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Thinking in Java
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The termination condition

In general, you can’t rely on finalize( ) being called, and you must create separate “cleanup” methods and call them explicitly. So it appears that finalize( ) is only useful for obscure memory cleanup that most programmers will never use. However, there is a very interesting use of finalize( ) that does not rely on it being called every time. This is the verification of the termination condition[23] of an object.

At the point that you’re no longer interested in an object—when it’s ready to be cleaned up—that object should be in a state whereby its memory can be safely released. For example, if the object represents an open file, that file should be closed by the programmer before the object is garbage collected. If any portions of the object are not properly cleaned up, then you have a bug in your program that could be very difficult to find. The value of finalize( ) is that it can be used to eventually discover this condition, even if it isn’t always called. If one of the finalizations happens to reveal the bug, then you discover the problem, which is all you really care about.

Here’s a simple example of how you might use it:

// Using finalize() to detect an object that
// hasn't been properly cleaned up.
import com.bruceeckel.simpletest.*;

class Book {
  boolean checkedOut = false;
  Book(boolean checkOut) {
    checkedOut = checkOut;
  void checkIn() {
    checkedOut = false;
  public void finalize() {
      System.out.println("Error: checked out");

public class TerminationCondition {
  static Test monitor = new Test();
  public static void main(String[] args) {
    Book novel = new Book(true);
    // Proper cleanup:
    // Drop the reference, forget to clean up:
    new Book(true);
    // Force garbage collection & finalization:
    monitor.expect(new String[] {
      "Error: checked out"}, Test.WAIT);
} ///:~

The termination condition is that all Book objects are supposed to be checked in before they are garbage collected, but in main( ), a programmer error doesn’t check in one of the books. Without finalize( ) to verify the termination condition, this could be a difficult bug to find.

Note that System.gc( ) is used to force finalization (and you should do this during program development to speed debugging). But even if it isn’t, it’s highly probable that the errant Book will eventually be discovered through repeated executions of the program (assuming the program allocates enough storage to cause the garbage collector to execute).
Thinking in Java
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   Reproduced courtesy of Bruce Eckel, MindView, Inc. Design by Interspire