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Next: When Unions are Up: 1.5 The Union and Previous: 1.5.1 Member Hoisting

1.5.2 The Composite Pattern

Let's return to our department directory example and show how to use the union pattern to represent department directory data.

A DeptDirectory is either:

In Scheme, we could implement this definition using the following collection of structures:

;; a DeptDirectory is either:
;;   the empty directory (make-Empty), or
;;   the non-empty directory (make-Cons Entry DeptDirectory)
(define-struct Empty ())
(define-struct Cons (first rest))

;; an Entry is (make-Entry String String String)
(define-struct Entry (name address phone))
Note that the preceding Scheme code leaves most of the corresponding data definition unstated! It never mentions the new type DeptDirectory. It does not express the fact that instances of Empty and Cons are elements of the type DeptDirectory, nor does it state that the first and rest fields of a Cons must be of type Entry and DeptDirectory, respectively. Similarly, it fails to state that the fields name, address and phone are all strings. In Scheme, we must compose comments to communicate this information. Unfortunately, since these comments are not code they are not checked for consistency.

In Java, each new type of data is represented by a class. Since the DeptDirectory type has two variants, we must use the union pattern to represent this type. The following collection of class definitions relies on the union pattern to define the DeptDirectory type.

abstract class DeptDirectory {}

class Empty extends DeptDirectory {}

class Cons extends DeptDirectory {
  Entry first;
  DeptDirectory rest;

  /* constructor */
  Cons(Entry f, DeptDirectory r) {
    this.first = f; = r;

  /* accessors */
  Entry getFirst() { return this.first; }
  DeptDirectory getRest() { return; }
The Java code is wordier, but it captures all of the information in the data definition. The class Empty contains no fields, just like the corresponding Scheme struct. The class Cons contains two fields first and rest akin to the two fields in the corresponding Scheme struct. Similarly, the Entry class contains three fields name, address, and phone just like the Scheme struct Entry given above. The abstract class DeptDirectory is extended by only two classes: Empty and Cons. Hence, DeptDirectory is the union of Empty and Cons.

The Java code in the DeptDirectory example relies on one new feature that we have not seen before, namely the notion of a default constructor. The class Empty is concrete but does not include a constructor to initialize its fields because there are no fields to initialize! Java automatically generates a default zero-ary constructor for any class definition that does not include a constructor. As a result, the expression

new Empty()
generates a new instance of the class Empty.

next up previous
Next: When Unions are Up: 1.5 The Union and Previous: 1.5.1 Member Hoisting
Corky Cartwright