The Usability of Java’s API

By Chris Stalboerger

Sun Microsystems Java is a very extensive and powerful programming language and tool. The Java programming language contains an extensive library of already made code to help to simplify the job of the programmer and support the language itself. To help the programmer search through and research all of the provided code also called Classes, Sun Microsystems has made Documentation available online for the Java programming language. The Documentation is called the Java API (Application Programming Interface).

Java’s API covers a large array of programming development tools that are published by Sun Microsystems; however the primary focus of this article is the programming language Java itself. Java’s API extensively covers well over fifteen hundred Classes, Abstract Classes, Sets, Packages, and Interfaces. Upon first glance at Java’s API you might notice it is set up in a frames page with a scroll bar down the left side so that you can scroll through an alphabetized list of everything covered in the API. If you click on one of the classes or interfaces in the list, the main frame opens up the documentation for that class or interface. The documentation for that particular class or interface displays a description of the class or interface and what it does; there is then a list of the constructors and implemented methods for that class, each with a brief description of how they work and more extensive descriptions further down on the page.

From this user’s standpoint, the Java API has some very good features. For instance, its organization is very well done. The most important information is shown first. Java’s API also does an extremely good job of giving sufficient descriptions and examples of how to implement its classes and interfaces.

The Java API also has a few downfalls.  For instance, Java’s API is so extensive that it can be a bit of a pain to find what you are looking for. Even though everything is alphabetized you often end up scrolling through hundreds of other classes and interfaces to find the one you are looking for. The API can also be somewhat difficult to understand for a beginner. If you have never used the API, there is little in the way of help within the API itself.  It can be difficult to understand its syntax if you do not have someone or something to show you what everything’s specific meaning is.

Despite the few downfalls of Java’s API these short falls can be overcome with a little reorganization and a better way to search for specific classes and interfaces. The most effective way to improve on the API is to create a faster way to search for specific classes and interfaces, and for a better explanation into any new syntax shown in the API that Java implements.

 From a usability standpoint Java’s API is organized very well and for the most part very effectively and is quite functional for an experience user. It is however, very difficult for beginners to understand and learn how to navigate but as a programming tool it is absolutely necessary.

 

Sources

Java API, http://java.sun.com/j2se/1.5.0/download.jsp