Creating a good input/output (I/O) system is one of the more difficult tasks for the language designer.
This is evidenced by the number of different approaches. The challenge seems to be in covering all eventualities. Not only are there different sources and sinks of I/O that you want to communicate with (files, the console, network connections, etc.), but you need to talk to them in a wide variety of ways (sequential, random-access, buffered, binary, character, by lines, by words, etc.).
The Java library designers attacked this problem by creating lots of classes. In fact, there are so many classes for Java’s I/O system that it can be intimidating at first (ironically, the Java I/O design actually prevents an explosion of classes). There was also a significant change in the I/O library after Java 1.0, when the original byte-oriented library was supplemented with char-oriented, Unicode-based I/O classes. In JDK 1.4, the nio classes (for “new I/O,” a name we’ll still be using years from now) were added for improved performance and functionality. As a result, there are a fair number of classes to learn before you understand enough of Java’s I/O picture that you can use it properly. In addition, it’s rather important to understand the evolution history of the I/O library, even if your first reaction is “don’t bother me with history, just show me how to use it!” The problem is that without the historical perspective, you will rapidly become confused with some of the classes and when you should and shouldn’t use them.
This chapter will give you an introduction to the variety of I/O classes in the standard Java library and how to use them.
The File class
Before getting into the classes that actually read and write data to streams, we’ll look at a utility provided with the library to assist you in handling file directory issues.
The File class has a deceiving name; you might think it refers to a file, but it doesn’t. It can represent either the name of a particular file or the names of a set of files in a directory. If it’s a set of files, you can ask for that set using the list( ) method, which returns an array of String. It makes sense to return an array rather than one of the flexible container classes, because the number of elements is fixed, and if you want a different directory listing, you just create a different File object. In fact, “FilePath” would have been a better name for the class. This section shows an example of the use of this class, including the associated FilenameFilter interface.