and useful interfaces
The use of layered objects to dynamically and transparently add responsibilities to individual objects is referred to as the Decorator pattern. (Patterns are the subject of Thinking in Patterns (with Java) at www.BruceEckel.com.) The decorator pattern specifies that all objects that wrap around your initial object have the same interface. This makes the basic use of the decorators transparent—you send the same message to an object whether it has been decorated or not. This is the reason for the existence of the “filter” classes in the Java I/O library: The abstract “filter” class is the base class for all the decorators. (A decorator must have the same interface as the object it decorates, but the decorator can also extend the interface, which occurs in several of the “filter” classes).
Decorators are often used when simple subclassing results in a large number of classes in order to satisfy every possible combination that is needed—so many classes that it becomes impractical. The Java I/O library requires many different combinations of features, and this is the justification for using the decorator pattern. There is a drawback to the decorator pattern, however. Decorators give you much more flexibility while you’re writing a program (since you can easily mix and match attributes), but they add complexity to your code. The reason that the Java I/O library is awkward to use is that you must create many classes—the “core” I/O type plus all the decorators—in order to get the single I/O object that you want.
The classes that provide the decorator interface to control a particular InputStream or OutputStream are the FilterInputStream and FilterOutputStream, which don’t have very intuitive names. FilterInputStream and FilterOutputStream are derived from the base classes of the I/O library, InputStream and OutputStream, which is the key requirement of the decorator (so that it provides the common interface to all the objects that are being decorated).