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The Decorator pattern

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by , 07-23-2011 at 02:42 PM (3335 Views)

the previous blog article talked a bit about the Visitor design pattern. This article talks a bit about additional functionality that is sometimes wanted, i.e. the functionality is optional. Assume there is a lot of optional functionality that people want.

This article discusses the Decorator (or 'Wrapper') pattern. For the sake of the example we'll use array manipulation. People always fiddle diddle with arrays, i.e. they copy values from one array to another, move elements around in arrays etc. etc. as if there were no Object Oriented programming.

Since the early days of Fortran people have been messing around with arrays and mutilating those poor processors that have to copy data over and over all the time.

Let's do something about it: The following interface is an abstraction of an array:

Java Code:
public interface Sequence<T> {
	public int length();
	public T get(int idx);
	public void set(T, int idx);
A Sequence has a length and we can get and set elements in a Sequence; nothing spectacular. Note that this interface is a generic interface: the Sequence manipulates elements of type 'T'.

Let's encapsulate a simple array:

Java Code:
public class ArraySequence<T> implements Sequence<T> {

	// the encapsulated array:
	private T[] array;

	// the constructor:
	public ArraySequence(T[] array) { this.array= array; }

	// interface implementation:
	public int length() { return array.length; }
	public T get(int idx) { return array[idx]; }
	public void set(T elem, int idx) { array[idx]= elem; }
Why build all that code for just a simple array? We could've used the array itself in the first place, so why all this complicated stuff? This is why: sometimes we want to manipulate arrays but we don't want to copy and move and swap all those elements over and over again: we build Decorators for it instead. The ArraySequence class does nothing special: it simply encapsulates an array for us. Let's build an abstract class from which we can easily build other concrete Sequence implementations:

Java Code:
public abstract class AbstractSequence<T> implements Sequence<T> {
	// another sequence:
	protected Sequence<T> seq;

	// an abstract method that gives us an index value:
	protected abstract int index(int idx);

	// the constructor:
	public AbstractSequence(Sequence<T> seq) { this.seq= seq; }

	// interface implementation:
	public int length() { return seq.length(); }
	public T get(int idx) { return seq.get(index(idx)); }
	public void set(T elem, int idx) { seq.set(elem, index(idx)); }
The class by itself can't do anything (it's abstract), but it gives us all the functionality we need for concrete Sequence implementations. The following Sequence treats all elements of a Sequence in reverse order:

Java Code:
public class ReverseSequence<T> extends AbstractSequence<T> {
	// implementation of index() method:
	protected int index(int idx) { return seq.length()-idx-1; }

	// the constructor:
	public ReverseSequence(Sequence<T> seq) { super(seq); }
You see no interface implementation in this class because everything already was implemented by the AbstractSequence; all that this class implements is the index() method which gives the additional functionality. Note that the encapsulated 'seq' Sequence is passed to the superclass in the constructor.

If you create a ReverseSequence, given another Sequence you can treat the other Sequence as if it were reversed (i.e. last element first and vice versa). The added functionality is implemented in the index() method. Here's a bit of code that shows how it's used:

Java Code:
	Integer[] a= { 0, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9 }
	Sequence rev= new ReverseSequence<Integer>(
				new ArraySequence<Integer>(a));
	for (int i= 0, n= rev.length(); i < n; i++)
		System.out.print(rev.get(i)+" ");
The output is: 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1 0

From the snippet above you can see why a Decorator is also named a Wrapper: the Sequence objects 'wrap' other Sequence objects (passed to the constructors). Also note from the snippet above that our code didn't touch the array directly anymore after we've wrapped it in a Sequence.

Here's another Sequence implementation: it puts the elements from the first part of the other Sequence interleaved with the elements from the last part of the sequence:

Java Code:
public class MergeSequence<T> extends AbstractSequence<T> {
	// implementation of index() method:
	protected int index(int idx) { 
		if ((idx&1) == 0) return idx/2; // idx is even
		return (seq.length()+idx)/2;    // idx is odd

	// the constructor:
	public MergeSequence(Sequence<T> seq) { super(seq); }
If you use the code snippet above but use a MergeSequence instead of a ReverseSequence the output will be: 0 5 1 6 2 7 3 8 4 9. I leave it up to you what the output will be if you wrap your original array in both an MergeSequence and a ReverseSequence as in:

Java Code:
Sequence magic= new MergeSequence<Integer>(
			new ReverseSequence<Integer>(
				new ArraySequence<Integer>(a)));
I also leave it up to you to figure out if it would make any difference if you'd used this wrapping order instead:

Java Code:
Sequence magic= new ReverseSequence<Integer>(
			new MergeSequence<Integer>(
				new ArraySequence<Integer>(a)));
Note that if you wanted to do what these two Wrappers do using just a simple array you have to play clever tricks and/or use temporary array(s) to hold the intermediate results.

Here's a bit more complicated Sequence: it catenates two other sequences as if they were just one bigger Sequence. We do have some work to do in the implementation of the interface methods for this class so we don't extend from the AbstractSequence. Here goes:

Java Code:
public class CatenateSequence<T> implements Sequence<T> {
	// the first and second Sequence:
	private Sequence<T> first, second;

	// little helper method:
	private boolean isFirst(int idx) { return idx < first.length(); }

	// implementation of index() method:
	private int index(int idx) { 
		if (isFirst(idx)) return idx;
		return idx-first.length();
	// the constructor:
	public CatenateSequence(Sequence<T> first, Sequence<T> second) {
		this.first = first;
		this.second= second;

	// interface implementation:
	public int length() { return first.length()+second.length(); }
	public T get(int idx) { 
		if (isFirst(idx)) return first.get(index(idx));
		return second.get(index(idx)); 
	public void set(T elem, int idx) {
		if (isFirst(idx)) first.set(elem, index(idx));
		else second.set(elem, index(idx));
The last piece of code shows how we can catenate three arrays together using the CatenateSequence Wrapper:

Java Code:
Integer[] a= { 0, 1, 2 };
Integer[] b= { 3, 4, 5 };
Integer[] c= { 6, 7, 8, 9 };
Sequence cat= new CatenateSequence<Integer>(
			new ArraySequence<Integer>(a),
			new CatenateSequence<Integer>(
				new ArraySequence<Integer>(b),
				new ArraySequence<Integer>(c)));
If you print this Sequence, the output again will be: 0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9.

Note that sneakily I used another design pattern too for the CatenateSequence class: the Composite pattern. But we'll talk in a next tip about that one.

Guess what a mess we can make if we wrap the CatenateSequence in the other Sequences again. Note that not a single array element is moved or copied. We add functionality at will by wrapping up a Sequence in another Sequence that implements the functionality for us. We can wrap Sequences in any order we want and thus we can accomplish any functionality we want. We now have three classes:

1: ReverseSequence
2: MergeSequence
3: CatenateSequence

If we had implemented any or all of those functionalities using separate classes we would've ended up with a big number of classes. Now we only have three of them which we can combine in any order we want and as many as we want. (I've excluded the ArraySequence class in the count because we always need it to encapsulate raw, simple arrays).

The Readers, Writers, InputStreams and OutputStreams in the Java core classes are implemented in a similar way: you wrap (or 'decorate') byte or character streams using all these wrappers. Each wrapper adds a bit of functionality if you need it.

kind regards,

go4soumya and ozzyman like this.

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Updated 07-23-2011 at 02:45 PM by JosAH

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  1. ozzyman's Avatar
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    This is a great lesson, thanks.
  2. CodeX Pro's Avatar
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    Fantastic post. Loved to read this. Thanks