Llogiq on stuff

A Java Inheritance Puzzler

Recently, Aaron Turon submitted RFC PR 1210 (rendered), which allows overlapping trait implementations. This would offer many of the benefits of an inheritance-based model, but alas! also shares some of the downsides.

The discussion prompted me to warn that people will misuse it to create code they can no longer understand. So I fully agree that having this feature would be great, but we should discourage people from using it unless they have good reason to.

I cited an example of a code snippet using inheritance that, despite being quite small, is hard to understand. Unfortunately, legal reasons forbid me from quoting it, so I created a slightly simplified version that should still demonstrate the problem.

Consider the following Java code:

class A {
	int x = 3;
	int a() { x++; return x + c(); } 
	int b() { return a(); }
	int c() { return x; }

class B extends A {
	@Override int a() { return super.a() + c(); }

class C extends B {
	@Override int b() { return a() * 3; }
	@Override int c() { return x + 1; }

This is only 15 lines of code, 2 of which are empty. The example has but 275 characters, of which 33 are annotations the code would compile without. Still, it takes some thought to reason about the code.

Can you tell what the result of new C().b() will be without running the code? How sure are you about the result? Note that while we do have some mutable state here, the example could also have been written using method arguments to the same effect.

As an aside, the original version of this was an exam question I once gave to more than 600 students (with 22 lines of code), of which only one was able to determine the correct result.