How to Create a Generic Array in Java

Java generics provide a way to create reusable, type-safe code. However, due to the limitations of the Java language, it is not possible to directly create a generic array in Java. This can pose a problem when you need to create an array that can hold elements of a generic type.

The Problem with Generic Arrays

In Java, arrays are covariant, which means that a variable of type T[] can hold elements of type T or any subtype of T. However, Java generics are invariant, which means that a variable of type List<T> cannot hold elements of type List<S> even if S is a subtype of T.

Because of this, it is not possible to directly create an array of a generic type in Java. The following code would result in a compile-time error:

public class GenSet<E> {
    private E[] a;

    public GenSet() {
        a = new E[INITIAL_ARRAY_LENGTH]; // error: generic array creation

Solution using Reflection

To overcome this limitation, one possible solution is to use Java's reflection API to create a generic array. Here is an example:

import java.lang.reflect.Array;

class Stack<T> {
    private final T[] array;

    public Stack(Class<T> clazz, int capacity) {
        array = (T[])Array.newInstance(clazz, capacity);

In this solution, we use the Array.newInstance method from the reflection API to create an array of the desired generic type. The Class<T> clazz parameter is used to specify the type of the elements in the array, and the capacity parameter specifies the initial size of the array.

While this solution works, it can be a bit confusing for developers who are not familiar with Java's reflection API. Let's break down the code to understand what's happening.

Breaking Down the Solution

The first thing to notice is the (T[]) cast before the Array.newInstance call. This is necessary because the Array.newInstance method returns an Object reference which needs to be cast to the desired generic array type.

array = (T[])Array.newInstance(clazz, capacity);

The clazz parameter is a Class<T> object that represents the type of the elements in the array. It is used by the reflection API to create an instance of an array with the specified type and capacity.

Example Usage

Here's an example of how to use the Stack class with a generic type:

Stack<String> stack = new Stack<>(String.class, 10);
String value = stack.pop(); // "World"

In this example, we create a new Stack object with a generic type of String. We specify the type using the String.class parameter. We also specify an initial capacity of 10.

We can then use the push method to add elements to the stack, and the pop method to remove and retrieve elements from the stack.


Creating a generic array in Java is not directly possible due to the limitations of the Java language. However, by using Java's reflection API, we can create a workaround that allows us to create arrays of generic types. This solution may seem a bit confusing at first, but it provides a way to achieve type safety when working with generic arrays.

It is important to note that using reflection can have performance implications, so it should be used judiciously and only when necessary. In many cases, it may be possible to refactor the code to use a different data structure or approach that does not require the use of generic arrays.