Why aren't Java Collections remove methods generic?


remove() (in Map as well as in Collection) is not generic because you should be able to pass in any type of object to remove(). The object removed does not have to be the same type as the object that you pass in to remove(); it only requires that they be equal. From the specification of remove(), remove(o) removes the object e such that (o==null ? e==null : o.equals(e)) is true. Note that there is nothing requiring o and e to be the same type. This follows from the fact that the equals() method takes in an Object as parameter, not just the same type as the object.

Although, it may be commonly true that many classes have equals() defined so that its objects can only be equal to objects of its own class, that is certainly not always the case. For example, the specification for List.equals() says that two List objects are equal if they are both Lists and have the same contents, even if they are different implementations of List. So coming back to the example in this question, it is possible to have a Map<ArrayList, Something> and for me to call remove() with a LinkedList as argument, and it should remove the key which is a list with the same contents. This would not be possible if remove() were generic and restricted its argument type.


Why isn't Collection.remove(Object o) generic?

Seems like Collection<E> could have boolean remove(E o);

Then, when you accidentally try to remove (for example) Set<String> instead of each individual String from a Collection<String>, it would be a compile time error instead of a debugging problem later.

In addition to the other answers, there is another reason why the method should accept an Object, which is predicates. Consider the following sample:

class Person {
    public String name;
    // override equals()
class Employee extends Person {
    public String company;
    // override equals()
class Developer extends Employee {
    public int yearsOfExperience;
    // override equals()

class Test {
    public static void main(String[] args) {
        Collection<? extends Person> people = new ArrayList<Employee>();
        // ...

        // to remove the first employee with a specific name:
        people.remove(new Person(someName1));

        // to remove the first developer that matches some criteria:
        people.remove(new Developer(someName2, someCompany, 10));

        // to remove the first employee who is either
        // a developer or an employee of someCompany:
        people.remove(new Object() {
            public boolean equals(Object employee) {
                return employee instanceof Developer
                    || ((Employee) employee).company.equals(someCompany);

The point is that the object being passed to the remove method is responsible for defining the equals method. Building predicates becomes very simple this way.

I always figured this was because remove() has no reason to care what type of object you give it. It's easy enough, regardless, to check if that object is one of the ones the Collection contains, since it can call equals() on anything. It's necessary to check type on add() to ensure that it only contains objects of that type.

Another reason is because of interfaces. Here is an example to show it :

public interface A {}

public interface B {}

public class MyClass implements A, B {}

public static void main(String[] args) {
   Collection<A> collection = new ArrayList<>();
   MyClass item = new MyClass();
   collection.add(item);  // works fine
   B b = item; // valid
   collection.remove(b); /* It works because the remove method accepts an Object. If it was generic, this would not work */