Avoid NullPointerException - use Java 8 Optional

Date published28.12.2018Time to read4 minutes read

This blog post should start with a popular quote:

Tony Hoare introduced null references in ALGOL W back in 1965 “simply because it was so easy to implement”, says Mr. Hoare. He talks about that decision considering it “my billion-dollar mistake”.

Instead of dealing with null / not-null references, Java 8 JDK ships with new type: Optional<T>. How to use it?

Say we have a use-case where our client code calls some API which can return some value which is optional:

User user = userService.getUser("username", "password");

Might be that there's no user with given credentials. In that case user reference might be null, but our client code forgot to check that one.  NullPointerException will occur when trying to print out that user, when calling getLastName() method.

In such a cases,Optional<T> comes to the rescue. So, we could use it and rewrite upper snippet using it:

Optional user = new UserService().getUser("username", "password");
if (user.isPresent()) {

Important thing to notice is that whenever you see API is returning Optional<T> value, it should be very obvious that we should check value for presence before calling .get() because if the Optional instance is empty, calling .get() in such a case will result in NoSuchElementException  being thrown.

We can see that we should design our API not to use null reference in case when data is missing, rather using Optional type in such a case. Given snippet above, we can see that Optional has isPresent() method which helps us checking if value is there or not. In case value is present, we can unwrap the value using get() call on Optional.

If we're designing API that can return some value optionally, we should do it the following way:

class UserService {

    public Optional getUser(String username, String password) {
        // assume legacy userDao could return null for user
        User user = userDao.getUser(username, password);
        if (user != null) {
            return Optional.of(user);
        return Optional.empty();

In case return value from some, let's say legacy code, can be null, we should first check that fact, and in case of not null value, we should wrap value using Optional.of, or in other case we should return empty optional, using Optional.empty().

There are several interesting methods present in the Optional API, and we'll demo their usage:

public void ifPresent(Consumer consumer) {
public<u> Optional<u> map(Function mapper) {
public T orElse(T other) {
public T orElseGet(Supplier other)
public Optional filter(Predicate predicate) {

🌀 Optional.ifPresent

If a value is present, invoke the specified consumer with the value, otherwise do nothing.

Parameters: consumer - block to be executed if a value is present


new UserService().getUser("username", "password")
/* System.out.println is Consumer<User> and will receive
 non empty User instance as parameter */

🌀 Optional.map

If a value is present, apply the provided mapping function to it, and if the result is non-null, return an Optional describing the result. Otherwise return an empty Optional.

Parameters: mapper - a mapping function to apply to the value, if present


final String username = Optional.of(new User("username", "password"))
                .orElse("Fallback username");
/* In case optional is not empty, mapping function will be applied,
  otherwise empty optional will be returned */

🌀 Optional.orElse

Return the value if present, otherwise return other.

Parameters: other - the value to be returned if there is no value present, may be null


final User user = new UserService().getUser("username", "password")
.orElse(new User("root", "generic"));

/* In case userService.getUser returns empty optional,
'root' user will be returned and assigned to user variable */

🌀 Optional.orElseGet

Return the value if present, otherwise invoke other and return the result of that invocation.

Parameters: other - a Supplier whose result is returned if no value is present


new UserService().getUser("username", "password")
                .orElseGet(() -> FallbackUserService.getUser("username", "password"));

/* In case userService.getUser returns empty optional,
we'll try to get user calling FallbackUserService.getUser API */

🌀 Optional.filter

If a value is present, and the value matches the given predicate, return an Optional describing the value, otherwise return an empty Optional.

Parameters: predicate - a predicate to apply to the value, if present


new UserService().getUser("username", "password")
                .filter(user -> user.getName().length() > 5)
/* In case userService.getUser returns non empty optional,
we'll first make sure to check if user's name is longer than 5 characters */


If we're writing API that can in some cases return meaningful value, and in other null, we should, instead of returning null or not null reference - return Optional with wrapped value or empty Optional. Same applies if we have some legacy code that could return null.

That was all for today! Hope you liked it!