Java - Collection Interfaces and Implementations

[Updated: Jul 2, 2017, Created: Apr 20, 2016]

This is a quick walk-through tutorial of Java Collections interfaces and their implementations.

Collection Interfaces

Collection Operations

It's good to know what methods each interface offer:

Note Set doesn't have get(int index) method because no order is maintained with Set so elements don't have fixed index.

Collection Implementations

Data Structure
 Performance (Big O

List Array of objects.
A new array is created and populated whenever elements are added beyond the current length (capacity) of the underlying array.
add(E element) method: O(1) amortized. That is, adding n elements within capacity: constant time O(1).
Adding an element beyond capacity: O(n) times.
It's better to specify initial capacity at construction if known.

remove(int index): O(n - index), removing last is O(1).
All other operations including get(int index) run in linear time O(1) .
The constant factor of O(1) is low compared to that for the LinkedList implementation.

Doubly-linked list. Each element has memory addresses of the previous and next item used internally. get(int index), remove(int index): O(n)
add(E element) and others: Constant time O(1).

List Array of objects. Similar to ArrayList Similar to ArrayList but slower because of synchronization.
extends Vector
List Array of objects. LIFO (Last in first out).
It provides addition methods empty(), peek(), pop(), push(E e) and search(Object o)
Similar to Vector/ArrayList but slower because of synchronisation.

Set Backed by HashMap (a Hash table data structure). Elements of the set are populated as key of the HashMap. Allows at most one null. add, remove, contains, size: O(1)
Iteration: O(n + capacity). Better don't set initial capacity (size of backing hasMap) too high or load factor too low if iteration is frequently used.

Set Backed by LinkedHashMap where elements of this LinkedHashSet are populated as key of the Map. Maintains elements in insertion order. Allows at most one null. add, remove, contains, size: O(1)
Iteration: O(n), slightly slow that of HashSet, due to maintaining the linked list.

NavigableSet Backed by TreeMap (a red-black tree data structure). The elements of this set are populated as key of the Map. Doesn't permit null. add, remove, contains: O(log n)
Iteration: O(n) slower than HashSet.

Set Bit vectors
All of the elements must come from a single enum type.
All methods: O(1). Very efficient

Queue Binary Heap
Elements are ordered to their natural ordering or by a provided Comparator.
offer, poll, remove() and add: O(log n)
remove(Object), contains(Object) O(n)
peek, element, and size: O(1)

Dequeue Resizable-array (similar to ArrayList).
Nulls not permitted.
remove, removeFirstOccurrence, removeLastOccurrence, contains, iterator.remove(), and the bulk operations: O(n)
All other operations O(1) amortized

Making a Decision in choosing a Collection

Making a decision regarding choosing a Queue implementation is quite straight forward and is not relevant in above diagram. Whenever we need to hold elements prior to processing and just need the method remove() to get and remove elements at the same time we are going to use queues. Also there's no index based operation to be performed when using queues. If we want to order queue elements in some order then use PriorityQueue, otherwise use ArrayDeque.

EnumSet is also very straight forward i.e. whenever we want to hold certain elements of an enum we will use it. We can also use other collections for the same purpose but remember EnumSet is very very efficient comparatively.


It's not recommended to use legacy collections. One advantage of using them might seem to be that they are synchronized. java.util.Collections provides methods to wrap any collection around a new collection which is synchronized. These methods are:
Collection<T> synchronizedCollection(Collection<T> c)
Set<T> synchronizedSet(Set<T> s)
SortedSet<T> synchronizedSortedSet(SortedSet<T> s)
NavigableSet<T> synchronizedNavigableSet(NavigableSet<T> s)
List<T> synchronizedList(List<T> list)

Read Only Collections

java.util.Collections provides methods to wrap any collection and return a new Collection which are read only. Attempts to modify (calling mutative methods), directly or via iterators will cause UnsupportedOperationException. Followings are the methods:
Collection<T> unmodifiableCollection(Collection<T> c)
Set<T> unmodifiableSet(Set<T> s)
SortedSet<T> unmodifiableSortedSet(SortedSet<T> s)
NavigableSet<T> unmodifiableNavigableSet(NavigableSet<T> s)
List<T> unmodifiableList(List<T> list)

In next topics we will explore concurrent collections and then maps.

See Also