Trail: Learning the Java Language
Lesson: Classes and Objects
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Annotations provide data about a program that is not part of the program itself. They have no direct effect on the operation of the code they annotate.

Annotations have a number of uses, among them:

Annotations can be applied to a program's declarations of classes, fields, methods, and other program elements.

The annotation appears first, often (by convention) on its own line, and may include elements with named or unnamed values:

   name = "Benjamin Franklin",
   date = "3/27/2003"
class MyClass() { }


@SuppressWarnings(value = "unchecked")
void myMethod() { }

If there is just one element named "value," then the name may be omitted, as in:

void myMethod() { }

Also, if an annotation has no elements, the parentheses may be omitted, as in:

void mySuperMethod() { }


Many annotations replace what would otherwise have been comments in code.

Suppose that a software group has traditionally begun the body of every class with comments providing important information:

public class Generation3List extends Generation2List {

   // Author: John Doe
   // Date: 3/17/2002
   // Current revision: 6
   // Last modified: 4/12/2004
   // By: Jane Doe
   // Reviewers: Alice, Bill, Cindy

   // class code goes here


To add this same metadata with an annotation, you must first define the annotation type. The syntax for doing this is:

@interface ClassPreamble {
   String author();
   String date();
   int currentRevision() default 1;
   String lastModified() default "N/A";
   String lastModifiedBy() default "N/A";
   // Note use of array
   String[] reviewers();

The annotation type definition looks somewhat like an interface definition where the keyword interface is preceded by the @ character (@ = "AT" as in Annotation Type). Annotation types are, in fact, a form of interface, which will be covered in a later lesson. For the moment, you do not need to understand interfaces.

The body of the annotation definition above contains annotation type element declarations, which look a lot like methods. Note that they may define optional default values.

Once the annotation type has been defined, you can use annotations of that type, with the values filled in, like this:

@ClassPreamble (
   author = "John Doe",
   date = "3/17/2002",
   currentRevision = 6,
   lastModified = "4/12/2004",
   lastModifiedBy = "Jane Doe",
   // Note array notation
   reviewers = {"Alice", "Bob", "Cindy"}
public class Generation3List extends Generation2List {

// class code goes here


Note: To make the information in @ClassPreamble appear in Javadoc-generated documentation, you must annotate the @ClassPreamble definition itself with the @Documented annotation:
// import this to use @Documented
import java.lang.annotation.*;

@interface ClassPreamble {

   // Annotation element definitions

Annotations Used by the Compiler

There are three annotation types that are predefined by the language specification itself: @Deprecated, @Override, and @SuppressWarnings.

@Deprecated—the @Deprecated annotation indicates that the marked element is deprecated and should no longer be used. The compiler generates a warning whenever a program uses a method, class, or field with the @Deprecated annotation. When an element is deprecated, it should also be documented using the Javadoc @deprecated tag, as shown in the following example. The use of the "@" symbol in both Javadoc comments and in annotations is not coincidental — they are related conceptually. Also, note that the Javadoc tag starts with a lowercase "d" and the annotation starts with an uppercase "D".

   // Javadoc comment follows
     * @deprecated
     * explanation of why it
     * was deprecated
    static void deprecatedMethod() { }

@Override—the @Override annotation informs the compiler that the element is meant to override an element declared in a superclass (overriding methods will be discussed in the the lesson titled "Interfaces and Inheritance").

   // mark method as a superclass method
   // that has been overridden
   int overriddenMethod() { }

While it's not required to use this annotation when overriding a method, it helps to prevent errors. If a method marked with @Override fails to correctly override a method in one of its superclasses, the compiler generates an error.

@SuppressWarnings—the @SuppressWarnings annotation tells the compiler to suppress specific warnings that it would otherwise generate. In the example below, a deprecated method is used and the compiler would normally generate a warning. In this case, however, the annotation causes the warning to be suppressed.

   // use a deprecated method and tell 
   // compiler not to generate a warning
    void useDeprecatedMethod() {
        // deprecation warning
        // - suppressed

Every compiler warning belongs to a category. The Java Language Specification lists two categories: "deprecation" and "unchecked." The "unchecked" warning can occur when interfacing with legacy code written before the advent of generics (discussed in the lesson titled "Generics"). To suppress more than one category of warnings, use the following syntax:

@SuppressWarnings({"unchecked", "deprecation"})

Annotation Processing

The more advanced uses of annotations include writing an annotation processor that can read a Java program and take actions based on its annotations. It might, for example, generate auxiliary source code, relieving the programmer of having to create boilerplate code that always follows predictable patterns. To facilitate this task, release 5.0 of the JDK includes an annotation processing tool, called apt. In release 6 of the JDK, the functionality of apt is a standard part of the Java compiler.

To make annotation information available at runtime, the annotation type itself must be annotated with @Retention(RetentionPolicy.RUNTIME), as follows:

import java.lang.annotation.*; 

@interface AnnotationForRuntime {

   // Elements that give information
   // for runtime processing

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