Java: Remove an element from a List

One of the more common tasks in programming is removing a specific element from a list. Although this seems to be straight-forward in Java, it’s a bit more tricky.

Before we start, we should build our list:

   public ArrayList<String> createList(){
      ArrayList<String> myList = new ArrayList<String>();
      
      myList.add("String 1");
      myList.add("String 2");
      myList.add("String 3");
      myList.add("String 4");
      myList.add("String 5");
      
      
      return myList;
   }

Let’s say we want to remove the String “String 2”. The first thing that comes to mind is to loop through the list, until you find the element “String 2”, and remove that element:

   public List<String> removeFromListUsingForEach(List<String> sourceList){
      for(String s : sourceList){
         if (s.equals("String 2")){
            sourceList.remove(s);
         }
      }
      return sourceList;
   }

Unfortunately, in this case, this will throw a

java.util.ConcurrentModificationException

I said “in this case”, because the exception is not always thrown. The details of this strange behavior is out of scope for this blogpost, but can be found here.

There are several ways to remove an element from a list. Depending on your personal preference, and which version of Java you use, here are some examples.

1. Use a for-loop which loops backwards
You can use a for-loop, which runs from the end of the list to the beginning. The reason you want to loop in this direction is, that when you’ve found the element you want to remove, you remove the element at that index. Every element after this one will shift one position towards the beginning of the list. If you’d run the loop forward, you’d have to compensate for this, which just isn’t worth the effort.

   public List<String> removeFromListUsingReversedForLoop(List<String> sourceList){
      for(int i = sourceList.size()-1; i >= 0; i--){
         String s = sourceList.get(i);
         if (s.equals("String 2")){
            sourceList.remove(i);
         }
      }
      return sourceList;
   }

This works in every Java version since 1.2, although you can’t use generics until Java 1.5.

2. Use an Iterator
Another way to remove an element from a list is to use an Iterator. The Iterator will loop through the list, and, if needed, can remove the current element from that list. This is done by calling

Iterator.remove()
   public List<String> removeFromListUsingIterator(List<String> sourceList){
      Iterator<String> iter = sourceList.iterator();
      while (iter.hasNext()){
         if (iter.next().equals("String 2")){
            iter.remove();
         }
      }
      return sourceList;
   }

This works in every Java version since 1.2, although you can’t use generics until Java 1.5.

3. Use Java 8 Streams
What you’re essentially doing here is make a copy of the list, and filter out the unwanted elements.

   public List<String> removeFromListUsingStream(List<String> sourceList){
      List<String> targetList = sourceList.stream()
            .filter(s -> !s.equals("String 2"))
            .collect(Collectors.toList());
      return targetList;
   }

This works since Java 1.8. More about Java 8 can be found here.

Java 8

On 18 march 2014, Oracle launched Java 8. I’ve had a little time to play with it. Here are my first experiences.

Eclipse

Eclipse 4.4 (Luna) will get support for Java 8. However, Eclipse 4.3.2 (Kepler) can support Java 8 by installing a feature patch. This page shows how to install the patch.

Once installed, you’ll need to tell your projects to use java 8. First add the JDK to eclipse:

  • Go to Window -> Preferences
  • Go to Java -> Installed JREs
  • Add Standard VM, and point to the location of the JRE
  • Then go to Compiler
  • Set Compiler compliance level to 1.8

Then tell the project to use JDK 1.8:

  • Go to Project -> preferences
  • Go to Java Compiler
  •  Enable project specific settings
  •  Set Compiler compliance level to 1.8

Now you should be able to develop your applications using Java 8.

Maven

To enable Java 8 in Maven, two things need to be done:

  1. Maven must use JDK 1.8
  2. Your project must be Java 8 compliant.

To tell maven to use JDK 1.8, point the JAVA_HOME variable to the correct location.
For the second point, make the project Java 8 compliant, add the following snippet to you pom.xml file:

<build>
  <plugins>
      <plugin>
        <groupId>org.apache.maven.plugins</groupId>
        <artifactId>maven-compiler-plugin</artifactId>
        <configuration>
          <source>1.8</source>
          <target>1.8</target>
        </configuration>
      </plugin>
  </plugins>
</build>

Feature: streams

Streams can be used to iterate over collections, possibly in a parallel way. This has the advantage of making use of the multi-core architecture in modern computers. But more importantly, it makes the code shorter and more readable.

Case in point, consider the following code, for getting the minimum and maximum number in an array:

   public void minMax(int[] array){
      int min = array[0], max = array[0];
      for (int i : array) {
         if (i < min) {
            min = i;
         } else {
            if (i > max)
               max = i;
         }
      }
      System.out.println("Max is :" + max);
      System.out.println("Min is :" + min);
   }

Nothing too shocking. But with Java 8 this could be done shorter and easier:

   public void java8(int[] array){
      IntSummaryStatistics stats = 
            IntStream.of(array)
            .summaryStatistics();

      System.out.println("Max is :" + stats.getMax());
      System.out.println("Min is :" + stats.getMin());
   }

This method converts the array to an IntStream, and then collects the statistics of all numbers in that stream into an IntSummaryStatistics object. When testing this with an array of 10.000.000 items, spanning the range of 1.000.000 numbers, the performance is more than 5 times better with the first method though. The first running in 12 ms, the second in 69 ms.

Feature: lambda expressions

The biggest new feature of Java 8 is Lambda Expressions. These are sort of inline methods, and are mostly used in combination with streams. To explain this, let’s take a look at the following pieces of code. This will get all the files ending in “.csv” from a directory.

First, using a FilenameFilter:

      File sourceDir = new File("D:\\Tools");
      List<String> filteredList = Arrays.asList(sourceDir.list(new FilenameFilter(){

         @Override
         public boolean accept(File dir, String name)
         {
            return name.toLowerCase().endsWith(".csv");
         }
         
      }));

Now, using a Lambda:

      File sourceDir = new File("D:\\Tools");
      List<String> filteredList = Arrays.asList(sourceDir.list())
            .stream()
            .filter(s -> s.toLowerCase().endsWith(".csv"))
            .collect(Collectors.toList());

Notice line 4, with the filter command. This replaces the accept method in the FilenameFilter. What it effectively does is the following:

For each String in the stream:
 - assign the String to s
 - Call s.toLowerCase().endsWith(".csv"), this will return a boolean
 - If the result is true, the String is passed to the next method in the stream
 - If the result is false, the next String is evaluated