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Tutorial: Migrating to Java 8

Keeping your code up to date with the latest versions of languages and libraries is a challenging task. Fortunately, IntelliJ IDEA can make this easier, with inspections to guide your efforts, automatic fixes, and the usual refactoring tools.

Java SE 8 brings entire new concepts to the language, like lambda expressions, and adds new methods to classes that developers have been using comfortably for years. In addition, there are new ways of doing things, including the new Date and Time API, and an Optional type to help with null-safety.

In this tutorial we're going to show how IntelliJ IDEA can help you transition your code from Java 6 (or 7) to Java 8, using code examples to show what help is available and when you may, or may not, choose to use new features.

This tutorial assumes the following prerequisites:

  • You already have an IntelliJ IDEA project for an existing codebase.

On this page:

Approaching the problem

The sheer number of options and features that IntelliJ IDEA has available might be overwhelming, especially when tackling a problem as big as trying to migrate a whole codebase (or even just a module or package) to a new version. As with most software development problems, it pays to approach this in an iterative fashion.

  1. Pick a small number of changes to implement.
  2. Pick a section of the codebase to apply them to.
  3. Apply the changes in batches, running your project tests frequently and checking in to your VCS system when the tests are green.

To this end, this tutorial will group changes into sections rather than assume a Big Bang approach.

Initial setup

  1. Make sure you're compiling with a Java 8 SDK. If you're not, change your SDK to the latest version of Java 8.
  2. In the project settings, you should set your language level to "8.0 - Lambdas, type annotations".

If you are compiling the code in a CI environment, you'll need to ensure the new code is compiled using Java 8 there as well. Configuring this is beyond the scope of this tutorial.

Configuring and running language level migration inspections

Your project may already make use of inspections to encourage a certain level of consistency and quality in the code. To focus purely on just making changes related to upgrading to Java 8, we're going to create a new inspection profile.

  1. Navigate to the inspections settings.
  2. Create a new inspection profile called "Java8".
  3. As a starting point for this profile, deselect everything using the "reset to empty" button resetProfile.png.
  4. We're going to select a set of language migration inspections to point out sections of the code we might want to update:
    These inspections will show us areas in your code where you may be able to use the following Java 8 features:
  5. Click OK to save these settings to the "Java8" profile and close the settings window.
  6. Run the inspections, selecting the "Java8" profile and the scope to run the inspections on. If your project is small, that might be the whole codebase, but more likely you will want to select a module or package to start with.

Once Analyse code has finished running, you'll see a set of results in the Inspection Tool Window.

Lambda expressions

The inspections will show you places where you can convert code automatically to use lambda expressions. There are a number of places you might typically discover this in your existing code, for example when you create anonymous inner classes for:

  1. In the Inspection Tool Window, you should see results grouped under "Java language level migration aids". Under this heading, you may see "Anonymous type can be replaced with lambda". Open up this heading to see all the sections of the code where IntelliJ IDEA has detected you can use a lambda. You might see something like this:
  2. For example, you may come across a Runnable anonymous inner class:
    executorService.scheduleAtFixedRate(new Runnable() { @Override public void run() { getDs().save(new CappedPic(title)); } }, 0, 500, MILLISECONDS);
  3. Many inspections suggest a fix that can be applied, and "Anonymous type can be replaced with lambda" does have a suggested resolution. To apply the fix, either:
    • Click on the Problem Resolution in the right of the inspection window, in our case this is Replace with lambda.
    • Or press Alt+Enter on the grey code in the editor and select Replace with lambda.
  4. IntelliJ IDEA will then automatically change the code above to use a lambda expression:
    executorService.scheduleAtFixedRate(() -> getDs().save(new CappedPic(title)), 0, 500, MILLISECONDS);

You'll notice that lambda expressions can state very little in terms of type information. Here, the fact that this lambda represents an implementation of Runnable all but disappears. IntelliJ IDEA will provide you with information about the type of the lambda expression via the lambda icon in the left gutter:

Hovering over this will tell you the type, and clicking lets you navigate to the declaration.

Impact of applying lambda expressions

You should be able to automatically apply this fix to all places where anonymous inner classes are found in your codebase without impacting the functionality in your system. Applying the change will generally also improve the readability of your code, removing lines of boilerplate like in the example above.

However, you may want to check each individual change, as:

  • Larger anonymous inner classes may not be very readable in a lambda form.
  • There may be additional changes and improvements you can make.

Let's address both points with an example.

We might be using a Runnable to group a specific set of assertions in our test:

Runnable runnable = new Runnable() { @Override public void run() { datastoreProvider.register(database); Assert.assertNull(database.find(User.class, "id", 1).get()); Assert.assertNull(database.find(User.class, "id", 3).get()); User foundUser = database.find(User.class, "id", 2).get(); Assert.assertNotNull(foundUser); Assert.assertNotNull(database.find(User.class, "id", 4).get()); Assert.assertEquals("Should find 1 friend", 1, foundUser.friends.size()); Assert.assertEquals("Should find the right friend", 4, foundUser.friends.get(0).id); } };

Converting this to a lambda results in:

Runnable runnable = () -> { datastoreProvider.register(database); Assert.assertNull(database.find(User.class, "id", 1).get()); Assert.assertNull(database.find(User.class, "id", 3).get()); User foundUser = database.find(User.class, "id", 2).get(); Assert.assertNotNull(foundUser); Assert.assertNotNull(database.find(User.class, "id", 4).get()); Assert.assertEquals("Should find 1 friend", 1, foundUser.friends.size()); Assert.assertEquals("Should find the right friend", 4, foundUser.friends.get(0).id); };
This is not much shorter, nor does it impact readability much.

In cases like these, you may choose to use IntelliJ IDEA's extract method to pull these lines into a single method instead:

Runnable runnable = () -> { assertUserMatchesSpecification(database, datastoreProvider); };

The second reason to check all your lambda conversions is that some lambdas can be further simplified. This last example is one of them - IntelliJ IDEA will show the curly braces in grey, and pressing Alt+Enter with the cursor on the braces will pop up the suggested change Statement lambda can be replaced with expression lambda:


Accepting this change will result in:

Runnable runnable = () -> assertUserMatchesSpecification(database, datastoreProvider);

Once you've changed your anonymous inner classes to lambdas and made any manual adjustments you might want to make, like extracting methods or reformatting the code, run all your tests to make sure everything still works. If so, commit these changes to VCS. Once you've done this, you'll be ready to move to the next step.

New Collection Methods

Java 8 introduced a new way of working with collections of data, through the Streams API. What's less well known is that many of the Collection classes we're used to working with have new methods on them that are not via the Streams API. For example, java.util.Iterable has a forEach method that lets you pass in a lambda that represents an operation to run on every element. IntelliJ IDEA's inspections will highlight areas where you can use this and other new methods.

  1. Back in the Inspection Tool Window, you should see "foreach can be collapsed with stream api" under "Java language level migration aids". You may not realise when you're going through all the inspections, but not all of these fixes will use the Streams API (more on Streams later). For example:
    for (Class<? extends Annotation > annotation : INTERESTING_ANNOTATIONS) { addAnnotation(annotation); }
    IntelliJ IDEA suggests "Can be replaced with foreach call". Applying this inspection gives us:
    Note that IntelliJ IDEA has applied all simplifications it could, going as far as using a Method Reference rather than a lambda. Method references are another new features in Java 8, which can generally be used where a lambda expression would usually call a single method.
  2. Method references take a while to get used to, so you may prefer to expand this into a lambda to see the lambda version:
    Press Alt+Enter on the method reference and click Replace method reference with lambda. This is especially useful as you get used to all the new syntax. In lambda form, it looks like:
    INTERESTING_ANNOTATIONS.forEach((annotation) -> addAnnotation(annotation));

Both of the new forms do exactly the same thing as the original code - for every item in the INTERESTING_ANNOTATIONS list, it calls addAnnotation with the item.

Streams API - foreach

IntelliJ IDEA's inspections will suggest using the forEach on Iterable where appropriate, but it will also the new Streams API where this is a better choice.

The Streams API is a powerful tool for querying and manipulating data, and using it could significantly change and simplify the code you write. For this tutorial, we're going to look at some of the simplest use cases to get you started. Once you're more comfortable using this style of coding, you may then want to use its capabilities further.

  1. What does the Streams API give us that we can't simply get from using a forEach method? Let's look at an example that's a slightly more complicated for loop than the previous one:
    public void addAllBooksToLibrary(Set<Book> books) { for (Book book: books) { if (book.isInPrint()) { library.add(book); } } }
    Firstly the loop body checks some condition, then does something with the items that pass that condition.
  2. Selecting the fix Replace with forEach will use the Streams API to do the same thing:
    public void addAllBooksToLibrary(Set <Book> books) { .filter(book -> book.isInPrint()) .forEach(library::add); }
    In this case, IntelliJ IDEA has selected a method reference for the forEach parameter. For filter, IntelliJ IDEA has used a lambda, but will suggest in the editor that this particular example can use a method reference:
  3. Applying this fix gives: .filter(Book::isInPrint) .forEach(library::add);

Streams API - collect

Instead of "can be replaced with foreach" call you might see "can be replaced with collect call". This is very similar to the above example, but instead of calling a forEach method at the end of the stream and performing some operation, this will use the stream's collect method to put all the results from the stream operation into a new Collection. It's very common to see a for loop that iterates over some collection, performs some sort of filtering or manipulating, and outputs the results into a new collection, and that's the sort of code this inspection will identify and migrate to using the Streams API.

  1. In the Inspection Tool Window, you should see "foreach can be replaced with collect call" under "Java language level migration aids". Selecting one of these inspection results will show you a for loop that might look something like:
    List <Key> keys = .... List <Key.Id> objIds = new ArrayList<Key.Id>(); for (Key key : keys) { objIds.add(key.getId()); }
    Here, we're looping over a list of Key objects, getting the Id from each of these objects, and putting them all into a separate collection of objIds.
  2. Apply the Replace with collect fix to turn this code into:
    List<Key.Id> objIds =;
  3. Reformat this code so that you can see more clearly all the Stream operations:
    List<Key.Id> objIds = .map(Key::getId) .collect(Collectors.toList());
    This does exactly the same thing the original code did - takes a collection of Keys, "maps" each Key to its Id, and collects those into a new list, objIds.

Like the forEach example, IntelliJ IDEA can work out if a filter needs applying to a collect statement as well as maps, so it can cleverly turn many of your complex loops into a set of Stream operations.

Impact of replacing foreach with Streams

It may be tempting to run these inspections and simply apply all fixes automatically. When it comes to converting your code to use new methods on Collections or Streams, a little care should be taken. The IDE will ensure that your code works the same way it used to, but you need to check that your code remains readable and understandable after applying the changes. If you and your team are using Java 8 features for the first time, some of the new code will be very unfamiliar and probably unclear. Take the time to look at each change individually and check you're happy you understand the new code before going ahead.

Like with lambdas, a good rule of thumb is to start with small sections of code - short for loops that translate into two or fewer stream operations, preferably with single-line lambdas. As you become more familiar with the methods, then you may want to tackle more complex code.

Let's look at an example:

IntelliJ IDEA suggests that this code:

for (Entry<Class <? extends Annotation>, List<Annotation>> e : getAnnotations().entrySet()) { if (e.getValue() != null && !e.getValue().isEmpty()) { for (Annotation annotation: e.getValue()) { destination.addAnnotation(e.getKey(), annotation); } } }
Can be converted to this code:
getAnnotations().entrySet() .stream() .filter(e -> e.getValue() != null && !e.getValue().isEmpty()) .forEach(e -> { for (Annotation annotation: e.getValue()) { destination.addAnnotation(e.getKey(), annotation); } });
Setting aside the fact that the original code is challenging to understand to begin with, you may choose not to apply the changes for a number of reasons:
  • Despite refactoring away the outer-loop, there's still a for loop inside the forEach method. This suggests that there may be a different way to structure the stream call, perhaps using flatMap.
  • The destination.addAnnotation method suggests that there may be a way to restructure this to use a collect call rather than a forEach.
  • It's arguably not easier to understand than the original code.
However, you may choose to accept this change for the following reasons:
  • This is a complex piece of code that is iterating through and manipulating data in a collection, therefore a move towards the Streams API is a move in the right direction. It can be further refactored or improved later when the team's developers are more familiar with the way Streams work.
  • In the new code the if condition has been moved into a filter call, making clearer what purpose this section of the code is.
Apart from the options "keep the code" and "apply the changes", there's a third option: refactor the old code to something more readable, even if it doesn't use Java 8. This might be a good piece of code to make a note of to refactor later, rather than trying to tackle all the code's problems while simply trying to adopt more Java 8 conventions.

New Date and Time API

The inspections we've selected for our "Java8" profile help us to locate places where we can use lambda expressions, new methods on Collections and the Streams API, and will apply fixes automatically to those places. There are plenty of other new features in Java 8, and in the following sections we'll highlight some features of IntelliJ IDEA that may help you use these too.

In this section, we'll look at locating places that may benefit from using the new Date and Time API instead of java.util.Date and java.util.Calendar.

  1. You'll need to enable a new inspection to locate uses of the old Date and Time API.
    Note that although many methods have been deprecated on java.util.Date for some time, the class itself is not deprecated, so if you use it in your code you will not receive deprecation warnings. That's why this inspection is useful to locate usages.
  2. Run the inspection. You should see a list of results that looks something like this:
  3. Unlike the earlier inspections, these do not have suggested fixes as they will require you and your team to evaluate the use of the old classes and decide how to migrate them to the new API. If you have a Date field that represents a single date without a time, for example:
    public class HotelBooking { private final Hotel hotel; private final Date checkInDate; private final Date checkOutDate; // constructor, getters and setters... }
    you may choose to replace this with a LocalDate. This can be done via the context menu Refactor | Type Migration... or via Ctrl+Shift+F6. Type LocalDate in the popup and select java.time.LocalDate. When you press enter, this will change the type of this field and getters and setters. You may still need to address compilation errors where the field, getters or setters are used.
  4. For fields that are both date and time, you may choose to migrate these to java.time.LocalDateTime. For fields that are only time, java.time.LocalTime may be appropriate.
  5. If you were setting the original values with a new Date, knowing that this is the equivalent to the date and time right now:
    booking.setCheckInDate(new Date());
    you can instead use the now() method:
  6. A common and readable way to set a value for java.util.Date was to use java.text.SimpleDateFormat. You might see code that looks something like:
    SimpleDateFormat format = new SimpleDateFormat("yyyy-MM-dd"); booking.setCheckInDate(format.parse("2017-03-02"));
    If this check in date has been migrated to a LocalDate, you can easily set this to the specific date without the use of a formatter:
    booking.setCheckInDate(LocalDate.of(2017, 3, 2));

These examples barely scratch the surface of the changes you may want or need to do in order to fully utilise the new date and time features in Java 8. Take a look at the tutorial provided by Oracle for more information on the new API features and how to use them.

Impact of migrating to the new Date and Time API

Updating your code to use the new Date and Time API requires much more manual intervention than migrating anonymous inner classes to Lambda Expressions and loops to the Streams API. IntelliJ IDEA will help you see how much and where you use the old java.util.Date and java.util.Calendar classes, which will help you understand the scope of the migration. IntelliJ IDEA's refactoring tools can help you migrate these types if necessary. However, you will need to have a strategy on how to approach each of the changes, which new types you want to use, and how to use these correctly. This is not a change you can apply automatically.

Using Optional

The last Java 8 feature we'll look at is the new Optional type. java.util.Optional gives you a way to handle null values, and a way to specify if a method call is expected to return a null value or not. Like Date and Time, IntelliJ IDEA's features will help you to identify areas of your code that might benefit from using the Optional type.

  1. There are a number of inspections that look for the use nulls in Java code, these can be useful for identifying areas that may benefit from using Optional. We'll look at enabling just two of these inspections for simplicity:
  2. Run the code analysis. You should see a list of results that looks something like this:
  3. If you see "Assignment to null" for fields, you may want to consider turning this field into an Optional. For example, in the code below, the line where offset is assigned will be flagged:
    private Integer offset; // code.... public Builder offset(int value) { offset = value > 0 ? value : null; return this; } // more code...
    That's because in another method, the code checks to see if this value has been set before doing something with it:
    if (offset != null) { cursor.skip(offset); }
    In this case, null is a valid value for offset - it indicates this has not been set, and therefore shouldn't be used. You may wish to change the field into an Optional of Integer via Ctrl+Shift+F6, and alter the way the value is set:
    private Optional<Integer> offset; // code... public Builder offset(int value) { offset = value > 0 ? Optional.of(value) : Optional.empty(); return this; } // more code...
    Then you can use the methods on Optional instead of performing null-checks. The simplest solution is:
    if (offset.isPresent()) { cursor.skip(offset); }
    But it's much more elegant to use a Lambda Expression to define what to do with the value:
    offset.ifPresent(() -> cursor.skip(offset));
  4. The inspections also indicate places where a method returns null. If you have a method that can return a null value, the code that calls this method should check if it returned null and take appropriate action. It's easy to forget to do this though, especially if the developer isn't aware the method can return a null. Changing these methods to return an Optional makes it much more explicit this might not return a value. For example, maybe our inspections flagged this method as returning a null value:
    public Customer findFirst() { if (customers.isEmpty()) { return null; } else { return customers.get(0); } }
    We could alter this method to return an Optional of Customer:
    public Optional<Customer> findFirst() { if (customers.isEmpty()) { return Optional.empty(); } else { return Optional.ofNullable(customers.get(0)); } }
  5. You'll need to change the code that calls these methods to deal with the Optional type. This might be the correct place to make a decision about what to do if the value does not exist. In the example above, perhaps the code that calls the findFirst method used to look like this:
    Customer firstCustomer = customerDao.findFirst(); if (firstCustomer == null) { throw new CustomerNotFoundException(); } else { firstCustomer.setNewOffer(offer); }
    But we're now returning an Optional, we can eliminate the null check:
    Optional<Customer> firstCustomer = customerDao.findFirst(); firstCustomer.orElseThrow(() -> new CustomerNotFoundException()) .setNewOffer(offer);

Impact of migrating to Optional

Changing a field type to Optional can have a big impact, and it's not easy to do everything automatically. To start with, try to keep the use of Optional inside the class - if you can change the field to an Optional try not expose this via getters and setters, this will let you do a more gradual migration.

Changing method return types to Optional has an even bigger impact, and you may see these changes ripple through your codebase in an unexpected way. Applying this approach to all values that can be null could result in Optional variables and fields all over the code, with multiple places to performing isPresent checks or using the Optional methods to perform an action or throw an appropriate exception.

Remember that the goal of using the new features in Java 8 is to simplify the code and aid readability, so limit the scope of the changes to small sections of the code and check that using Optional is making your code easier to understand, not more difficult to maintain.

IntelliJ IDEA's inspections will identify possible places for change, and the refactoring tools can help apply these changes, but refactoring to Optional has a large impact and you and your team should identify a strategy for which areas to change and how to approach these changes. You can even use the suggested fix of "Annotate field [fieldName] as @Nullable" to mark those fields that are candidates for migrating to Optional, in order to take a step in that direction with a smaller impact on the code.


IntelliJ IDEA's Inspections, in particular those around language migration, can help identify areas in your code that can be refactored to use Java 8 features, and even apply those fixes automatically.

If you have applied the fixes automatically, it's valuable to look at the updated code to check it isn't harder to understand, and to help you become familiar with the new features.

This tutorial gave some pointers on how to migrate your code. We've covered lambda expressions and method references, some new methods on Collection, introduced the Streams API, shown how IntelliJ IDEA can help you use the new Date and Time API and looked at how to identify places that might benefit from using the new Optional type.

There are plenty of new features in Java 8 designed to make life easier for programmers - to make code more readable, and to make it easier to perform complex operations on data structures. IntelliJ IDEA of course not only supports these features, but helps developers make use of them, including migrating existing code and providing help and suggestions in the editor to guide you as you use them.

Last modified: 5 September 2016