Imagine There’s No Null

Wednesday, May 27th, 2009

A couple of weeks ago I spent a considerable amount of time chasing down bugs involving null in a large code base: null checks after a variable had already been dereferenced, nulls passed to methods that would immediately dereference them, equals() methods that didn’t check for null, and more. Using FindBugs, I identified literally hundreds of bugs involving null handling; and that got me thinking: Could we just eliminate null completely? Should we?

What follows is a thought experiment, not a serious proposal. Still it might be informative to think about it; and perhaps it will catch the eye of the designer of the next great language.