Showing posts for tag "eclipse"

Quick Tip: JDK Null Annotations for Eclipse

Dec 10, 2020, 3:17 PM

  1. The Cleansing Flame of Null Analysis
  2. Quick Tip: JDK Null Annotations for Eclipse

A few years back, I more-or-less found the religion of null analysis, and I've stuck with it with at least my larger projects.

One of the sticking points all along, though, has been Eclipse's lack of knowledge about what code not annotated with nullness annotations does, with the biggest blind spot being the JDK itself. For example, take this bit of code:

BigDecimal foo = BigDecimal.valueOf(10).add(1);

That will never throw a NullPointerException, but, since BigDecimal#valueOf isn't annotated at all, Eclipse doesn't know that for sure, and so it may flag it as a potential problem. To deal with this, Eclipse has the concept of external annotations, where you can associate a specially-formatted file with a set of classes and Eclipse will act as if those classes had nullness annotations already.

Core JDK Annotations

Unfortunately - and as opposed to things like IntelliJ - Eclipse for some reason doesn't ship with this knowledge out of the box. For a while, I just dealt with it, throwing in technically-unnecessary checks around things like Optional#get that are guaranteed to return non-null. The other day, though, I decided to look into it more and found, which is a community-driven project to provide such external annotations.

Better still, they also provide an Eclipse plugin (404 expected on that link - Eclipse knows what to do with it) to apply rules from your project's Maven configuration to the IDE. This not only covers applying external annotations, but also synchronizing compiler configurations.

Sidebar: The Eclipse Compiler

By default, a Java project is compiled with javac, the stock Java compiler. Eclipse maintains its own compiler, varyingly called ECJ or (as shorthand) JDT. Eclipse's compiler is, unsurprisingly, well-geared towards IDE use, and part of that is that it can flag and process a great deal of semantic and stylistic issues that the stock compiler doesn't care about. This included null annotations.

Maven Configuration

With this information in hand, I went to configure my project's Maven build. The first step was to change it to use Eclipse's compiler, since I had recently switched the project away from being Tycho-based (which uses ECJ by default). This can be done by configuring maven-compiler-plugin:


I use an inline dependency on Tycho's tycho-compiler-jdt to provide the compiler. I stuck with version 1.7.0 for now because Tycho 2.0+ uses the newer core runtime that requires Java 11, which this project does not yet for platform lag reasons. I also find it useful to set <failOnWarning>false</failOnWarning> here because ECJ throws many more (legitimate) warnings than javac. Long-term, it's cleanest to keep this enabled.

I also configured Eclipse's compiler settings like I wanted for one of the project's modules, then copied the settings file to a common location. That's where the compilerArguments bit comes from.

Then, I went through the available libraries from, found the ones that match the libraries we use, and added them as dependencies in my root project:


  <!-- and so on -->

Once I updated the project configurations, Eclipse churned for a while, and then I got to work cleaning up the giant pile of new errors and warnings it brought up. As usual with null checks, this was a mix of "oh, nice catch" and "okay, sure, technically, but come on". For example, it flags System.out.println as a potential NPE because System.out is assignable - this is true, but realistically my app's code is going to be the least of my concerns when System.out is set to null.

In any event, I was pleased as punch to find this. Now, I have a way to not only properly check nullness with core classes and common libraries, but it's a way that's shared among the whole project team automatically and enforced at compile time.