Top 10 questions about Java Collections

The following are the most popular questions of Java collections asked and discussed on Stackoverflow. Before you look at those questions, it's a good idea to see the class hierarchy diagram.

1. When to use LinkedList over ArrayList?

ArrayList is essentially an array. Its elements can be accessed directly by index. But if the array is full, a new larger array is needed to allocate and moving all elements to the new array will take O(n) time. Also adding or removing an element needs to move existing elements in an array. This might be the most disadvantage to use ArrayList.

LinkedList is a double linked list. Therefore, to access an element in the middle, it has to search from the beginning of the list. On the other hand, adding and removing an element in LinkedList is quicklier, because it only changes the list locally.

In summary, the worst case of time complexity comparison is as follows:

                   | Arraylist | LinkedList
 get(index)        |    O(1)   |   O(n)
 add(E)            |    O(n)   |   O(1)
 add(E, index)     |    O(n)   |   O(n)
 remove(index)     |    O(n)   |   O(n)
 Iterator.remove() |    O(n)   |   O(1)
 Iterator.add(E)   |    O(n)   |   O(1)

Despite the running time, memory usage should be considered too especially for large lists. In LinkedList, every node needs at least two extra pointers to link the previous and next nodes; while in ArrayList, only an array of elements is needed.

More comparisons between list.

2. Efficient equivalent for removing elements while iterating the Collection

The only correct way to modify a collection while iterating is using Iterator.remove(). For example,

Iterator<Integer> itr = list.iterator();
while(itr.hasNext()) {
   // do something

One most frequent incorrect code is

for(Integer i: list) {

You will get a ConcurrentModificationException by running the above code. This is because an iterator has been generated (in for statement) to traverse over the list, but at the same time the list is changed by Iterator.remove(). In Java, "it is not generally permissible for one thread to modify a collection while another thread is iterating over it."

3. How to convert List to int[]?

The easiest way might be using ArrayUtils in Apache Commons Lang library.

int[] array = ArrayUtils.toPrimitive(list.toArray(new Integer[0]));

In JDK, there is no short-cut. Note that you can not use List.toArray(), because that will convert List to Integer[]. The correct way is following,

int[] array = new int[list.size()];
for(int i=0; i < list.size(); i++) {
  array[i] = list.get(i);

4. How to convert int[] into List?

The easiest way might still be using ArrayUtils in Apache Commons Lang library, like below.

List list = Arrays.asList(ArrayUtils.toObject(array));

In JDK, there is no short-cut either.

int[] array = {1,2,3,4,5};
List<Integer> list = new ArrayList<Integer>();
for(int i: array) {

5. What is the best way to filter a Collection?

Again, you can use third-party package, like Guava or Apache Commons Lang to fullfil this function. Both provide a filter() method (in Collections2 of Guava and in CollectionUtils of Apache). The filter() method will return elements that match a given Predicate.

In JDK, things become harder. A good news is that in Java 8, Predicate will be added. But for now you have to use Iterator to traverse the whole collection.

Iterator<Integer> itr = list.iterator();
while(itr.hasNext()) {
   int i =;
   if (i > 5) { // filter all ints bigger than 5

Of course you can mimic the way of what Guava and Apache did, by introducing a new interface Predicate. That might also be what most advanced developers will do.

public interface Predicate<T> {
   boolean test(T o);
public static <T> void filter(Collection<T> collection, Predicate<T> predicate) {
    if ((collection != null) && (predicate != null)) {
       Iterator<T> itr = collection.iterator();
          while(itr.hasNext()) {
            T obj =;
            if (!predicate.test(obj)) {

Then we can use the following code to filter a collection:

filter(list, new Predicate<Integer>() {
    public boolean test(Integer i) { 
       return i <= 5; 

6. Easiest way to convert a List to a Set?

There are two ways to do so, depending on how you want equal defined. The first piece of code puts a list into a HashSet. Duplication is then identified mostly by hashCode(). In most cases, it will work. But if you need to specify the way of comparison, it is better to use the second piece of code where you can define your own comparator.

Set<Integer> set = new HashSet<Integer>(list);
Set<Integer> set = new TreeSet<Integer>(aComparator);

7. How do I remove repeated elements from ArrayList?

This question is quite related to the above one.
If you don't care the ordering of the elements in the ArrayList, a clever way is to put the list into a set to remove duplication, and then to move it back to the list. Here is the code

ArrayList** list = ... // initial a list with duplicate elements
Set<Integer> set = new HashSet<Integer>(list);

If you DO care about the ordering, order can be preserved by putting a list into a LinkedHashSet which is in the standard JDK.

8. Sorted collection

There are a couple of ways to maintain a sorted collection in Java. All of them provide a collection in natural ordering or by the specified comparator. By natural ordering, you also need to implement the Comparable interface in the elements.

  1. Collections.sort() can sort a List. As specified in the javadoc, this sort is stable, and guarantee n log(n) performance.
  2. PriorityQueue provides an ordered queue. The difference between PriorityQueue and Collections.sort() is that, PriorityQueue maintain an order queue at all time, but you can only get the head element from the queue. You can not randomly access its element like PriorityQueue.get(4).
  3. If there is no duplication in the collection, TreeSet is another choice. Same as PriorityQueue, it maintains the ordered set at all time. You can get the lowest and highest elements from the TreeSet. But you still cannot randomly access its element.

In a short, Collections.sort() provides a one-time ordered list. PriorityQueue and TreeSet maintain ordered collections at all time, in the cost of no indexed access of elements.

9. Collections.emptyList() vs new instance

The same question applies to emptyMap() and emptySet().

Both methods return an empty list, but Collections.emptyList() returns a list that is immutable. This mean you cannot add new elements to the "empty" list. At the background, each call of Collections.emptyList() actually won't create a new instance of an empty list. Instead, it will reuse the existing empty instance. If you are familiar Singleton in the design pattern, you should know what I mean. So this will give you better performance if called frequently.

10 Collections.copy

There are two ways to copy a source list to a destination list. One way is to use ArrayList constructor

ArrayList<Integer> dstList = new ArrayList<Integer>(srcList);

The other is to use Collections.copy() (as below). Note the first line, we allocate a list at least as long as the source list, because in the javadoc of Collections, it says The destination list must be at least as long as the source list.

ArrayList<Integer> dstList = new ArrayList<Integer>(srcList.size());
Collections.copy(dstList, srcList);

Both methods are shallow copy. So what is the difference between these two methods?

  • First, Collections.copy() won't reallocate the capacity of dstList even if dstList does not have enough space to contain all srcList elements. Instead, it will throw an IndexOutOfBoundsException. One may question if there is any benefit of it. One reason is that it guarantees the method runs in linear time. Also it makes suitable when you would like to reuse arrays rather than allocate new memory in the constructor of ArrayList.

  • Collections.copy() can only accept List as both source and destination, while ArrayList accepts Collection as the parameter, therefore more general.

Category >> Basics >> Classes & Interfaces >> Collections >> Top 10  
If you want someone to read your code, please put the code inside <pre><code> and </code></pre> tags. For example:
String foo = "bar";

  1. Thomas Mauch on 2013-9-24

    ArrayList vs LinkedList

    As mentioned, unfortunately both ArrayList and LinkedList have their drawbacks: ArrayList is slow if insertion/removal does not happen at the end and LinkedList is slow at accessing elements by index.

    There is a new list implementation called GapList which combines the strengths of both ArrayList and LinkedList. It has been designed as drop-in replacement for both ArrayList and LinkedList and therefore implements both the interfaces List and Deque.

    GapList’s implementation guarantees efficient random access to elements by index (as ArrayList does) and at the same time efficient adding and removing elements to and from head and tail of the list (as LinkedList does).

    You find more information about GapList at

  2. ypeng on 2013-9-24

    GapList is really an interesting implementation of List. I think it is very similar to “Circular buffer” ( I am not sure if others have implemented such data structure. If not, your project must be very valuable.

  3. Victor on 2013-9-25

    4. How to convert int[] into List?

    Specify size of the list when you know it:

    int[] array = {1,2,3,4,5};
    List list = new ArrayList(array.length);
    for(int i: array) {

  4. ypeng on 2013-9-25


  5. Thorsten on 2013-9-26

    6): “mostly by hashCode()” is simply not true – it still is “equals()” that is used for the comparision (after finding the “bucket” using hashCode)

    7): To keep the order, just use a “LinkedHashSet” instead of “HashSet”. No loops required.

  6. 939347507 on 2013-11-1

    use Arrays.asList() method is worked….

  7. Javin Paul on 2014-5-17

    Good questions, I personally like the question 5, how to filter collection which demonstrate use of Java 8 feature. By the way, I have also shared some 25 questions from Java collections for Interviews, let me know if you find it useful. Thanks

  8. ZDani on 2014-5-23

    4. How to convert[] into List ?

    In JDK:
    int[] array = {1, 2};
    List list = Arrays.asList(array);

  9. lhgh on 2015-11-4

    String foo = "bar";
    String abu

  10. Harsh on 2015-12-8

    Converting the int[] to List in Java 8 can be done as

    int[] ints = {1,2,3};
    List list = IntStream.of(ints).boxed().collect(Collectors.toList());

  11. Ankit Shah on 2016-2-2

    converting int[] to list even before java 8
    List list = new ArrayList(Arrays.asList(3,4));

Leave a comment