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Messy enum problem

KR Campbell
Ranch Hand

Joined: Mar 26, 2004
Posts: 124

I'm getting myself a bit tied up with enums. I have an enum with an int value and a String description which uses symbols:

However, what I want to do is find a clean way to return the value for a given descriptor. I can do it by wrapping the enum in a class with :

but now my nice clean type got all messy. Is there a cleaner approach?


Jim Yingst

Joined: Jan 30, 2000
Posts: 18671
Doesn't seem that messy to me. You talk about "wrapping the enum in a class" but that seems unnecessary - you can define the static field and method as part of the enum itself.

There is something similar to this already built into enums - the ability to look up values by name, using a String. E.g.

This build-in functionality is very similar to what you want, but it only works using the identifiers for the enum values you have defined - in Type above, that's "ABC", "DEF", "GHI". If you want this sort of easy lookup you can often choose your identifiers to match the existing strings you want to use for lookup. Except for things like "*&", "��", "^^" you can't do this, because those aren't legal Java identifiers. So, you've got to use a Map as a static field, just as you've done above.

"I'm not back." - Bill Harding, Twister
Tony Morris
Ranch Hand

Joined: Sep 24, 2003
Posts: 1608
Remove the mapping from your enum type to its own abstraction away from the enum. This is done with an interface that expresses the mapping operation in a method.

The "uncleanliness" that you are observing is called the object-oriented programming paradigm, which seems to have become linked with the notion of static type inheritance.

Simply, don't try to pile as many methods into a type as you can. Abstract atomic and unrelated behaviour.

Tony Morris
Java Q&A (FAQ, Trivia)
Ernest Friedman-Hill
author and iconoclast

Joined: Jul 08, 2003
Posts: 24189

Expanding on what Jim said: since just one instance of the Enum will be constructed for each value, you could add the values into the map in the constructor, eliminating the separate static block; i.e.,

map.put(descriptor, this);

[Jess in Action][AskingGoodQuestions]
Jim Yingst

Joined: Jan 30, 2000
Posts: 18671
Can't do that, actually. See JLS 8.9:
It is a compile-time error to reference a static field of an enum type that is not a compile-time constant (�15.28) from constructors, instance initializer blocks, or instance variable initializer expressions of that type. It is a compile-time error for the constructors, instance initializer blocks, or instance variable initializer expressions of an enum constant e to refer to itself or to an enum constant of the same type that is declared to the right of e.
(See also the discussion section which follows.) You can't reference a static field (the Map, in this case) from an enum constructor, since it hasn't been initialized yet. I suppose they could have allowed this to work if the static field were allowed to be declared before the enum values, but that would've muddied up the enum definition, and still been error prone, I think. Unless the compiler were to force the correct ordering of the declarations. They didn't do that though, so the short answer is, we can't reference a static field in an enum constructor - that's why I used the static block.
[ April 03, 2006: Message edited by: Jim Yingst ]
Consider Paul's rocket mass heater.
subject: Messy enum problem