[records] Ancillary fields

Brian Goetz brian.goetz at oracle.com
Wed Apr 18 17:58:31 UTC 2018

Seeing no dissent on the claim that the essential use case for ancillary 
fields is caching derived properties, let me talk about how I would like 
to handle this: lazy (final) fields.

For background, this is something we've been exploring for a long time 
(see for example 
http://cr.openjdk.java.net/~jrose/draft/lazy-final.html), but this is 
also something that we can do in the context of the language if we're 
willing to relax the requirements a bit.

The basic idea is that we can describe fields as `lazy` (either static 
or instance fields), with an initializer, which are implicitly `final`, 
and have the compiler rewrite reads of those fields to do a lazy 
initialization instead.  For static fields, we can use ConstantDynamic 
and get lazy initialization for free; for instance fields, we have to do 
a little more work (CASes, fences), but the game is the same.

This is useful well beyond records.  For example, classes like `String` 
cache a lazily computed has code; these classes could just do

     private int cacheHash = computeHashCode();

     public int hashCode() { return cacheHash; }

It's also useful for frequently used static fields:

     private lazy Logger logger = Logger.of("com.foo.bar");

Much lazy initialization code is error-prone, so this would eliminate 
those errors; its also tempting to avoid lazy initialization where it 
might be marginally useful.  (Static initializers are also one of the 
big pain points in AOT; this eliminates many static initializers.)

What does this have to do with records?  Well, if the goal is to cache 
lazily computed values derived from the state, then lazy fields would 
give us that without opening up to the full generality of ancillary 
fields.  We'd then say that records can only have additional _lazy_ 
instance fields.

(Sometimes lazy fields are cast in the opposite direction -- cached 
methods rather than lazy fields.  There are an obvious set of tradeoffs 
for how to structure it, but neither is strictly more powerful than the 

On 4/13/2018 1:15 PM, Kevin Bourrillion wrote:
> As one of the voices demanding we allow ancillary fields, I can 
> confirm that I had only these derived-state use cases in mind. I don't 
> see anything else as legitimate. That is, I think that the semantic 
> invariants you're trying to preserve for records are worth fighting 
> for, and additional /non-derived/ state would violate them.
> On Fri, Apr 13, 2018 at 9:46 AM, Brian Goetz <brian.goetz at oracle.com 
> <mailto:brian.goetz at oracle.com>> wrote:
>     Let's see if we can make some progress on the elephant in the room
>     -- ancillary fields.  Several have expressed the concern that
>     without the ability to declare some additional instance state, the
>     feature will be too limited.
>     The argument in favor of additional fields is the obvious one;
>     more classes can be records.  And there are some arguably valid
>     use cases for additional fields that don't conflict with the
>     design center for records.  The best example is derived state:
>      - When a field is a cached property derived from the record state
>     (such as how String caches its hashCode)
>     Arguably, if a field is derived deterministically from immutable
>     record state, then it is not creating any new record state.  This
>     surely seems within the circle.
>     The argument against is more of a slippery-slope one; I believe
>     developers would like to view this feature through the lens of
>     syntactic boilerplate, rather than through semantics.  If we let
>     them, they would surely and routinely do the following:
>         record A(int a, int b) {
>             private int c;
>             public A(int a, int b, int c) {
>                 this(a, b);
>                 this.c = c;
>             }
>             public boolean equals(Object other) {
>                 return default.equals(other) && ((A) other).c == c;
>             }
>         }
>     Here, `c` is surely part of the state of `A`.  And, they wouldn't
>     even know what they'd lost; they would just assume records are a
>     way of "kickstarting" a class declaration with some public fields,
>     and then you can mix in whatever private state you want.
>     Why is this bad?  While "reduced-boilerplate classes" is a valid
>     feature idea, our design goal for records is much more than that.
>     The semantic constraints on records are valuable because they
>     yield useful invariants; that they are "just" their state vector,
>     that they can be freely taken apart and put back together with no
>     loss of information, and hence can be freely serialized/marshaled
>     to JSON and back, etc.
>     We currently prohibit records like `A` via a number of
>     restrictions: no additional fields, no override of equals. We
>     don't need all of these restrictions to achieve the desired goal,
>     but we also can't relax them all without opening the gate.  So we
>     should decide carefully which we want to relax, as making the
>     wrong choice constrains us in the future.
>     Before I dive into details of how we might extend records to
>     support the case of "cached derived state", I'd like to first come
>     to some agreement that this covers the use cases that we think
>     fall into the "legitimate" uses of additional fields.
>     On 3/16/2018 2:55 PM, Brian Goetz wrote:
>         There are a number of potentially open details on the design
>         for records.  My inclination is to start with the simplest
>         thing that preserves the flexibility and expectations we want,
>         and consider opening up later as necessary.
>         One of the biggest issues, which Kevin raised as a
>         must-address issue, is having sufficient support for
>         precondition validation. Without foreclosing on the ability to
>         do more later with declarative guards, I think the recent
>         construction proposal meets the requirement for lightweight
>         enforcement with minimal or no duplication. I'm hopeful that
>         this bit is "there".
>         Our goal all along has been to define records as being “just
>         macros” for a finer-grained set of features.  Some of these
>         are motivated by boilerplate; some are motivated by semantics
>         (coupling semantics of API elements to state.)  In general,
>         records will get there first, and then ordinary classes will
>         get the more general feature, but the default answer for "can
>         you relax records, so I can use it in this case that almost
>         but doesn't quite fit" should be "no, but there will probably
>         be a feature coming that makes that class simpler, wait for that."
>         Some other open issues (please see my writeup at
>         http://cr.openjdk.java.net/~briangoetz/amber/datum.html
>         <http://cr.openjdk.java.net/%7Ebriangoetz/amber/datum.html>
>         for reference), and my current thoughts on these, are outlined
>         below. Comments welcome!
>          - Extension.  The proposal outlines a notion of abstract
>         record, which provides a "width subtyped" hierarchy.  Some
>         have questioned whether this carries its weight, especially
>         given how Scala doesn't support case-to-case extension (some
>         see this as a bug, others as an existence proof.)  Records can
>         implement interfaces.
>          - Concrete records are final.  Relaxing this adds complexity
>         to the equality story; I'm not seeing good reasons to do so.
>          - Additional constructors.  I don't see any reason why
>         additional constructors are problematic, especially if they
>         are constrained to delegate to the default constructor (which
>         in turn is made far simpler if there can be statements ahead
>         of the this() call.) Users may find the lack of additional
>         constructors to be an arbitrary limitation (and they'd
>         probably be right.)
>          - Static fields.  Static fields seem harmless.
>          - Additional instance fields.  These are a much bigger
>         concern. While the primary arguments against them are of the
>         "slippery slope" variety, I still have deep misgivings about
>         supporting unrestricted non-principal instance fields, and I
>         also haven't found a reasonable set of restrictions that makes
>         this less risky.  I'd like to keep looking for a better story
>         here, before just caving on this, as I worry doing so will end
>         up biting us in the back.
>          - Mutability and accessibility.  I'd like to propose an odd
>         choice here, which is: fields are final and package (protected
>         for abstract records) by default, but finality can be
>         explicitly opted out of (non-final) and accessibility can be
>         explicitly widened (public).
>          - Accessors.  Perhaps the most controversial aspect is that
>         records are inherently transparent to read; if something wants
>         to truly encapsulate state, it's not a record.  Records will
>         eventually have pattern deconstructors, which will expose
>         their state, so we should go out of the gate with the
>         equivalent.  The obvious choice is to expose read accessors
>         automatically. (These will not be named getXxx; we are not
>         burning the ill-advised Javabean naming conventions into the
>         language, no matter how much people think it already is.)  The
>         obvious naming choice for these accessors is fieldName(). No
>         provision for write accessors; that's bring-your-own.
>          - Core methods.  Records will get equals, hashCode, and
>         toString.  There's a good argument for making equals/hashCode
>         final (so they can't be explicitly redeclared); this gives us
>         stronger preservation of the data invariants that allow us to
>         safely and mechanically snapshot / serialize / marshal (we'd
>         definitely want this if we ever allowed additional instance
>         fields.)  No reason to suppress override of toString, though.
>         Records could be safely made cloneable() with automatic
>         support too (like arrays), but not clear if this is worth it
>         (its darn useful for arrays, though.)  I think the
>         auto-generated getters should be final too; this leaves arrays
>         as second-class components, but I am not sure that bothers me.
> -- 
> Kevin Bourrillion | Java Librarian | Google, Inc. |kevinb at google.com 
> <mailto:kevinb at google.com>

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