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Thinking in Java
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Input and output

I/O libraries often use the abstraction of a stream, which represents any data source or sink as an object capable of producing or receiving pieces of data. The stream hides the details of what happens to the data inside the actual I/O device.

The Java library classes for I/O are divided by input and output, as you can see by looking at the class hierarchy in the JDK documentation. By inheritance, everything derived from the InputStream or Reader classes have basic methods called read( ) for reading a single byte or array of bytes. Likewise, everything derived from OutputStream or Writer classes have basic methods called write( ) for writing a single byte or array of bytes. However, you won’t generally use these methods; they exist so that other classes can use them—these other classes provide a more useful interface. Thus, you’ll rarely create your stream object by using a single class, but instead will layer multiple objects together to provide your desired functionality. The fact that you create more than one object to create a single resulting stream is the primary reason that Java’s stream library is confusing.

It’s helpful to categorize the classes by their functionality. In Java 1.0, the library designers started by deciding that all classes that had anything to do with input would be inherited from InputStream, and all classes that were associated with output would be inherited from OutputStream.
Thinking in Java
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   Reproduced courtesy of Bruce Eckel, MindView, Inc. Design by Interspire