Unbounded Wildcards
Trail: Learning the Java Language
Lesson: Generics (Updated)
Section: Wildcards

Unbounded Wildcards

The unbounded wildcard type is specified using the wildcard character (?), for example, List<?>. This is called a list of unknown type. There are two scenarios where an unbounded wildcard is a useful approach:

Consider the following method, printList:

public static void printList(List<Object> list) {
    for (Object elem : list)
        System.out.println(elem + " ");

The goal of printList is to print a list of any type, but it fails to achieve that goal — it prints only a list of Object instances; it cannot print List<Integer>, List<String>, List<Double>, and so on, because they are not subtypes of List<Object>. To write a generic printList method, use List<?>:

public static void printList(List<?> list) {
    for (Object elem: list)
        System.out.print(elem + " ");

Because for any concrete type A, List<A> is a subtype of List<?>, you can use printList to print a list of any type:

List<Integer> li = Arrays.asList(1, 2, 3);
List<String>  ls = Arrays.asList("one", "two", "three");

Note: The Arrays.asList method is used in examples throughout this lesson. This static factory method converts the specified array and returns a fixed-size list.

It's important to note that List<Object> and List<?> are not the same. You can insert an Object, or any subtype of Object, into a List<Object>. But you can only insert null into a List<?>. The Guidelines for Wildcard Use section has more information on how to determine what kind of wildcard, if any, should be used in a given situation.

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