Vato Vato - 4 years ago 107
Java Question

Converting a generic List to an Array. Why do I need use clone?

I faced a problem yesterday, when I was writing my homework. I finished the homework, but I still don't really understand why my code works. I had to write a sort function that takes an varargs of any comparable generic object as an argument and return the argument. The problem was that I had to return an array of sorted objects. So I had to learn more about varargs lists and arrays.

The function was defined like this.

public <T extends Comparable<T>> T[] stableSort(T ... items)

and inside the function I made a list, which I would sort and do all the work on.

List<T> list = new ArrayList<T>(Arrays.asList(items));

and at the end of the function I was returning list toArray so that it matched the output type T[].


My question is since I already made the list from the varargs, why do I have to do items.clone() inside the toArray function. That seemed like doing two same things to me. I thought arrays.asList() would clone the values of array to list and I don't get why am I doing it again at the end of the code in toArray(). I know that this was the correct way to write it, because I finished the homework yesterday and found out this way from forums of the class, but I still don't understand why.


The task required me to create a new array with sorted files and return it instead. Due to Type Erasure, it is not possible to instantiate an array of a generic type without a reference to a class that fits the generic. However, the varargs array has type T, so I should have cloned an array of a type which fits the generic constraints. Which I didn't know how to do in time. So I decided to use list to make my time easier till the deadline.

Answer Source

My question is since I already made the list from the varargs, why do I have to do items.clone()

You are right. Unfortunately, the compiler will be unable to determine the type of the array if you simply use the toArray() method. You should get a compilation error saying Cannot convert from Object[] to T[]. The call to item.clone() is required to assist the compiler in type-inference. An alternate approach would be to say return (T[])list.toArray

That said, I would not recommend either of the approaches. It doesn't really make sense to convert an array to a list and convert it back to an array in the first place. I don't see any significant take-aways that you would even understand from this code.

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