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Stack Implementation in Java

Sven Woltmann
Sven Woltmann
March 16, 2022

In the last part of the tutorial, "Stack class in Java", you learned why you should not use Java's Stack class (unnecessary operations like insertElementAt() and setElementAt(), missing interface, over-synchronized).

The alternative recommended by the JDK developers, Deque, also provides methods that don't belong in a stack, e.g. addLast() and removeLast().

The unnecessary operations contradict the Interface Segregation Principle (ISP), according to which an interface should contain only those methods that the user of that interface needs.

Therefore, in this and the following parts of this tutorial, I will show how to implement a stack yourself in Java – in four different ways:

Let's start with an interface…

Stack Interface

First, we create a Stack interface. It contains only those methods that a stack should offer, namely:

  • push() – to add elements to the stack
  • pop() – to remove elements from the top of the stack
  • peek() – to view the top stack element without removing it
  • isEmpty() – to check if the stack is empty (this method is optional)

The following code shows the interface (class Stack in the GitHub repo):

public interface Stack<E> { void push(E item); E pop(); E peek(); boolean isEmpty(); }
Code language: Java (java)

I decided at this point for pop() and peek() to throw a NoSuchElementException on an empty stack, just like Deque's add/remove/get methods do.

Alternatively, one could also return Optional<E>. The decision depends on the extent to which calling pop() and peek() on an empty stack is an exception (then you should throw exceptions), or a regular control flow (then you should return an Optional).

What you should not do is return null on an empty stack.

Implementing a Stack with an ArrayDeque

Our first implementation consists of an adapter around the (non-thread-safe) deque implementation ArrayDeque. The adapter forwards the stack methods as follows:

  • Stack.push()ArrayDeque.addFirst()
  • Stack.pop()ArrayDeque.removeFirst()
  • Stack.peek()ArrayDeque.getFirst()
  • Stack.isEmpty()ArrayDeque.isEmpty()

First, here is a class diagram that represents the adapter pattern:

ArrayDequeStack as an adapter around an ArrayDeque
ArrayDequeStack as an adapter around an ArrayDeque

And here is the implementation of the adapter (class ArrayDequeStack in the GitHub repo):

public class ArrayDequeStack<E> implements Stack<E> { private final Deque<E> deque = new ArrayDeque<>(); @Override public void push(E item) { deque.addFirst(item); } @Override public E pop() { return deque.removeFirst(); } @Override public E peek() { return deque.getFirst(); } @Override public boolean isEmpty() { return deque.isEmpty(); } }
Code language: Java (java)

The following sample program (StackDemo class in GitHub) shows an example usage of the ArrayDequeStack class.

I have designed the test code to handle additional Stack implementations without much effort (by calling runDemo() on instances of other Stack classes).

public class StackDemo { public static void main(String[] args) { runDemo(new ArrayDequeStack<>()); } private static void runDemo(Stack<Integer> stack) { System.out.println("-------- " + stack.getClass().getSimpleName() + " --------"); stack.push(1); stack.push(2); stack.push(3); System.out.println("stack.peek() = " + stack.peek()); System.out.println("stack.pop() = " + stack.pop()); System.out.println("stack.pop() = " + stack.pop()); System.out.println("stack.pop() = " + stack.pop()); try { System.out.println("stack.pop() = " + stack.pop()); } catch (Exception ex) { ex.printStackTrace(System.out); } } }
Code language: Java (java)


With just a few lines of code, we implemented our own (non-thread-safe) stack class.

To implement a thread-safe stack, we can analogously put an adapter around a thread-safe deque – like ConcurrentLinkedDeque (non-blocking) or LinkedBlockingDeque (blocking).

In the next part of the tutorial, I will show you how to implement a stack with an array.

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