This tutorial introduces Java's assert statement, which specifies assertions that can be used to enforce preconditions and postconditions. This tutorial is intended for students who are familiar with methods and exception handling and for Java developers.
[Note: This tutorial is an excerpt (Section 13.13) of Chapter 13, Exception Handling, from our textbook Java How to Program, 6/e. This tutorial may refer to other chapters or sections of the book that are not included here. Permission Information: Deitel, Harvey M. and Paul J., JAVA HOW TO PROGRAM, ©2005, pp.664-665. Electronically reproduced by permission of Pearson Education, Inc., Upper Saddle River, New Jersey.]
When implementing and debugging a class, it is sometimes useful to state conditions that should be true at a particular point in a method. These conditions, called assertions, help ensure a program’s validity by catching potential bugs and identifying possible logic errors during development. Preconditions and postconditions are two types of assertions. Preconditions are assertions about a program’s state when a method is invoked, and postconditions are assertions about a program’s state after a method finishes. While assertions can be stated as comments to guide the programmer during development, Java includes two versions of the assert statement for validating assertions programatically. The assert statement evaluates a boolean expression and determines whether it is true or false. The first form of the assert statement is assert expression; This statement evaluates expression and throws an AssertionError if the expression is false. The second form is assert expression1 : expression2; This statement evaluates expression1 and throws an AssertionError with expression2 as the error message if expression1 is false. You can use assertions to programmatically implement preconditions and postconditions or to verify any other intermediate states that help you ensure your code is working correctly. The example in Fig. 13.9 demonstrates the functionality of the assert statement. Line 11 prompts the user to enter a number between 0 and 10, then line 12 reads the number from the command line. The assert statement on line 15 determines whether the user entered a number within the valid range. If the user entered a number that is out of range, then the program reports an error. Otherwise, the program proceeds normally.
1 // Fig. 13.9: AssertTest.java
Assertions are primarily used by the programmer for debugging and identifying logic errors in a application. By default, assertions are disabled when executing a program because they reduce performance and are unnecessary for the program’s user. To enable assertions at runtime, use the -ea command-line option when to the java command. To execute the program in Fig. 13.9 with assertions enabled, type
java -ea AssertTestYou should not encounter any AssertionErrors through normal execution of a properly written program. Such errors should only indicate bugs in the implementation. As a result, you should never catch an AssertionError. Rather, you should allow the program to terminate when the error occurs, so you can see the error message, then you should locate and fix the source of the problem. Since application users can choose not to enable assertions at runtime, you should not use the assert statement to indicate runtime problems in production code. Rather, you should use the exception mechanism for this purpose.