“Null References: The Billion Dollar Mistake”

Null is clearly evil. We as human tend to forget to check null, and boom … crash!!! Documentation may help, but again we still forget reading documents. Worse, not all documents are correct and up-to-date 100%. Even if we remember to do every null check, our code would be very messy.

So what is the solution?

Checked-exceptions can help but must be used with care otherwise nearly every function/method in our programs could throw checked-exceptions, and try/catch statements would appear everywhere.

Unchecked-exceptions basically don’t solve the problem of null. But at least they are a bit better than null because they can carry descriptive messages and make programs crash exactly at exact locations (with null the crashes only happen when null is accessed afterward).

NullObject pattern can avoid crashing when we forget checking the returned object, but then we might forget it forever since no error is thrown at both compile-time and run-time. Moreover, in order to use NullObject pattern we have to change a class to an interface, sometimes such a change is not desired.

Recently, Optional has been emerged as a good alternative for null. In my opinion, this alternative still has the problem of checked-exceptions. If we aren’t careful, Optional could be everywhere in our code. A disadvantage of Optional is, to achieve clean code we have to learn Maybe monad, map, reduce, filter — these are very important concepts of Functional Programming. But when we grasp the concepts, it’s really great!


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