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Effective Java! Use EnumMap instead of Ordinal Indexing

kylec32 profile image Kyle Carter ・2 min read

We again consider another special collection type that handles enums in an efficient manner. This time we consider EnumMaps. Let's consider some code that doesn't use an EnumMap and instead uses the ordinal built in function. As discussed in a previous chapter this is a function that should only be used by internal libraries and not by our code.

class PLant {

  final String name;
  final LifeCycle lifeCycle;

  Plant(String name, LifeCycle lifecycle) { = name;
    this.lifecycle = lifecycle;

  public String toString() {
    return name;

Now let's say we have a bunch of plants in our garden and we want to collect our plants together into groups of their lifecycles. To do this we create three sets and iterate through the garden and put the plants in the correct location.

// Using ordinal() to index into an array. Boo.
Set<Plant>[] plantsByLifecycle = (Set<Plant>[]) new Set[Plant.LifeCycle.values().length];

for (int i=0; i < plantsByLifeCycle.length; i++) {
  plantsByLifeCycle[i] = new HashSet<>();

for (Plant p : garden) {

for (int i = 0; i < plantsByLifeCycle.length; i++) {
  System.out.printf("%s: %s%n", Plant.LifeCycle.values()[i], plantsByLifeCycle[i]);

This code does work but it does have various problems. This code doesn't compile cleanly because arrays and generics aren't compatible with each other. This requires an unchecked cast. The indices also don't have any meaning so we have to come with our own ways of bringing back the values. The is also a disconnect on the simple int that is returned from the ordinal and what it actually means. This requires us to be very careful with this work. The one benefit we have is that this code is quite performant.

Now let's consider the EnumMap version of the same code:

Map<Plant.LifeCycle, Set<Plant>> plantsByLifeCycle = new EnumMap<>(Plant.LifeCycle.class);

for (Plant.LifeCycle lc : Plant.LifeCycle.values()) {
  plantsByLifeCycle.put(lc, new HashSet<>());

for (Plant p : garden) {


We see the benefits here. No unchecked exceptions, cleaner code, no need to label our own values, and, due to the fact of the optimized implementation, we still get great performance. We can even shorten this further by using streams.

System.out.println( -> p.lifeCycle, () -> new EnumMap<>(LifeCycle.class), toSet())));

This is much more terse and still quite understandable. Do not that we do need to use the Collectors.groupingBy implementation that allows including a mapFactory to have it create a EnumMap rather than the traditional Map implementation it would create.

While we can come up with more complex examples, and the book does, the above example is instructive enough to get the point. This again is a situation where there really is no benefit for not following this guidance. We get better type safety, equal performance, and more concise code.

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