SCJP – Java Collections Cheat Sheet

This is just a compilations of some notes together with my own notes during the preparation for SCJP exam. I expect to be the first post on the same subject, one for each chapter or topic.




Hash Table Resizable Array Balanced Tree Linked List Hash Table + Linked List
Interfaces Set HashSet TreeSet LinkedHashSet
List ArrayListVector LinkedList
Map HashMapHashtable TreeMap LinkedHashMap

Collection Interfaces

  • Collection - A group of objects. No assumptions are made about the order of the collection (if any), or whether it may contain duplicate elements.
Interfaces Main methods>
  • Set - Extends the Collection
    • The familiar set abstraction.
    • No duplicate elements permitted.
    • At most one null element.
    • May or may not be ordered.interface.
  • SortedSet - Extends Set
    • A set whose elements are automatically sorted, either in their natural ordering (see the Comparable interface), or by a Comparatorobject provided when a SortedSet instance is created.
    • first() and last() methods throws NoSuchElementExecption when set is empty
  • NavigableSet - Extends SortedSet
    • Navigation methods reporting closest matches for given search targets.
    • NavigableSet may be accessed and traversed in either ascending or descending order.
    • All methods that receives a parameter can throw exceptions:
      • ClassCast if arg type are different
      • NPE if arg is null
  • SortedSet<E> subSet(E fromElement, E toElement)
  • SortedSet<E> headSet(E toElement, boolean inclusive) - Method withoud inclusive flag available from SortedSet interface
  • SortedSet<E> tailSet(E fromElement, boolean inclusive) - Method withoud inclusive flag available from SortedSet interface
- -
  • Map-
    • A mapping from keys to values.
    • Each key can map to at most one value.
  • put(K key, V value) -

    • replaces  the old value is replaced by the specified value
    • returns the previous value associated with key
  • get(Object key)
  • remove(Object key)
    • returns the previous value associated with key
  • boolean containsKey(Object key)
  • SortedMap- Extends Map
    • A map whose mappings are automatically sorted by key, either in the keys' natural ordering or by a comparator provided when a SortedMap instance is created. Extends the Map interface.
  • K firstKey() - firstEntry only in NavigableMap
  • K lastKey() - lastEntry only in NavigableMap
  • NavigableMap - Extends SortedMap
    • navigation methods returning the closest matches for given search targets.
    • May be accessed and traversed in either ascending or descending key order.
    • All methods that receives a parameter can throw exceptions:
      • ClassCast if arg type are different
      • NPE if arg is null
- -
  • List - Extends the Collection.
    • Ordered collection, also known as a sequence.
    • Duplicates are generally permitted.
    • Allows positional access.
  • Queue - Extends Collection
    • A collection designed for holding elements prior to processing.
    • Provide additional insertion, extraction, and inspection operations.
    • Each of these methods exists in two forms:
      • one throws an exception if the operation fails,
      • the other returns a special value (either null or false, depending on the operation).
Throws exception Returns special value
Insert add(e) offer(e)
Remove remove() poll()
Examine element() peek()
  • Deque - Extends Queue
    • A linear collection that supports element insertion and removal at both ends.
    • The name deque is short for "double ended queue" and is usually pronounced "deck".
    • When a deque is used as a queue, FIFO (First-In-First-Out) behavior results.
    • Deques can also be used as LIFO (Last-In-First-Out) stacks.


First Element (Head) Last Element (Tail)
Throws exception Special value Throws exception Special value
Insert addFirst(e) offerFirst(e) addLast(e) offerLast(e)
Remove removeFirst() pollFirst() removeLast() pollLast()
Examine getFirst() peekFirst() getLast() peekLast()


  • Both in a queue or stack view, the elements are always read/removed from the head of the list: element/peek/poll for queue,  pop/peek for the stack.
    • In the queue elements are added to the end of the list: add/offer
    • In the stack elements are added to the head of the list: push

The methods inherited from the Queue interface are precisely equivalent to Deque

Queue Method Equivalent Deque Method
add(e) addLast(e)
offer(e) offerLast(e)
remove() removeFirst()
poll() pollFirst()
element() getFirst()
peek() peekFirst()

Stack methods are precisely equivalent to Deque methods as indicated in the table below:

Stack Method Equivalent Deque Method
push(e) addFirst(e)
pop() removeFirst()
peek() peekFirst()


General-Purpose Implementations

  • This class permits the null element.
  • Fast access, assures no duplicates, provides no ordering.
  • Runs nearly as fast as HashSet.
  • No duplicates; iterates by insertion order.
  • not syncronized
  • No duplicates; iterates in sorted order.
  • Fast iteration and fast random access
  • synchronised
  • It's like a slower ArrayList, but it has synchronized methods.
  • May provide better performance than the ArrayList implementation if elements are frequently inserted or deleted within the list.
  • Good for adding elements to the ends, i.e., stacks and queues.
  • The elements of the priority queue are ordered according to their natural ordering, or by a Comparator provided at queue construction time
  • unbounded. its capacity grows automatically.
  • does not permit null elements
  • The head of this queue is the least element
  • The Iterator provided in method iterator() is not guaranteed to traverse the elements of the priority queue in any particular order.
  • Essentially an unsynchronized Hashtable that supports null keys and values.
  • Fastest updates (key/values); allows one null key, many null values.
  • Like a slower HashMap (as with Vector, due to its synchronized methods).
  • No null values or null keys allowed
  • Predictable iteration order.
  • Runs nearly as fast as HashMap.
  • Allows one null key, many null values.
  • A sorted map
  • Ascending element order


  • As of Java 6 TreeSets and TreeMaps have new navigation methods like floor() and higher().
  • Sorting can be in natural order, or via a Comparable or many Comparators.
  • Implement Comparable using compareTo(); provides only one sort order.
  • To be sorted and searched, a List's elements must be comparable.
  • To be searched, an array or List must first be sorted.
  • Every method that invokes a comparator with different type will throw a ClassCastException. For instance, a subset invoke on a sortedMap with different types as arguments will throw a ClassCastExecption
  • A TreeSet sorts its elements.
    • By default, it will try to sort the elements in their natural order. For this to happen, it is necessary that they implements Comparable.
    • Therefore, all types in the set must either be comparable with each other, or the comparator given to the TreeSet be able to compare the elements.
    • If a TreeSet<Number> already has one int inside it, all other numbers added must be of type int (or castable to int, e.g. short).This means long, float, etc cannot be added.
  • When adding to a hashmap, if an items hashcode and equals are equal to another item already in the map, the new item will replace the old one.
  • Prior to using Collections.binarySearch, it is necessary to first ensure the collection is sorted, which can be achieved by calling Collections.sort(). If the collection isn’t sorted, the results are undefined.
  • If a collection is sorted using a comparator, it is critical that the binarySearch method also be called with the same comparator.
  • Polling’ is the term used to mean retrieve and remove from the collection. The TreeSet interface has pollFirst() and pollLast() methods. Similarly, TreeMap has pollFirstEntry() and pollLastEntry().
  • ‘Peeking’ is the term used to mean retrieve an object from a collection, without removing it.
  • HashMap is unsynchronized and can have null keys and values. Conversely, HashTable is synchronized and cannot have null keys and values.
  • map.keySet().add("A"); //will throw an UnsupportedOperationException, it's not implemented
    • map.keySet().remove(1);    // this works fine and remove the entry from the map.
  • Generic API have the read only methods receiving Objects as arg, instead of E type. Example on the List<E> class:      int lastIndexOf(Object)
  • if MyClass extends HashSet<Person> then the overrride of the add must be add(Person) and not add(Object)

Utility methods

Method Class
Explanation static? return
reverse(List<?> list) Collections reverses the order of elements in a List. static void
reverseOrder() Collections Returns a comparator that imposes the reverse of the natural ordering static Comparator<T>
asList(T... a) Arrays Returns a fixed-size list backed by the specified array. static List<T>

toArray() Collection interface Returns an array containing all of the elements in this collection. no Object[]
toArray(T[] a) Collection interface Returns an array containing all of the elements in this collection; the runtime type of the returned array is that of the specified array. no T[]




  • add,remove and get throws an exception (for instance if  element not found)
    • offer, poll and peek returns null (for instance if  element not found)
  • stack interface is only: push, pop and peek
  • queue interface is: offer, poll and peek
  • deque interface is: offer First and Last, poll First and Last, peek First and Last. It's a double linked list !!
  • sublist does not affect the list given as parameter. It returns the modified list.

TreeSet / TreeMap

  • from SortedSet interface: first(), last(), tailSet(), headSet() and subSet(). From a natural order sequence!!
  • headSet() work exclusive until the given e. tailSet() work inclusive.
  • lower() returns the element less than the given element, and floor() returns the element less than or equal to the given element.
    • Similarly, higher() returns the element greater than the given element, and ceiling() returns the element greater than or equal to the given element.
  • subSet work inclusive at begin at exclusive and the end.
    • subMap() from NavigableMap returns an instance of SortedMap, not NavigableMap as expected.
  • subset(a, z) throws a IllegalArgumentException if z is greater than a
  • backed collections: adding elements to the subset will add the element also to the main data set
    • adding a element out of range will throw a java.lang.IllegalArgumentException
  • lower,floor,ceiling, andhigher are methods from navigableSet and from NavigableMap
  • TreeMap doesn't implement Iterable, so cannot it's not possible to iterate over the entries, only from the keySet or valuesSet
  • add() throws NPE with a null arg if set is working with natural order, or if the comparator doesn't allows null objects.
    • This only happens at second insert, because only that time the comparator is invoked.


  • As in the TreeMap and other Map implementation, it's not possible to iterate over the entries. First we need to get the values  and then we already can iterate since this is a Collection. Of course with the LinkedHashMap (that is order, and not sorted), the iteration over the values gives elements ordered by the insertion order.


  • PriorityQueue it's iterable, it's a queue and it's a collection
  • The iteration order given by the iterator is undefined, depends of the implmentation.
    • poll and peek should be used
  • It have the main method from a queue: offer(), poll(), peek(). Also the one from collection: add, remove, get...
  • Can be sorted by natural order or by any other custom order: The constructor could receive a Comparator.

Arrays, Sort and Search

  • don't forget to check if the compareTo() method is public.

Natural Order

  • Implement Comparable using compareTo(); provides only one sort order.
  • compareTo must implement the ascending order:
    • return this.value - arg.value;
  • a comparator in a natural order is:
    • compare(a, b) { return a.compareTo(b))
  • reverse order:
    • public int compareTo(Human h) {
      return h.age.compareTo(this.age);


  • void sort(Object[] a)    - sorts by natural order
    • Sorts the specified array of objects into ascending order, according to the natural ordering of its elements.
    • All elements in the array must implement the Comparableinterface.
      • Comparable interface:     int compareTo(T o)
    • Can throw a ClassCastException if there are different element types in the array
  • void sort(Object[] a, Comparator c)  - sorts by the given comprator
    • Comparator interface:   int compare(T o1, T o2)


  • binarySearch(Object[] a, Object key)    // Searches using the binary search algorithm. l.
    • If it is not sorted, the results are undefined.
    • returns the object index
  • binarySearch(Object[] a, Object key, Comparator c)
    • Comparator interface:   int compare(T o1, T o2)
    • Attempting to search an array or collection, which is not sorted will cause an unpredictable search result.
    • The binarySearch() method gives meaningful results only if it uses the same Comparator as the one used to sort the array. Other way the result is: -1

Equals and Hashcode

  • default (Object) implementation for equals and hashcode methods supports their contracts .
  • public void equals(Object o)


  • Collections methods sort(), reverse(), and binarySearch() do not work on Sets.
    • all of these have List as args, and so gives compilation error for Sets

Important notes to remimder

  • Four basic flavors of collections include
    • Lists,
    • Sets,
    • Maps,
    • Queues.
    • Map IS NOT a Collection, all others are
  • Don't forget to verify that
    • for Collection - add()
    • for Map         - put()
  • LinkedList is a (implements) List and a Queue
    • Queue is a interface

My java collections source code examples

Here are the eclipse project with some code that I did to practice. For now it isn't real exercises, is only some code to understand APIs usage.

Sources:  - SCJP Study Guide, McGrawHill
- - Collections Framework

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5 Responses to “SCJP – Java Collections Cheat Sheet”

  1. SCJP resources – How To … Says:

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  3. Lavinia Says:

    Great job! Thanks!

  4. vinodh Says:

    thanks a lot for this. cos i am preparing for interview.
    no other cheat sheet is as elaborate as this.

  5. N Says:

    Thanks for this! Very comprehensive - using it for interview prep!

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