Sort it out

Processing Data with Java SE 8 Streams, Part 1


Raoul-Gabriel Urma shows you how to use steam operations to express sophisticated data processing queries.

Use stream operations to express sophisticated data
processing queries.

What would you do without collections? Nearly every Java
application makes and processescollections.
They are fundamental to many programming tasks: they let you group
and process data. For example, you might want to create a
collection of banking transactions to represent a customer’s
statement. Then, you might want to process the whole collection to
find out how much money the customer spent. Despite their
importance, processing collections is far from perfect in Java.

First, typical processing patterns on collections are similar to
SQL-like operations such as “finding” (for example, find the
transaction with highest value) or “grouping” (for example, group
all transactions related to grocery shopping). Most databases let
you specify such operations declaratively. For example, the
following SQL query lets you find the transaction ID with the
highest value: "SELECT id, MAX(value) from

As you can see, we don’t need to
implement how to calculate the maximum value
(for example, using loops and a variable to track the highest
value). We only express what we expect. This
basic idea means that you need to worry less about how to
explicitly implement such queries—it is handled for you. Why can’t
we do something similar with collections? How many times do you
find yourself reimplementing these operations using loops over and
over again?

Second, how can we process really large collections efficiently?
Ideally, to speed up the processing, you want to leverage multicore
architectures. However, writing parallel code is hard and

Here’s a mind-blowing idea: these two
operations can produce elements “forever.”


Java SE 8 to the rescue! The Java API designers are updating the
API with a new abstraction called Stream that
lets you process data in a declarative way. Furthermore, streams
can leverage multi-core architectures without you having to write a
single line of multithread code. Sounds good, doesn’t it? That’s
what this series of articles will explore.

Before we explore in detail what you can do with streams, let’s
take a look at an example so you have a sense of the new
programming style with Java SE 8 streams. Let’s say we need to find
all transactions of typegrocery and return a list
of transaction IDs sorted in decreasing order of transaction value.
In Java SE 7, we’d do that as shown inListing 1.
In Java SE 8, we’d do it as shown in Listing

List<Transaction> groceryTransactions = new Arraylist<>();
for(Transaction t: transactions){
  if(t.getType() == Transaction.GROCERY){
Collections.sort(groceryTransactions, new Comparator(){
  public int compare(Transaction t1, Transaction t2){
    return t2.getValue().compareTo(t1.getValue());
List<Integer> transactionIds = new ArrayList<>();
for(Transaction t: groceryTransactions){

Listing 1

List<Integer> transactionsIds =
                .filter(t -> t.getType() == Transaction.GROCERY)

Listing 2

Figure 1 illustrates the Java SE 8 code.
First, we obtain a stream from the list of transactions (the data)
using the stream() method available
on List. Next, several operations
are chained together to form a pipeline, which can be seen as
forming a query on the data.


Figure 1

So how about parallelizing the code? In Java SE 8 it’s easy: just
replace stream() with parallel
, as shown in Listing 3, and
the Streams API will internally decompose your query to leverage
the multiple cores on your computer.

List<Integer> transactionsIds = 
                .filter(t -> t.getType() == Transaction.GROCERY)

Listing 3

Don’t worry if this code is slightly overwhelming. We will
explore how it works in the next sections. However, notice the use
of lambda expressions (for example, t->
t.getCategory() == Transaction.GROCERY
) and method
references (for example,Transaction::getId), which you
should be familiar with by now. (To brush up on lambda expressions,
refer to previous Java Magazine articles and
other resources listed at the end of this article.)

For now, you can see a stream as an abstraction for expressing
efficient, SQL-like operations on a collection of data. In
addition, these operations can be succinctly parameterized with
lambda expressions.

At the end of this series of articles about Java SE 8 streams,
you will be able to use the Streams API to write code similar
to Listing 3 to express powerful

Getting Started with Streams

Let’s start with a bit of theory. What’s the definition of a
stream? A short definition is “a sequence of elements from a source
that supports aggregate operations.” Let’s break it down: 

  • Sequence of elements: A stream provides
    an interface to a sequenced set of values of a specific element
    type. However, streams don’t actually store elements; they are
    computed on demand.
  • Source: Streams consume from a
    data-providing source such as collections, arrays, or I/O
  • Aggregate operations: Streams support
    SQL-like operations and common operations from functional
    programing languages, such
    as filtermapreducefindmatchsorted,
    and so on. 

Furthermore, stream operations have two fundamental
characteristics that make them very different from collection

  • Pipelining: Many stream operations return
    a stream themselves. This allows operations to be chained to form a
    larger pipeline. This enables certain optimizations, such
    as laziness and short-circuiting,
    which we explore later.
  • Internal iteration: In contrast to
    collections, which are iterated explicitly (external
    ), stream operations do the iteration behind the
    scenes for you. 

Let’s revisit our earlier code example to explain these
ideas. Figure
 illustrates Listing 2 in
more detail.


Figure 2

We first get a stream from the list of transactions by calling
the stream() method. The datasource is the
list of transactions and will be providing a sequence of elements
to the stream. Next, we apply a series of aggregate operations on
the stream: filter (to filter elements given
a predicate), sorted (to sort the elements
given a comparator), and map (to extract
information). All these operations
except collect return
Stream so they can be chained to form a
pipeline, which can be viewed as a query on the source.

No work is actually done until collect is
invoked. The collect operation will start
processing the pipeline to return a result (something that is not
Stream; here, a List). Don’t
worry about collect for now; we will explore
it in detail in a future article. At the moment, you can
see collect as an operation that takes as an
argument various recipes for accumulating the elements of a stream
into a summary result.
Here, toList() describes a recipe for
converting a Stream into

Before we explore the different methods available on a stream,
it is good to pause and reflect on the conceptual difference
between a stream and a collection.

Streams Versus Collections

Both the existing Java notion of collections and the new notion
of streams provide interfaces to a sequence of elements. So what’s
the difference? In a nutshell, collections are about data and
streams are about computations.

Consider a movie stored on a DVD. This is a collection (perhaps
of bytes or perhaps of frames—we don’t care which here) because it
contains the whole data structure. Now consider watching the same
video when it is being streamed over the internet. It is now a
stream (of bytes or frames). The streaming video player needs to
have downloaded only a few frames in advance of where the user is
watching, so you can start displaying values from the beginning of
the stream before most of the values in the stream have even been
computed (consider streaming a live football game).

In the coarsest terms, the difference between collections and
streams has to do with when things are computed.
A collection is an in-memory data structure, which holds all the
values that the data structure currently has—every element in the
collection has to be computed before it can be added to the
collection. In contrast, a stream is a conceptually fixed data
structure in which elements are computed on demand.

Using the Collection interface requires
iteration to be done by the user (for example, using the
enhanced for loop
called foreach); this is called external

In contrast, the Streams library uses internal iteration—it does
the iteration for you and takes care of storing the resulting
stream value somewhere; you merely provide a function saying what’s
to be done. The code in Listing
 (external iteration with a collection)
andListing 5 (internal iteration with a
stream) illustrates this difference.

List<String> transactionIds = new ArrayList<>(); 
for(Transaction t: transactions){

Listing 4

List<Integer> transactionIds =

Listing 5

In Listing 4, we explicitly iterate the
list of transactions sequentially to extract each transaction ID
and add it to an accumulator. In contrast, when using a stream,
there’s no explicit iteration. The code in Listing
 builds a query, where
the map operation is parameterized to
extract the transaction IDs and
the collect operation converts the
resulting Stream into

You should now have a good idea of what a stream is and what you
can do with it. Let’s now look at the different operations
supported by streams so you can express your own data processing

Stream Operations: Exploiting Streams to Process Data

The Stream interface
in java.util .stream.Stream defines many
operations, which can be grouped in two categories. In the example
illustrated in Figure 1, you can see the
following operations: 

  • filtersorted,
    and map, which can be connected together to form
    a pipeline
  • collect, which closed the pipeline and returned a

Stream operations that can be connected are
called intermediate operations. They can be connected
together because their return type is a Stream.
Operations that close a stream pipeline are
called terminal operations. They produce a result
from a pipeline such as aList,
an Integer, or
even void (any
non-Stream type).

You might be wondering why the distinction is important. Well,
intermediate operations do not perform any processing until a
terminal operation is invoked on the stream pipeline; they are
“lazy.” This is because intermediate operations can usually be
“merged” and processed into a single pass by the terminal

List<Integer> numbers = Arrays.asList(1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8);
List<Integer> twoEvenSquares =
           .filter(n -> {
                    System.out.println("filtering " + n); 
                    return n % 2 == 0;
           .map(n -> {
                    System.out.println("mapping " + n);
                    return n * n;

Listing 6

For example, consider the code in Listing
, which computes two even square numbers from a given
list of numbers. You might be surprised that it prints the

filtering 1
filtering 2
mapping 2
filtering 3
filtering 4
mapping 4


This is
because limit(2) uses short-circuiting;
we need to process only part of the stream, not all of it, to
return a result. This is similar to evaluating a large Boolean
expression chained with the and operator: as
soon as one expression returns false, we can
deduce that the whole expression
is false without evaluating all of it. Here,
the operation limit returns a stream of
size 2

The Streams API will internally decompose your
query to leverage the multiple cores on your computer.


In addition, the
operations filter and map have
been merged in the same pass.

To summarize what we’ve learned so far, working with streams, in
general, involves three things: 

  • A datasource (such as a collection) on which to perform a
  • A chain of intermediate operations, which form a stream
  • One terminal operation, which executes the stream pipeline and
    produces a result 

Let’s now take a tour of some of the operations available on
streams. Refer to the java.util
 interface for the complete list, as well
as to the resources at the end of this article for more

Filtering. There are several operations
that can be used to filter elements from a stream: 

  • filter(Predicate): Takes a predicate
    (java.util.function.Predicate) as an argument and
    returns a stream including all elements that match the given
  • distinct: Returns a stream with unique elements
    (according to the implementation
    of equals for a stream element)
  • limit(n): Returns a stream that is no longer than
    the given size n
  • skip(n): Returns a stream with the first n number
    of elements discarded 

Finding and matching. A common data
processing pattern is determining whether some elements match a
given property. You can use
the anyMatchallMatch,
and noneMatch operations to help you do
this. They all take a predicate as an argument and return
aboolean as the result (they are, therefore,
terminal operations). For example, you can
use allMatch to check that all elements in a
stream of transactions have a value higher than 100, as shown
in Listing 7.

boolean expensive =
                .allMatch(t -> t.getValue() > 100);

Listing 7

In addition, the Stream interface
provides the
operations findFirst and findAny for
retrieving arbitrary elements from a stream. They can be used in
conjunction with other stream operations such
as filter.
Both findFirst and findAny return
an Optional object, as shown
in Listing 8.

Optional<Transaction> =
                .filter(t -> t.getType() == Transaction.GROCERY)

Listing 8

The Optional<T> class
(java.util .Optional) is a container class to
represent the existence or absence of a value.
In Listing 8, it is possible
that findAny doesn’t find any transaction of
type grocery.
The Optional class contains several methods
to test the existence of an element. For example, if a transaction
is present, we can choose to apply an operation on the optional
object by using theifPresent method, as shown
in Listing 9 (where we just print the
              .filter(t -> t.getType() == Transaction.GROCERY)

Listing 9

Mapping. Streams support the
method map, which takes a function
(java.util.function.Function) as an argument to
project the elements of a stream into another form. The function is
applied to each element, “mapping” it into a new element.

For example, you might want to use it to extract information
from each element of a stream. In the example
in Listing 10, we return a list of the length
of each word from a list. Reducing. So
far, the terminal operations we’ve seen return
boolean (allMatch and so
on),void (forEach), or
an Optional object
(findAny and so on). We have also been
using collect to combine all elements in
Streaminto a List.

List<String> words = Arrays.asList("Oracle", "Java", "Magazine");
 List<Integer> wordLengths =

Listing 10

However, you can also combine all elements in a stream to
formulate more-complicated process queries, such as “what is the
transaction with the highest ID?” or “calculate the sum of all
transactions’ values.” This is possible using
the reduce operation on streams, which
repeatedly applies an operation (for example, adding two numbers)
on each element until a result is produced. It’s often called
fold operation in functional programming
because you can view this operation as “folding” repeatedly a long
piece of paper (your stream) until it forms one little square,
which is the result of the fold operation.

It helps to first look at how we could calculate the sum of a
list using a for loop:

int sum = 0;
for (int x : numbers) {
    sum += x; 


Each element of the list of numbers is combined iteratively
using the addition operator to produce a result. We essentially
“reduced” the list of numbers into one number. There are two
parameters in this code: the initial value of
the sum variable, in this
case 0, and the operation for combining all the
elements of the list, in this case +.

Using the reduce method on streams, we
can sum all the elements of a stream as shown
in Listing 11.
The reduce method takes two arguments:

int sum =, (a, b) -> a + b);

Listing 11 

  • An initial value, here 0
  • BinaryOperator<T> to combine two
    elements and produce a new value 

The reduce method essentially abstracts
the pattern of repeated application. Other queries such as
“calculate the product” or “calculate the maximum”
(see Listing 12) become special use cases of
the reduce method.

int product =, (a, b) -> a * b);
int product =, Integer::max);

Listing 12

Numeric Streams

You have just seen that you can use
the reduce method to calculate the sum of a
stream of integers. However, there’s a cost: we perform many boxing
operations to repeatedly add Integer objects
together. Wouldn’t it be nicer if we could call
sum method, as shown
in Listing 13, to be more explicit about the
intent of our code?

int statement =
                .sum(); // error since Stream has no sum method

Listing 13

Java SE 8 introduces three primitive specialized stream
interfaces to tackle this
and LongStream—that respectively specialize the
elements of a stream to
be intdouble,
and long.

The most-common methods you will use to convert a stream to a
specialized version
are mapToIntmapToDouble,
and mapToLong. These methods work exactly like
the method map that we saw earlier, but they
return a specialized stream instead of
Stream<T>. For example, we could improve
the code in Listing 13 as shown
in Listing 14. You can also convert from a
primitive stream to a stream of objects using
the boxed operation.

int statementSum =
                .sum(); // works!

Listing 14

Finally, another useful form of numeric streams is numeric
ranges. For example, you might want to generate all numbers between
1 and 100. Java SE 8 introduces two static methods available
on IntStreamDoubleStream,
and LongStream to help generate such
ranges:range and rangeClosed.

Both methods take the starting value of the range as the first
parameter and the end value of the range as the second parameter.
However, range is exclusive,
whereas rangeClosed is
inclusive. Listing 15 is an example that
uses rangeClosed to return a stream of all
odd numbers between 10 and 30.

IntStream oddNumbers = 
    IntStream.rangeClosed(10, 30)
             .filter(n -> n % 2 == 1);

Listing 15

Building Streams

There are several ways to build streams. You’ve seen how you can
get a stream from a collection. Moreover, we played with streams of
numbers. You can also create streams from values, an array, or a
file. In addition, you can even generate a stream from a function
to produce infinite streams! 

In contrast to collections, which are iterated explicitly
(external iteration),stream operations do the
iteration behind the scenes for you.

Creating a stream from values or from an array is
straightforward: just use the static methods Stream
 for values
and for an array, as shown
in Listing 16.

Stream<Integer> numbersFromValues = Stream.of(1, 2, 3, 4);
int[] numbers = {1, 2, 3, 4};
IntStream numbersFromArray =;

Listing 16

You can also convert a file in a stream of lines using
the Files.lines static method. For example,
in Listing 17 we count the number of
lines in a file.

long numberOfLines = 
    Files.lines(Paths.get(“yourFile.txt”), Charset.defaultCharset())

Listing 17

 Finally, here’s a mind-blowing idea
before we conclude this first article about streams. By now you
should understand that elements of a stream are produced on demand.
There are two static
Stream.iterate and Stream
—that let you create a stream from a
function. However, because elements are calculated on demand, these
two operations can produce elements “forever.” This is what we call
infinite stream: a stream that
doesn’t have a fixed size, as a stream does when we create it from
a fixed collection.

Listing 18 is an example that
uses iterate to create a stream of all
numbers that are multiples of 10.
The iterate method takes an initial value
(here, 0) and a lambda (of
type UnaryOperator<T>) to apply
successively on each new value produced.

Stream<Integer> numbers = Stream.iterate(0, n -> n + 10);

Listing 18

We can turn an infinite stream into a fixed-size stream using
the limit operation. For example, we can
limit the size of the stream to 5, as shown in Listing

numbers.limit(5).forEach(System.out::println); // 0, 10, 20, 30, 40

Listing 19


Java SE 8 introduces the Streams API, which lets you express
sophisticated data processing queries. In this article, you’ve seen
that a stream supports many operations such
as filtermapreduce,
and iterate that can be combined to write
concise and expressive data processing queries. This new way of
writing code is very different from how you would process
collections before Java SE 8. However, it has many benefits. First,
the Streams API makes use of several techniques such as laziness
and short-circuiting to optimize your data processing queries.
Second, streams can be parallelized automatically to leverage
multicore architectures. In the next article in this series, we
will explore more-advanced operations, such
as flatMap and collect.
Stay tuned.

Originally published in the March/April 2014 issue
of Java MagazineSubscribe today.


Raoul-Gabriel Urma is currently
completing a PhD in computer science at the University of
Cambridge, where he does research in programming languages. In
addition, he is an author of 
Java 8 in Action:
Lambdas, Streams and Functional-style
 (Manning, 2014).




(1) Originally published in the March/April 2014 Edition of
Java Magazine 
(2) Copyright © [2013] Oracle.



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