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James Gosling on Java, May 2001
A Conversation with Java's Creator, James Gosling
by Bill Venners
First Published in JavaWorld, June 2001

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A Delegation-Only Language

Bill Venners: When asked what you might do differently if you could recreate Java, you've said you've wondered what it would be like to have a language that just does delegation.

James Gosling: Yes.

Bill Venners: And we think you mean maybe throwing out class inheritance, just having interface inheritance and composition. Is that what you mean?

James Gosling: In some sense I don't know what I mean because if I knew what I meant, I would do it. There are various places where people have completed delegation-like things. Plenty of books talk about style and say delegation can be a much healthier way to do things. But specific mechanisms for how you would implement that tend to be problematic. Maybe if I was in the right mood, I'd blow away a year and just try to figure out the answer.

Bill Venners: But by delegation, you do mean this object delegating to that object without it being a subclass?

James Gosling: Yes -- without an inheritance hierarchy. Rather than subclassing, just use pure interfaces. It's not so much that class inheritance is particularly bad. It just has problems.

One of the metaphors I like to use for the whole design process is this game you see in arcades, particularly the older ones. If you go to the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, there is this game called Whack-a-Mole. It's a table with 16 holes, and this little mechanical mole sticks his head out of one of the holes for a second. You whack it with a bat. He pops his head up, and you whack him, and he pops up someplace else.

Engineering design is like playing Whack-a-Mole. You have a problem sticking up over there. You go and whack it, and it goes away. But have you really fixed it, or has it just moved somewhere else? It's often hard to tell whether you've solved the problem or moved the problem. And more often than not, when people say they've solved the problem, they've just moved the problem. So one of my big issues with things like delegation, although I feel like there's a right answer in there, is that delegation is going to have its own problems too. But it hasn't been used as extensively, so does it have more problems?

It's almost a truism that you never actually find a perfect answer to a problem. You just find the answer that has the least problems.

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