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Can explain assertions

Assertions are used to define assumptions about the program state so that the runtime can verify them. An assertion failure indicates a possible bug in the code because the code has resulted in a program state that violates an assumption about how the code should behave.

An assertion can be used to express something like when the execution comes to this point, the variable v cannot be null.

If the runtime detects an assertion failure, it typically takes some drastic action such as terminating the execution with an error message. This is because an assertion failure indicates a possible bug and the sooner the execution stops, the safer it is.

In the Java code below, suppose you set an assertion that timeout returned by Config.getTimeout() is greater than 0. Now, if Config.getTimeout() returns -1 in a specific execution of this line, the runtime can detect it as an assertion failure -- i.e. an assumption about the expected behavior of the code turned out to be wrong which could potentially be the result of a bug -- and take some drastic action such as terminating the execution.

int timeout = Config.getTimeout(); 


Can use assertions

Use the assert keyword to define assertions.

This assertion will fail with the message x should be 0 if x is not 0 at this point.

x = getX();
assert x == 0 : "x should be 0";

Assertions can be disabled without modifying the code.

java -enableassertions HelloWorld (or java -ea HelloWorld) will run HelloWorld with assertions enabled while java -disableassertions HelloWorld will run it without verifying assertions.

Java disables assertions by default. This could create a situation where you think all assertions are being verified as true while in fact they are not being verified at all. Therefore, remember to enable assertions when you run the program if you want them to be in effect.

Enable assertions in Intellij (how?) and get an assertion to fail temporarily (e.g. insert an assert false into the code temporarily) to confirm assertions are being verified.

Java assert vs JUnit assertions: They are similar in purpose but JUnit assertions are more powerful and customized for testing. In addition, JUnit assertions are not disabled by default. We recommend you use JUnit assertions in test code and Java assert in functional code.



Best practices:


Can use assertions optimally

It is recommended that assertions be used liberally in the code. Their impact on performance is considered low and worth the additional safety they provide.

Do not use assertions to do work because assertions can be disabled. If not, your program will stop working when assertions are not enabled.

The code below will not invoke the writeFile() method when assertions are disabled. If that method is performing some work that is necessary for your program, your program will not work correctly when assertions are disabled.

assert writeFile() : "File writing is supposed to return true";

Assertions are suitable for verifying assumptions about Internal Invariants, Control-Flow Invariants, Preconditions, Postconditions, and Class Invariants. Refer to [Programming with Assertions (second half)] to learn more.

Exceptions and assertions are two complementary ways of handling errors in software but they serve different purposes. Therefore, both assertions and exceptions should be used in code.

  • The raising of an exception indicates an unusual condition created by the user (e.g. user inputs an unacceptable input) or the environment (e.g., a file needed for the program is missing).
  • An assertion failure indicates the programmer made a mistake in the code (e.g., a null value is returned from a method that is not supposed to return null under any circumstances).