Home > java hacks, Uncategorized > Mutability vs Immutability in java

Mutability vs Immutability in java

Whole post is a copy from [1]

Well, there are a couple aspects to this. Number one, mutable objects without reference-identity can cause bugs at odd times. For example, consider a Person bean with an value-based equals method:


Map<Person, String> map = ...
Person p = new Person();
map.put(p, "Hey, there!");

map.get(p);       // => null

The Person instance gets “lost” in the map when used as a key because it’s hashCode and equality were based upon mutable values. Those values changed outside the map and all of the hashing became obsolete. Theorists like to harp on this point, but in practice I haven’t found it to be too much of an issue.


Another aspect is the logical “reasonability” of your code. This is a hard term to define, encompassing everything from readability to flow. Generically, you should be able to look at a piece of code and easily understand what it does. But more important than that, you should be able to convince yourself that it does what it does correctly. When objects can change independently across different code “domains”, it sometimes becomes difficult to keep track of what is where and why (“spooky action at a distance”). This is a more difficult concept to exemplify, but it’s something that is often faced in larger, more complex architectures.


Finally, mutable objects are killer in concurrent situations. Whenever you access a mutable object from separate threads, you have to deal with locking. This reduces throughput and makes your code dramatically more difficult to maintain. A sufficiently complicated system blows this problem so far out of proportion that it becomes nearly impossible to maintain (even for concurrency experts).


Immutable objects (and more particularly, immutable collections) avoid all of these problems. Once you get your mind around how they work, your code will develop into something which is easier to read, easier to maintain and less likely to fail in odd and unpredictable ways. Immutable objects are even easier to test, due not only to their easy mockability, but also the code patterns they tend to enforce. In short, they’re good practice all around!



With that said, I’m hardly a zealot in this matter. Some problems just don’t model nicely when everything is immutable. But I do think that you should try to push as much of your code in that direction as possible, assuming of course that you’re using a language which makes this a tenable opinion (C/C++ makes this very difficult, as does Java). In short: the advantages depend somewhat on your problem, but I would tend to prefer immutability.



[1]  http://stackoverflow.com/a/214718/1433172

Categories: java hacks, Uncategorized
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