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017bSwitching on Object Handles (Follow-Up)

Author: Dr. Heinz M. KabutzDate: 2001-04-28Java Version: 1.1Category: Language

Abstract: A quick follow-up to our newsletter on abusing exceptions to simulate the switch construct, looking at the performance in comparison to other approaches.


As expected, I received interesting comments as a result of my last newsletter, and more is sure to follow after the long weekend.

Here some comments from someone at EnterpriseDeveloper, makers of the excellent JCertify product for practicing for the SUN Certified Java Programmer Examination:

OK abestos suit man,

I'm more concerned about the encouragement of using exceptions to modify/implement regular program flow.

I just picked up some code from another group where they were doing Exceptions to break out of Whiles, For's, thowing exceptions as a kind of break, ... Not only is it a performance hit, it makes for really "nasty" code.

Perhaps you can put a summary statement on your next issue reminding people that Exceptions are not meant to be used as Loop control / Loop Control flow enhancement. I could see someone putting your switch idea inside a BIG For loop - say a list of 1,000 items, and causing 1,000 exceptions.

Very interesting reading - I always like "pushing the envelope", I'm just somewhat concerned about the influence to those "more dangerous" with such an idea. There is an interpretation among those newer to Java that Exception Handling is good for general Program Flow enhancement ( Loop breaking, break statement replacement, throwing Exceptions within a repeating loop,

Exceptions are very much abused by those coming from the C world, or non OO people coming from C++

My Response

I did some tests and found that the performance wasn't that bad, it was actually better than a list of if-instanceof-elses. Note that I am specifically not constructing a new exception, and the construction of exceptions is what takes the time, as far as I know.

Throwing exceptions to change program flow is VERY bad, I agree 100%. I am intending on sending a follow-up to yesterdays newsletter in which I warn again that you shouldn't do this. Perhaps one of the "dangerous" will say: but I've been doing that for a long time...

His Response

There is some degradation to being in a Try / Catch block, but nothing compared to the creation of an Exception. What do you mean by "Not that Bad" - less than 5% degradation ( tight loop )?

*YOU* may not be creating exceptions when using this, and you are probably interpreting it as "I am only condoning the use of this particular set of lines of code". It may encourage *OTHERS* to continue, or even expand, bad Exception Handling practices. They won't know about the performance cost, and they won't understand this could get "nasty" really fast by extending this concept to other programming practices ( and adding REAL Exceptions ).

But I still like the "pushing the envelope" aspect of that code.

In addition, I've included code for a TransactionType class that has a type id int which can be used in a switch statement. This is not as safe, but "cleaner" to use instead of abusing try. I also included a test for multiple if-instanceof-else which turned out slower, and lastly an implementation of using the strategy pattern, which was the fastest of all.

public class TransactionType extends Throwable {
  private static int counter = 0;
  private final int id = counter++;
  public final int getId() { return id; }
  private final String name;
  private TransactionType(String name) { = name;
  public String toString() { return name; }
  public static class None extends TransactionType {
    public static final TransactionType type = new None();
    private None() { super("None"); }
  public static class ReadUncommitted extends TransactionType {
    public static final TransactionType type =
      new ReadUncommitted();
    private ReadUncommitted() { super("ReadUncommitted"); }
  public static class ReadCommitted extends TransactionType {
    public static final TransactionType type =
      new ReadCommitted();
    private ReadCommitted() { super("ReadCommitted"); }
  public static class RepeatableRead extends TransactionType {
    public static final TransactionType type =
      new RepeatableRead();
    private RepeatableRead() { super("RepeatableRead"); }
  public static class Serializable extends TransactionType {
    public static final TransactionType type =
      new Serializable();
    private Serializable() { super("Serializable"); }

Now we have a performance test which investigates the various options. Fortunately, the fastest was using Polymorphism and the Strategy design pattern, as I had hoped.

import TransactionType.*;
public class Performance {
  public static void switchOnObject(TransactionType transact) {
    try {
      throw transact;
    } catch(TransactionType.None type) {
    } catch(ReadUncommitted type) {
    } catch(ReadCommitted type) {
    } catch(RepeatableRead type) {
    } catch(TransactionType type) {
  public static void switchOnInt(TransactionType transact) {
    switch(transact.getId()) {
    case 0: break;
    case 1: break;
    case 2: break;
    case 3: break;
    case 4: break;
    default: break;
  public static void switchInstanceof(TransactionType transact) {
    if (transact instanceof None) {
    } else if (transact instanceof ReadUncommitted) {
    } else if (transact instanceof ReadCommitted) {
    } else if (transact instanceof RepeatableRead) {
  public abstract static class TransactionTypeStrategy {
    public abstract void doSomething();
  public static class RepeatableReadStrategy extends
      TransactionTypeStrategy {
    public void doSomething() {}
  public static void main(String[] args) {
    long time = -System.currentTimeMillis();
    for (int i=0; i<1000000; i++) {
    time += System.currentTimeMillis();
    System.out.println("Switching 1000000 times on objects " +
      time + "ms");

    time = -System.currentTimeMillis();
    for (int i=0; i<1000000; i++) {
    time += System.currentTimeMillis();
    System.out.println("Switching 1000000 times on ints " +
      time + "ms");

    time = -System.currentTimeMillis();
    for (int i=0; i<1000000; i++) {
    time += System.currentTimeMillis();
    System.out.println("Switching 1000000 times using " +
      "instanceofs " + time + "ms");

    time = -System.currentTimeMillis();
    TransactionTypeStrategy strategy =
      new RepeatableReadStrategy();
    for (int i=0; i<1000000; i++) {
    time += System.currentTimeMillis();
    System.out.println("Switching 1000000 times using " +
      "Strategy Polymorphism pattern " + time + "ms");

Result on my notebook:

Switching 1000000 times on objects 481ms
Switching 1000000 times on ints 40ms
Switching 1000000 times using instanceofs 1012ms
Switching 1000000 times using Strategy Polymorphism pattern 30ms

So, for those where it's not clear yet, please don't use exceptions for ANYTHING except error handling. Don't use them to jump out of loops, do switch statements, or find out what methods you were called from.

Incidentally, in one of my first newsletters (004), I mentioned that I would like to be able to get a stack trace without having to construct an exception. So far, no-one has come up with a solution, but I've found a way which *might* work using JNI.

Regards, until next week...




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