Quiz yourself: The correct syntax of Java lambda parameters

Be sure to know the difference between identifiers and specifiers.

March 30, 2021 | Download a PDF of this article
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If you have worked on our quiz questions in the past, you know none of them is easy. They model the difficult questions from certification examinations. We write questions for the certification exams, and we intend that the same rules apply: Take words at their face value and trust that the questions are not intended to deceive you but to straightforwardly test your knowledge of the ins and outs of the language.

It’s time for a quiz about lambdas. Given the following functional interface:

interface ConverterFunction<T, U, R> {
  R apply(T t, U u);

And the following class fragment:

public class Converter {	
  String doConversion(ConverterFunction<String, Integer, String> f) {
    // … valid implementation here

Which lambda expression can be used as an inline parameter for the doConversion method? Choose one.


A. (a, Integer b) -> a.repeat(b)
B. (var a, var b) -> a.repeat(b)
C. (a, var b) -> a.repeat(b)
D. (a, b, c) -> { c = a.repeat(b); return c; }
E. (String a, int b) -> a.repeat(b)
F. None of the above

Answer. This question tests the syntax of lambda parameters, which is documented in Java Language Specification section 15.27.1, “Lambda parameters.”

The formal parameter list of a lambda can be empty, in which case the lambda has empty parentheses to the left of the arrow or is a comma-separated list. The items in the list may be simple identifiers, or they must be specifiers. The difference is that an identifier is a plain variable name, and a specifier contains additional information in the manner of a normal method formal parameter.

Like a local variable does, a specifier will contain a type indication, which could be an explicit Java type or might be the pseudotype var. A specifier can also carry certain modifiers, such as annotations or the keyword final.

In the cases of parameter lists containing identifiers and of those containing the pseudotype var, the types of the parameters are inferred.

The next detail is that the specification explicitly prohibits mixing identifiers with specifiers and mixing var with explicit types. In other words

  • If any of the parameters is a simple identifier, then all must be simple identifiers.
  • If any of the parameters uses var, then all must use var.
  • If any of the parameters uses explicit types, then all must use explicit types.

Based on this, you know that both options A and C are incorrect.

Option B presents a lambda with a correctly formed formal parameter list. The number of the parameters is also correct, and the types of a and b will be inferred to be String and Integer; thus the invocation of a.repeat(b) is valid.

Note that b will be automatically unboxed to become an int for the argument to the repeat method. Finally, the expression a.repeat(b) has type String, which is the required return type for the lambda. From this you can see that option B is correct (and by inference, you can determine that option F is incorrect).

In option D, the lambda declares three formal parameters, but the apply(...) method declared in the ConverterFunction interface requires two formal parameters. This means that the lambda is not a valid implementation of the interface and is not valid as the parameter to the doConversion method. From this it’s clear that option D is incorrect.

Option E looks promising because the formal parameter list is fully typed and declares the correct number of parameters. Also, the return type of the lambda expression is String, which is correct. However, this option also fails because the lambda’s second formal parameter is of type int. It should be Integer.

It’s tempting to think that autoboxing would fix this mismatch, but that’s not the case. Given that the type-sequence of the parameters differ, this would be an overloading method, not an overriding one. Autoboxing works as the call site but does not turn an overload into an override.

This is likely clearer if you consider the following situation:

interface I {
    void doIt(Integer i);
class C implements I {
    // compilation fails; doIt is overloaded, not an override
    public void doIt(int i) {}

You can see that option E presents a lambda that cannot be used as the parameter for the doConversion method and, therefore, option E is incorrect.

Note: The repeat(int n) method might be unfamiliar. This method was added to the String class in Java 11 and creates a String by repeating the invocation instance n times. It’s very convenient if you need, for example, to pad some string with spaces to some predefined length.

Conclusion: The correct answer is option B.

Mikalai Zaikin

Mikalai Zaikin is a lead Java developer at IBA IT Park in Minsk, Belarus. During his career, he has helped Oracle with development of Java certification exams, and he has been a technical reviewer of several Java certification books, including three editions of the famous Sun Certified Programmer for Java study guides by Kathy Sierra and Bert Bates.

Simon Roberts

Simon Roberts joined Sun Microsystems in time to teach Sun’s first Java classes in the UK. He created the Sun Certified Java Programmer and Sun Certified Java Developer exams. He wrote several Java certification guides and is currently a freelance educator who publishes recorded and live video training through Pearson InformIT (available direct and through the O’Reilly Safari Books Online service). He remains involved with Oracle’s Java certification projects.

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