  private String username;
  private transient String password;
  Logon(String name, String pwd) {
    username = name;
    password = pwd;
  }
  public String toString() {
    String pwd =
      (password == null) ? "(n/a)" : password;
    return "logon info: \n   " +
      "username: " + username +
      "\n   date: " + date.toString() +
      "\n   password: " + pwd;
  }
  public static void main(String[] args) {
    Logon a = new Logon("Hulk", "myLittlePony");
    System.out.println( "logon a = " + a);
    try {
      ObjectOutputStream o =
        new ObjectOutputStream(
          new FileOutputStream("Logon.out"));
      o.writeObject(a);
      o.close();
      // Delay:
      int seconds = 5;
      long t = System.currentTimeMillis()
             + seconds * 1000;
      while(System.currentTimeMillis() < t)
        ;
      // Now get them back:
      ObjectInputStream in =
        new ObjectInputStream(
          new FileInputStream("Logon.out"));
      System.out.println(
        "Recovering object at " + new Date());
      a = (Logon)in.readObject();
      System.out.println( "logon a = " + a);
    } catch(Exception e) {
      e.printStackTrace();
    }
  }
} ///:~ 

You can see that the date and username fields are ordinary (not transient), and thus are automatically serialized. However, the password is transient, and so is not stored to disk; also the serialization mechanism makes no attempt to recover it. The output is:

logon a = logon info:
   username: Hulk
   date: Sun Mar 23 18:25:53 PST 1997
   password: myLittlePony
Recovering object at Sun Mar 23 18:25:59 PST 1997
logon a = logon info:
   username: Hulk
   date: Sun Mar 23 18:25:53 PST 1997
   password: (n/a)

When the object is recovered, the password field is null. Note that toString( ) must check for a null value of password because if you try to assemble a String object using the overloaded ‘ +’ operator, and that operator encounters a null handle, you’ll get a NullPointerException. (Newer versions of Java might contain code to avoid this problem.)

You can also see that the date field is stored to and recovered from disk and not generated anew.

Since Externalizable objects do not store any of their fields by default, the transient keyword is for use with Serializable objects only.

An alternative to Externalizable
If you’re not keen on implementing the Externalizable interface, there’s another approach. You can implement the Serializable interface and add (notice I say “add” and not “override” or “implement”) methods called writeObject( ) and readObject( ) that will automatically be called when the object is serialized and deserialized, respectively. That is, if you provide these two methods they will be used instead of the default serialization.

The methods must have these exact signatures:

private void 
  writeObject(ObjectOutputStream stream)
    throws IOException;
 
private void 
  readObject(ObjectInputStream stream)
    throws IOException, ClassNotFoundException

From a design standpoint, things get really weird here. First of all, you might think that because these methods are not part of a base class or the Serializable interface, they ought to be defined in their own interface(s). But notice that they are defined as private, which means they are to be called only by other members of this class. However, you don’t actually call them from other members of this class, but instead the writeObject( ) and readObject( ) methods of the ObjectOutputStream and ObjectInputStream objects call your object’s writeObject( ) and readObject( ) methods. (Notice my tremendous restraint in not launching into a long diatribe about using the same method names here. In a word: confusing.) You might wonder how the ObjectOutputStream and ObjectInputStream objects have access to private methods of your class. We can only assume that this is part of the serialization magic.

In any event, anything defined in an interface is automatically public so if writeObject( ) and readObject( ) must be private, then they can’t be part of an interface. Since you must follow the signatures exactly, the effect is the same as if you’re implementing an interface.

It would appear that when you call ObjectOutputStream.writeObject( ), the Serializable object that you pass it to is interrogated (using reflection, no doubt) to see if it implements its own writeObject( ). If so, the normal serialization process is skipped and the writeObject( ) is called. The same sort of situation exists for readObject( ).

There’s one other twist. Inside your writeObject( ), you can choose to perform the default writeObject( ) action by calling defaultWriteObject( ). Likewise, inside readObject( ) you can call defaultReadObject( ). Here is a simple example that demonstrates how you can control the storage and retrieval of a Serializable object:

//: SerialCtl.java
// Controlling serialization by adding your own
// writeObject() and readObject() methods.
import java.io.*;
 
public class SerialCtl implements Serializable {
  String a;
  transient String b;
  public SerialCtl(String aa, String bb) {
    a = "Not Transient: " + aa;
    b = "Transient: " + bb;
  }
  public String toString() {
    return a + "\n" + b;
  }
  private void 
    writeObject(ObjectOutputStream stream)
      throws IOException {
    stream.defaultWriteObject();
    stream.writeObject(b);
  }
  private void 
    readObject(ObjectInputStream stream)
      throws IOException, ClassNotFoundException {
    stream.defaultReadObject();
    b = (String)stream.readObject();
  }
  public static void main(String[] args) {
    SerialCtl sc = 
      new SerialCtl("Test1", "Test2");
    System.out.println("Before:\n" + sc);
    ByteArrayOutputStream buf = 
      new ByteArrayOutputStream();
    try {
      ObjectOutputStream o =
        new ObjectOutputStream(buf);
      o.writeObject(sc);
      // Now get it back:
      ObjectInputStream in =
        new ObjectInputStream(
          new ByteArrayInputStream(
            buf.toByteArray()));
      SerialCtl sc2 = (SerialCtl)in.readObject();
      System.out.println("After:\n" + sc2);
    } catch(Exception e) {
      e.printStackTrace();
    }
  }
} ///:~ 

In this example, one String field is ordinary and the other is transient, to prove that the non- transient field is saved by the defaultWriteObject( ) method and the transient field is saved and restored explicitly. The fields are initialized inside the constructor rather than at the point of definition to prove that they are not being initialized by some automatic mechanism during deserialization.

If you are going to use the default mechanism to write the non- transient parts of your object, you must call defaultWriteObject( ) as the first operation in writeObject( ) and defaultReadObject( ) as the first operation in readObject( ). These are strange method calls. It would appear, for example, that you are calling defaultWriteObject( ) for an ObjectOutputStream and passing it no arguments, and yet it somehow turns around and knows the handle to your object and how to write all the non- transient parts. Spooky.

The storage and retrieval of the transient objects uses more familiar code. And yet, think about what happens here. In main( ), a SerialCtl object is created, and then it’s serialized to an ObjectOutputStream. (Notice in this case that a buffer is used instead of a file – it’s all the same to the ObjectOutputStream.) The serialization occurs in the line:

o.writeObject(sc);

The writeObject( ) method must be examining sc to see if it has its own writeObject( ) method. (Not by checking the interface – there isn’t one – or the class type, but by actually hunting for the method using reflection.) If it does, it uses that. A similar approach holds true for readObject( ). Perhaps this was the only practical way that they could solve the problem, but it’s certainly strange.

Versioning

It’s possible that you might want to change the version of a serializable class (objects of the original class might be stored in a database, for example). This is supported but you’ll probably do it only in special cases, and it requires an extra depth of understanding that we will not attempt to achieve here. The JDK1.1 HTML documents downloadable from Sun (which might be part of your Java package’s online documents) cover this topic quite thoroughly.

Using persistence

It’s quite appealing to use serialization technology to store some of the state of your program so that you can easily restore the program to the current state later. But before you can do this, some questions must be answered. What happens if you serialize two objects that both have a handle to a third object? When you restore those two objects from their serialized state, do you get only one occurrence of the third object? What if you serialize your two objects to separate files and deserialize them in different parts of your code?

Here’s an example that shows the problem:

//: MyWorld.java
import java.io.*;
import java.util.*;
 
class House implements Serializable {}
 
class Animal implements Serializable {
  String name;
  House preferredHouse;
  Animal(String nm, House h) { 
    name = nm; 
    preferredHouse = h;
  }
  public String toString() {
    return name + "[" + super.toString() + 
      "], " + preferredHouse + "\n";
  }
}
 
public class MyWorld {
  public static void main(String[] args) {
    House house = new House();
    Vector  animals = new Vector();
    animals.addElement(
      new Animal("Bosco the dog", house));
    animals.addElement(
      new Animal("Ralph the hamster", house));
    animals.addElement(
      new Animal("Fronk the cat", house));
    System.out.println("animals: " + animals);
 
    try {
      ByteArrayOutputStream buf1 = 
        new ByteArrayOutputStream();
      ObjectOutputStream o1 =
        new ObjectOutputStream(buf1);
      o1.writeObject(animals);
      o1.writeObject(animals); // Write a 2nd set
      // Write to a different stream:
      ByteArrayOutputStream buf2 = 
        new ByteArrayOutputStream();
      ObjectOutputStream o2 =
        new ObjectOutputStream(buf2);
      o2.writeObject(animals);
      // Now get them back:
      ObjectInputStream in1 =
        new ObjectInputStream(
          new ByteArrayInputStream(
            buf1.toByteArray()));
      ObjectInputStream in2 =
        new ObjectInputStream(
          new ByteArrayInputStream(
            buf2.toByteArray()));
      Vector animals1 = (Vector)in1.readObject();
      Vector animals2 = (Vector)in1.readObject();
      Vector animals3 = (Vector)in2.readObject();
      System.out.println("animals1: " + animals1);
      System.out.println("animals2: " + animals2);
      System.out.println("animals3: " + animals3);
    } catch(Exception e) {
      e.printStackTrace();
    }
  }
} ///:~ 

One thing that’s interesting here is that it’s possible to use object serialization to and from a byte array as a way of doing a “deep copy” of any object that’s Serializable. (A deep copy means that you’re duplicating the entire web of objects, rather than just the basic object and its handles.) Copying is covered in depth in Chapter 12.

Animal objects contain fields of type House. In main( ), a Vector of these Animals is created and it is serialized twice to one stream and then again to a separate stream. When these are deserialized and printed, you see the following results for one run (the objects will be in different memory locations each run):

animals: [Bosco the dog[Animal@1cc76c], House@1cc769
, Ralph the hamster[Animal@1cc76d], House@1cc769
, Fronk the cat[Animal@1cc76e], House@1cc769
]
animals1: [Bosco the dog[Animal@1cca0c], House@1cca16
, Ralph the hamster[Animal@1cca17], House@1cca16
, Fronk the cat[Animal@1cca1b], House@1cca16
]
animals2: [Bosco the dog[Animal@1cca0c], House@1cca16
, Ralph the hamster[Animal@1cca17], House@1cca16
, Fronk the cat[Animal@1cca1b], House@1cca16
]
animals3: [Bosco the dog[Animal@1cca52], House@1cca5c
, Ralph the hamster[Animal@1cca5d], House@1cca5c
, Fronk the cat[Animal@1cca61], House@1cca5c
]

Of course you expect that the deserialized objects have different addresses from their originals. But notice that in animals1 and animals2 the same addresses appear, including the references to the House object that both share. On the other hand, when animals3 is recovered the system has no way of knowing that the objects in this other stream are aliases of the objects in the first stream, so it makes a completely different web of objects.

As long as you’re serializing everything to a single stream, you’ll be able to recover the same web of objects that you wrote, with no accidental duplication of objects. Of course, you can change the state of your objects in between the time you write the first and the last, but that’s your responsibility – the objects will be written in whatever state they are in (and with whatever connections they have to other objects) at the time you serialize them.

The safest thing to do if you want to save the state of a system is to serialize as an “atomic” operation. If you serialize some things, do some other work, and serialize some more, etc., then you will not be storing the system safely. Instead, put all the objects that comprise the state of your system in a single collection and simply write that collection out in one operation. Then you can restore it with a single method call as well.

The following example is an imaginary computer-aided design (CAD) system that demonstrates the approach. In addition, it throws in the issue of static fields – if you look at the documentation you’ll see that Class is Serializable, so it should be easy to store the static fields by simply serializing the Class object. That seems like a sensible approach, anyway.

//: CADState.java
// Saving and restoring the state of a 
// pretend CAD system.
import java.io.*;
import java.util.*;
 
abstract class Shape implements Serializable {
  public static final int 
    RED = 1, BLUE = 2, GREEN = 3;
  private int xPos, yPos, dimension;
  private static Random r = new Random();
  private static int counter = 0;
  abstract public void setColor(int newColor);
  abstract public int getColor();
  public Shape(int xVal, int yVal, int dim) {
    xPos = xVal;
    yPos = yVal;
    dimension = dim;
  }
  public String toString() {
    return getClass().toString() + 
      " color[" + getColor() +
      "] xPos[" + xPos +
      "] yPos[" + yPos +
      "] dim[" + dimension + "]\n";
  }
  public static Shape randomFactory() {
    int xVal = r.nextInt() % 100;
    int yVal = r.nextInt() % 100;
    int dim = r.nextInt() % 100;
    switch(counter++ % 3) {
      default: 
      case 0: return new Circle(xVal, yVal, dim);
      case 1: return new Square(xVal, yVal, dim);
      case 2: return new Line(xVal, yVal, dim);
    }
  }
}
 
class Circle extends Shape {
  private static int color = RED;
  public Circle(int xVal, int yVal, int dim) {
    super(xVal, yVal, dim);
  }
  public void setColor(int newColor) { 
    color = newColor;
  }
  public int getColor() { 
    return color;
  }
}
 
class Square extends Shape {
  private static int color;
  public Square(int xVal, int yVal, int dim) {
    super(xVal, yVal, dim);
    color = RED;
  }
  public void setColor(int newColor) { 
    color = newColor;
  }
  public int getColor() { 
    return color;
  }
}
 
class Line extends Shape {
  private static int color = RED;
  public static void 
  serializeStaticState(ObjectOutputStream os)
      throws IOException {
    os.writeInt(color);
  }
  public static void 
  deserializeStaticState(ObjectInputStream os)
      throws IOException {
    color = os.readInt();
  }
  public Line(int xVal, int yVal, int dim) {
    super(xVal, yVal, dim);
  }
  public void setColor(int newColor) { 
    color = newColor;
  }
  public int getColor() { 
    return color;
  }
}
 
public class CADState {
  public static void main(String[] args) 
      throws Exception {
    Vector shapeTypes, shapes;
    if(args.length == 0) {
      shapeTypes = new Vector();
      shapes = new Vector();
      // Add handles to the class objects:
      shapeTypes.addElement(Circle.class);
      shapeTypes.addElement(Square.class);
      shapeTypes.addElement(Line.class);
      // Make some shapes:
      for(int i = 0; i < 10; i++)
        shapes.addElement(Shape.randomFactory());
      // Set all the static colors to GREEN:
      for(int i = 0; i < 10; i++)
        ((Shape)shapes.elementAt(i))
          .setColor(Shape.GREEN);
      // Save the state vector:
      ObjectOutputStream out =
        new ObjectOutputStream(
          new FileOutputStream("CADState.out"));
      out.writeObject(shapeTypes);
      Line.serializeStaticState(out);
      out.writeObject(shapes);
    } else { // There's a command-line argument
      ObjectInputStream in =
        new ObjectInputStream(
          new FileInputStream(args[0]));
      // Read in the same order they were written:
      shapeTypes = (Vector)in.readObject();
      Line.deserializeStaticState(in);
      shapes = (Vector)in.readObject();
    }
    // Display the shapes:
    System.out.println(shapes);
  }
} ///:~ 

The Shape class implements Serializable, so anything that is inherited from Shape is automatically Serializable as well. Each Shape contains data, and each derived Shape class contains a static field that determines the color of all of those types of Shapes. (Placing a static field in the base class would result in only one field, since static fields are not duplicated in derived classes.) Methods in the base class can be overridden to set the color for the various types ( static methods are not dynamically bound, so these are normal methods). The randomFactory( ) method creates a different Shape each time you call it, using random values for the Shape data.

Circle and Square are straightforward extensions of Shape; the only difference is that Circle initializes color at the point of definition and Square initializes it in the constructor. We’ll leave the discussion of Line for later.

In main( ), one Vector is used to hold the Class objects and the other to hold the shapes. If you don’t provide a command line argument the shapeTypes Vector is created and the Class objects are added, and then the shapes Vector is created and Shape objects are added. Next, all the static color values are set to GREEN, and everything is serialized to the file CADState.out.

If you provide a command line argument (presumably CADState.out), that file is opened and used to restore the state of the program. In both situations, the resulting Vector of Shapes is printed out. The results from one run are:

>java CADState
[class Circle color[3] xPos[-51] yPos[-99] dim[38]
, class Square color[3] xPos[2] yPos[61] dim[-46]
, class Line color[3] xPos[51] yPos[73] dim[64]
, class Circle color[3] xPos[-70] yPos[1] dim[16]
, class Square color[3] xPos[3] yPos[94] dim[-36]
, class Line color[3] xPos[-84] yPos[-21] dim[-35]
, class Circle color[3] xPos[-75] yPos[-43] dim[22]
, class Square color[3] xPos[81] yPos[30] dim[-45]
, class Line color[3] xPos[-29] yPos[92] dim[17]
, class Circle color[3] xPos[17] yPos[90] dim[-76]
]
 
>java CADState CADState.out
[class Circle color[1] xPos[-51] yPos[-99] dim[38]
, class Square color[0] xPos[2] yPos[61] dim[-46]
, class Line color[3] xPos[51] yPos[73] dim[64]
, class Circle color[1] xPos[-70] yPos[1] dim[16]
, class Square color[0] xPos[3] yPos[94] dim[-36]
, class Line color[3] xPos[-84] yPos[-21] dim[-35]
, class Circle color[1] xPos[-75] yPos[-43] dim[22]
, class Square color[0] xPos[81] yPos[30] dim[-45]
, class Line color[3] xPos[-29] yPos[92] dim[17]
, class Circle color[1] xPos[17] yPos[90] dim[-76]
]

You can see that the values of xPos, yPos, and dim were all stored and recovered successfully, but there’s something wrong with the retrieval of the static information. It’s all ‘3’ going in, but it doesn’t come out that way. Circles have a value of 1 ( RED, which is the definition), and Squares have a value of 0 (remember, they are initialized in the constructor). It’s as if the statics didn’t get serialized at all! That’s right – even though class Class is Serializable, it doesn’t do what you expect. So if you want to serialize statics, you must do it yourself.

This is what the serializeStaticState( ) and deserializeStaticState( ) static methods in Line are for. You can see that they are explicitly called as part of the storage and retrieval process. (Note that the order of writing to the serialize file and reading back from it must be maintained.) Thus to make CADState.java run correctly you must (1) Add a serializeStaticState( ) and deserializeStaticState( ) to the shapes, (2) Remove the Vector shapeTypes and all code related to it, and (3) Add calls to the new serialize and deserialize static methods in the shapes.

Another issue you might have to think about is security, since serialization also saves private data. If you have a security issue, those fields should be marked as transient. But then you have to design a secure way to store that information so that when you do a restore you can reset those private variables.

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