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Dedyshka February 2016

Default size of ArrayList

Looking through some piece of code I noticed one strange initialization of ArrayList:

... = new ArrayList<..>(0);

I've opened JavaSE 7 sources and saw that inner elementData arrray is initialized by empty array constant - {}. When we pass capacity to the ArrayList constructor we do almost the same - new Object[0]. So my question is: is there is any difference between new ArrayList(0) and new ArrayList() ? Shouldn't ArrayList set the default capacity size to smth like 10 ?

Thanks all for answers.


wero February 2016

An ArrayList has an internal array to store the list elements.

There is a difference between the two constructor calls in Java 7 and 8:

If you do new ArrayList<>(0) the ArrayList creates a new Object array of size 0.

If you do new ArrayList<>() the ArrayList uses a static empty Object array of size 0 and switches to an own private array once you add items to the list.


The Javadoc of the default ArrayList constructor seems to contradict this.

 * Constructs an empty list with an initial capacity of ten.
public ArrayList() {
    this.elementData = EMPTY_DEFAULTCAPACITY_EMPTY_ELEMENTDATA; // = static, empty

But it does not create an element array of length 10 immediately, but instead when you add elements or ensure the capacity:

public void ensureCapacity(int minCapacity) {
    int minExpand = (elementData != DEFAULTCAPACITY_EMPTY_ELEMENTDATA)
        // any size if not default element table
        ? 0
        // larger than default for default empty table. It's already
        // supposed to be at default size.
        : DEFAULT_CAPACITY; // = 10

    if (minCapacity > minExpand) {

Gavriel February 2016

ArrayList has 2 constructors. The default constructor just calls the other one with capacity=10:

ArrayList() {this(10);}


What capacity means? It means that an array of the size capacity is allocated to hold the items in the arraylist. Whenever it's too small to hold the necessary items, it's being resized, by creating a bigger array and copying everything over (takes time) + it means the old array needs to be garbage collected (even more time). That's why it is important to get the correct capacity right. Although it will work with any initial capacity, it can be slow. On the other hand having huge capacity and almost no items in it is wasting memory.

Note: Arraylist(0) will create a 0 size array, and when you try to add the 1st element, it'll be thrown away and a new array allocated.

Jesus Zavarce February 2016

It is necessary to clarify two definitions:

The size represent the number of elements in the list.

The capacity represent the length of the internal array. In other words, the length contains the number of places to put an element;

Exemple of the length of an array list size = 2

When you create one list with the default constructor of Arraylist:


List<String> list = new ArrayList<>();

The output is : 0


Because the list is empty, this is explained by the internal array of the list, when you use the default constructor of ArrayList, the internal array is :

private static final Object[] EMPTY_ELEMENTDATA = {}; 

So, an empty array of Objects where the value of the length is 0 (Capacity). As the list is empty the size is 0.

state of the list when the default constructor is used (id of elementData=27)

When you add one element to the list, the size of your list is incremented to 1, and the initial internal array of your list is changed by another array with a length of 10 (capacity); (id of elementData=30)

private static final int DEFAULT_CAPACITY = 10

State of the list after add one element (id of elementData=30)

About the default constructor of ArrayList, the API java says : API Java :

Ruslanas February 2016

ArrayList() will make list capacity of 10 (default) after first element added. However ArrayList(0) will keep capacity small - it will be 1 after first element added, 2 after the second add, and etc.

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Asked in February 2016
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