Implementing a Multi-Iterator in Java

Say you had to implement a class that takes as an argument (in the constructor) Iterator<Iterator<E>> iterator and returns an iterator that can iterate all the elements under Iterator<Iterator<E>> iterator in a round-robin manner, meaning, according to the order of the numbers in the following screenshot:

sc1

I searched online and found implementations such as thisthis and even Guava but they are not helpful in our case since the order they are iterating is vertical: 1,7,13,17,2,8,14,18,3,9,4,…

So I decided to come up with my solution to the problem, and here’s what I got:

import java.util.Iterator;
import java.util.LinkedList;
import java.util.List;
import java.util.NoSuchElementException;

/**
 * Created by alfasin on 11/15/15.
 */


public class MultiIterator<E> implements Iterator {

    List<Iterator<E>> iterators = new LinkedList<>();
    Iterator<E> current = null;

    public MultiIterator(Iterator<Iterator<E>> iterator) {
        // copy the iterators into a list
        while (iterator.hasNext()) {
            iterators.add(iterator.next());
        }
    }

    @Override
    public boolean hasNext() {
        boolean result = false;
        if (iterators.isEmpty() && (current == null || !current.hasNext())) {
            return false;
        }

        if (current == null) {
            current = iterators.remove(0);
        }

        while (!current.hasNext() && !iterators.isEmpty()) {
            current = iterators.remove(0);
        }

        if (current.hasNext()) {
            result = true;
        }
        return result;
    }

    @Override
    public E next() {
        if (current == null) {
            try {
                current = iterators.remove(0);
            } catch (IndexOutOfBoundsException e) {
                throw new NoSuchElementException();
            }
        }
        E result = current.next(); // if this method was called without checking 'hasNext' this line might raise NoSuchElementException which is fine
        iterators.add(current);
        current = iterators.remove(0);
        return result;
    }

    // test
    public static void main(String[] args) {
        List<Integer> a = new LinkedList<>();
        a.add(1);
        a.add(7);
        a.add(13);
        a.add(17);
        List<Integer> b = new LinkedList<>();
        b.add(2);
        b.add(8);
        b.add(14);
        b.add(18);
        List<Integer> c = new LinkedList<>();
        c.add(3);
        c.add(9);
        List<Integer> d = new LinkedList<>();
        d.add(4);
        d.add(10);
        d.add(15);
        List<Integer> e = new LinkedList<>();
        e.add(5);
        e.add(11);
        List<Integer> f = new LinkedList<>();
        f.add(6);
        f.add(12);
        f.add(16);
        f.add(19);
        List<Iterator<Integer>> iterators = new LinkedList<>();
        iterators.add(a.iterator());
        iterators.add(b.iterator());
        iterators.add(c.iterator());
        iterators.add(d.iterator());
        iterators.add(e.iterator());
        iterators.add(f.iterator());
        MultiIterator<Integer> it = new MultiIterator<>(iterators.iterator());
        while (it.hasNext()) {
            System.out.print(it.next() + ","); // prints: 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10,11,12,13,14,15,16,17,18,19,
        }
    }
}

A different approach would be to read all the elements, during initialization, into one list and then return an iterator of that list!

Let’s see how it works:

import java.util.Iterator;
import java.util.LinkedList;
import java.util.List;

/**
 * Created by alfasin on 11/15/15.
 */

public class MultiIterator<E> {

    Iterator<Iterator<E>> iterator = null;
    List<E> elements = new LinkedList<>();

    private MultiIterator(Iterator<Iterator<E>> iterator) {
        this.iterator = iterator;
    }

    private void copyElementsInOrder() {
        List<Iterator<E>> iterators = new LinkedList<>();
        // copy the iterators into a list
        while (iterator.hasNext()) {
            iterators.add(iterator.next());
        }
        // go over the list, round-robin, and grab one
        // element from each sub-iterator and add it to *elements*
        // empty sub-iterators will get dropped off the list
        while (!iterators.isEmpty()) {
            Iterator<E> subIterator = iterators.remove(0);
            if (subIterator.hasNext()) {
                elements.add(subIterator.next());
                iterators.add(subIterator);
            }
        }
    }

    public static <E> Iterator<E> iterator(Iterator<Iterator<E>> iterator) {
        MultiIterator<E> instance = new MultiIterator<>(iterator);
        instance.copyElementsInOrder();
        return instance.elements.iterator();
    }

    // test
    public static void main(String[] args) {
        List<Integer> a = new LinkedList<>();
        a.add(1);
        a.add(7);
        a.add(13);
        a.add(17);
        List<Integer> b = new LinkedList<>();
        b.add(2);
        b.add(8);
        b.add(14);
        b.add(18);
        List<Integer> c = new LinkedList<>();
        c.add(3);
        c.add(9);
        List<Integer> d = new LinkedList<>();
        d.add(4);
        d.add(10);
        d.add(15);
        List<Integer> e = new LinkedList<>();
        e.add(5);
        e.add(11);
        List<Integer> f = new LinkedList<>();
        f.add(6);
        f.add(12);
        f.add(16);
        f.add(19);
        List<Iterator<Integer>> iterators = new LinkedList<>();
        iterators.add(a.iterator());
        iterators.add(b.iterator());
        iterators.add(c.iterator());
        iterators.add(d.iterator());
        iterators.add(e.iterator());
        iterators.add(f.iterator());
        Iterator<Integer> it = MultiIterator.<Integer>iterator(iterators.iterator());
        while (it.hasNext()) {
            System.out.print(it.next() + ","); // prints: 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10,11,12,13,14,15,16,17,18,19,
        }
    }
}

There are pros and cons to each one of these approaches:

The first approach is more complex because it requires checking and handling of many edge-cases (including catching an IndexOutOfBoundsException in case that our list of iterators is empty and throwing the proper NoSuchElementException instead).

The second approach is more concise on one hand, but on the other hand it requires copying, in-advance, all the elements (greedy) vs. the first approach which is lazy and should be preferred in cases of large datasets.

Note that the second approach implements a factory and as such it doesn’t implement the Iterator interface!

EDIT:

Now with Java 9, it’s much more elegant to create such lists (using the new collections APIs). I re-did this exercise and here’s what I got:

class MultiIterator<E> implements Iterator {

    private LinkedList<Iterator<E>> iterators = new LinkedList<>();
    private int current = 0;

    public MultiIterator(Iterator<Iterator<E>> iterator) {
        while(iterator.hasNext()) {
            iterators.add(iterator.next());
        }
    }
    /**
     * Returns {@code true} if the iteration has more elements.
     * (In other words, returns {@code true} if {@link #next} would
     * return an element rather than throwing an exception.)
     *
     * @return {@code true} if the iteration has more elements
     */
    @Override
    public boolean hasNext() {
        if (iterators.size() == 0) {
            return false;
        }
        if (iterators.get(current).hasNext()) {
            return true;
        }
        return false;
    }

    /**
     * Returns the next element in the iteration.
     *
     * @return the next element in the iteration
     * @throws NoSuchElementException if the iteration has no more elements
     */
    @Override
    public E next() {
        E next;
        try {
            next = iterators.get(current).next(); // might throw IndexOutOfBoundsException if wasn't called with hasNext()
            Iterator<E> iter = iterators.remove(current);
            if (iter.hasNext()) {
                iterators.add(iter);
            }
        } catch (IndexOutOfBoundsException e) {
            throw new NoSuchElementException();
        }
        return next;
    }

    public static void main(String[] args) {
        List<Integer> l1 = List.of(1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6);
        List<Integer> l2 = List.of(5, 6, 7, 8);
        List<Integer> l3 = List.of(9, 10, 11, 12);
        Iterator<Iterator<Integer>> iterators = List.of(l1.iterator(), l2.iterator(), l3.iterator()).iterator();
        MultiIterator<Integer> iters = new MultiIterator<>(iterators);
        while (iters.hasNext()) {
            System.out.println(iters.next());
        }
    }
}
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Implementing a Multi-Iterator in Java

Python: Six, ABC and functools.wraps

Python
Over the past week I went through some Python code in Stackstorm (hosted in GitHub), and by doing so I learned a few cool new things. Maybe ‘new’ is not the right term, but these things were new to me and I wanted to share them with you.

The code I am referring to resides in a few places in Stackstorm, the first item:

@six.add_metaclass(abc.ABCMeta)
class Access(object):
Two things here:

1. six.add_metaclass – makes Access a metaclass in a way which is compatible both with Python2 and Python3. In general, six package has a purpose of helping developers migrate their code from Python 2 to Python 3 by writing code which is compatible with both.
Hence the name: six = 2 * 3. To read more: https://pypi.python.org/pypi/six

2. abc.ABCMeta – abc is another builtin package, its purpose is to provide support for Abstract Base Classes. By making a class abstract you ensure that nobody can instantiate objects out of it.
This is useful for (at least) three purposes:
a. Maintain logic which is common to multiple classes in one place
b. force the users to implement methods which are annotated by @abc.abstractmethod (you can also force the inheriting classes to create specific class members by using the annotation @abc.abstractproperty). For more info in regards see the docs.
c. creating a singleton. I’m still not convinced about the usefulness of creating a singleton in Python (because we have modules), but assuming you want to do so, you can either create a metaclass and call its methods as ClassName.method() or extend a metaclass but not implement the abstractmethod or abstractproperty. By not implementing the abstract-methods/properties the inheriting class will become abstract as well. This technique is used in a few different places in StackStorm, if you want to see some examples, search for classes that inherit from Access.

3. This one took me a while to wrap my head around (requires a “functional programming” mind if you will):
def decorate(f):
        @functools.wraps(f)
        def callfunction(*args, **kwargs):
By calling @functools.wraps(f) we’re using a decorator inside a decorator. Not trivial…
To understand the main idea of ‘functools.wraps’, it’s easier to go through the following points/process (at least, easier for me…):
– When you decorate a function, you’re creating a new function that wraps the ‘original’ one, and return the wrapper
– The wrapper is used in order to be able to perform all kinds of tasks before/after the ‘original’ function is applied. Examples: preparing the arguments for the ‘original function’, timing how long does it take for the function to execute, add log printings before and after and etc.
– Say you have a wrapped function f, returned from a decorator, the user will then see the description (metadata) of the decorator instead of f, the original function.
– In order to avoid this confusion, @functools.wraps(f) comes into the picture: by annotating the wrapper function with @functools.wraps(f) – you’re making sure that the user of the wrapper will see the same description/metadata as the original function has. By ‘description’ I mean the function-signature (the name of the function and the names of the arguments it takes).

Hope this is helpful!
Python: Six, ABC and functools.wraps