Unit testing Java data classes immutability with the Mutability Detector

Updated post can be found on my new blog site.

In all our project, we use data classes which, by definition, contain data (fields) but no (business) logic.

According to the best coding practices, a data class should preferably be immutable because immutability means thread safety. Main reference here is Joshua Bloch’s Effective Java book; this Yegor Bugayenko’s post is also very interesting reading.

An immutable class has several interesting properties:

  • it should be not sub-classable (i.e. it should be final or it should have a static factory method and a private constructor)
  • all fields should be private (to prevent direct access)
  • all fields should be written once (at instance creation time) (i.e. they should be final and without setters)
  • all mutable type (like java.util.Date) fields should be protected to prevent client write access by reference

An example of immutable class is the following:

public final class ImmutableBean {

private final String aStr;
private final int anInt;

public ImmutableBean(String aStr, int anInt) {
this.aStr = aStr;
this.anInt = anInt;

public String getAStr() {
return aStr;

public int getAnInt() {
return anInt;

Note: as frequent in Java, there is a lot of boilerplate code which hides the immutability definitions.

Libraries like Project Lombok makes our life easier because we can use the @Value annotation to easily define an immutable class as follows:

public class LombokImmutableBean {
String aStr;
int anInt;

which is a lot more more readable.

Should we (unit) test a class to check its immutability?

In a perfect world, the answer is no.

With the help of our preferred IDE automatic code generation features or with libraries like Lombok it is not difficult to add immutability to a class.

But in a real world, human errors can be happen, when we create the class or when we (or may be a junior member of the team) modify the class later on. What happen if a new field is added without final and a setter is generated by using IDE code generator? The class is no more immutable.

It is important to guarantee that the class is and remains immutable along all project lifetime.

And with the help of the Mutability Detector we can easily create a test to check the immutability status of a class.

As usual, Maven/Gradle dependencies can be found on Maven Central.

To test our ImmutableBean we can create the following jUnit test class:

import static org.mutabilitydetector.unittesting.MutabilityAssert.assertImmutable;

public class ImmutableBeanTest {

public void testClassIsImmutable() {

the test will fail if the class is not immutable.

For example, if a field is not final and it has a setter method, the test fails and the error message is very descriptive:

Expected: it.gualtierotesta.testsolutions.general.beans.ImmutableBean to be IMMUTABLE
but: it.gualtierotesta.testsolutions.general.beans.ImmutableBean is actually NOT_IMMUTABLE
Field is not final, if shared across threads the Java Memory Model will not guarantee it is initialised before it is read.
[Field: aStr, Class: it.gualtierotesta.testsolutions.general.beans.ImmutableBean]
Field [aStr] can be reassigned within method [setaStr]
[Field: aStr, Class: it.gualtierotesta.testsolutions.general.beans.ImmutableBean]

The complete project can be found on my Test Solutions gallery project on GitHub. See module general.

The approach I suggest is to use Lombok without any immutability test. If Lombok cannot be used (for example in a legacy project), use the Mutability Detector to assert that the class is really immutable.

Tutorial: using FindBugs with Maven

FindBugs can be executed using Maven in two different modes: as stand-alone command or as part of the Maven site command.

These two modes require different settings in the project pom.xml but they are not incompatible to each other so we can use both of them.

You can find complete Maven project here.

Stand-alone mode

Let’s start with the stand-alone mode which requires the following configuration in the pom.xml:

         ... other build plugins ....

Please note that the FindBugs plugin definition is inside build – plugins section of the pom file.

Giving the following command:

mvn findbugs:findbugs

FindBugs is run against our project with the following log in the console output:

[INFO] --- findbugs-maven-plugin:3.0.1:findbugs (default-cli) @ CodeQualityGallery ---
[INFO] Fork Value is true
     [java] Warnings generated: 1
[INFO] Done FindBugs Analysis....

FindBugs analyze the compiled files (*.class). If the project is not compiled or just cleaned, FindBugs will report nothing, without error messages. So take care to build your project before running FindBugs.

A warnings number is reported on the console. Warnings are possible bugs found by the FindBugs detectors.

The warnings details are included in a report created in the file target/findbugsXml.xml which is in XML format and so not really readable.

A better way to examine the warnings is to use the FindBugs native GUI with the command:

mvn findbugs:gui

The FindBugs window shows the bugs on the left, the (read-only) code on the right and the bug explanation below.

FindBugs GUI

You can filter bugs for bug rank from the most critical (“scariest”) to trivial and even, saving project status, comparing project evolution (which means how may bugs has been eliminated/introduced after previous FindBugs check).

warning48All main IDEs (Eclipse, NetBeans, IntelliJ) FindBugs plugins show similar views and they can also let you modify the code so I don’t suggest to use FindBugs native GUI unless you have to create exclusion files (see below) which is easier with the native GUI: select a bug, filter it out and export bug filters.


Site mode

Maven site command is used to generate a project “site”, which is a collection of information on the project nicely reported in HTML pages. You can configure which information is included in the site report and, of course, you can add FindBugs analysis results.

Maven site requires a “reporting section” in the pom file.

         ... other site plugins ....

Giving the following command (note: clean and install options are in to assure that project is compiled and all tests run):

mvn clean install site

on the console output we will see the following:

[INFO] --- maven-site-plugin:3.3:site (default-site) @ CodeQualityGallery ---
[INFO] configuring report plugin org.apache.maven.plugins:maven-jxr-plugin:2.5
[INFO] configuring report plugin org.apache.maven.plugins:maven-project-info-reports-plugin:2.8
[INFO] configuring report plugin org.codehaus.mojo:findbugs-maven-plugin:3.0.1
[INFO] Fork Value is true
     [java] Warnings generated: 2
[INFO] Done FindBugs Analysis....
[INFO] configuring report plugin org.apache.maven.plugins:maven-pmd-plugin:3.4
[WARNING] No project URL defined - decoration links will not be relativized!
[INFO] Rendering site with org.apache.maven.skins:maven-default-skin:jar:1.0 skin.
[INFO] Skipped "Source Xref" report, file "xref/index.html" already exists for the English version.
[INFO] Generating "Source Xref" report    --- maven-jxr-plugin:2.5
[INFO] Generating "Dependency Convergence" report    --- maven-project-info-reports-plugin:2.8
[INFO] Generating "Dependency Information" report    --- maven-project-info-reports-plugin:2.8
[INFO] Generating "About" report    --- maven-project-info-reports-plugin:2.8
[INFO] Generating "Plugin Management" report    --- maven-project-info-reports-plugin:2.8
[INFO] Generating "Project Plugins" report    --- maven-project-info-reports-plugin:2.8
[INFO] Generating "Project Team" report    --- maven-project-info-reports-plugin:2.8
[INFO] Generating "Project Summary" report    --- maven-project-info-reports-plugin:2.8
[INFO] Generating "FindBugs" report    --- findbugs-maven-plugin:3.0.1
[INFO] Generating "PMD" report    --- maven-pmd-plugin:3.4
[INFO] ------------------------------------------------------------------------

The “site” is created in the target/site dir. Opening the file target/site/index.html with the browser, we will see something like the following:

2015-06-08bIn the Project Reports section you will find the FindBugs report like the following:

2015-06-08c   The report is interesting because it give us the complete picture of our project in the summary section but also the list of the files which have FindBugs detected issues with all details including the priority (i.e. how dangerous could be the problem).

Configuration options

Regardless the used mode, the FindBugs plugin can be configured to modify and tune its behaviour. All below configurations should be placed in the configuration section of the plugin:

        .....put here

Configurations in the build and reporting sections are independent so we can have two different settings in the two modes, stand-alone and site.

Best practice is to use a light and fast configuration on the standalone mode, in order to run quick checks during development and an high effort, production quality configuration for the site mode.

Let’s examine the most important configuration options:

DEBUG: With <debug>true</debug> option, FindBugs will show what is doing during analysis. Useful to fine tune or checks the settings.

EFFORT: with  <effort>Max</effort> we can increase the time FindBugs is allowed to use to analyze the code. More effort means more accurate analysis but, of course, FindBugs run slower.

EXTERNAL PLUGINS: FindBugs can be extended with additional detectors. See my post on the topic. The  <pluginList>plugin1[, plugin2…]</pluginList> configuration option list the plugins to be used. See the sample project for a real example.

EXCLUSIONS: If you need to disable a detector or to disable the analysis on same classes, an exclude list can be specified with the <excludeFilterFile> path_to_exclude_file </excludeFilterFile> option. File syntax is documented here. An easy way to create this file is by using the FindBugs GUI which has an export filter function. See the sample project for a real example.


Improving NetBeans FindBugs integration

In NetBeans 7.4, the FindBugs integration inside the IDE has been improved giving us the possibility to specify additional rules to be checked.

FindBugs has a plugin architecture that let user to add custom rules sets. I usually add FindBugs rules from FBContrib, a FindBugs auxiliary rules set.

There are hundred of rules included in FBContrib. Complete list can be found here.

What is amazing in NetBeans is that not only you can tell the IDE to use the additional rules sets but that the new rules are seamless integrated in the NetBeans interface. For example, FBContrib rules are grouped together with standard FindBugs checks.

First step is to specify the path to the FBContrib jar file (downloaded from the FBContrib website) in the FindBugs configuration (Options –> Editor –> Hints –> FindBugs )


Press “Custom FindBugs Plugins” button.


The “Add” button let us specify one or more additional jar files.

As I already mentioned, the rules included in the FBContrib jar file are integrated with the other native FindBugs rules.

See for example, the rules related to the “Secure” description before


and after FBContrib has been specified:


Both native and FBContrib rules can be enabled and disabled one by one.

With NetBeans Hints, FindBugs and, may be, PMD (see this post on PMD plugin ) all enabled there is a good chance that one problematic line can have more than one warning. In this case I suggest to keep native NetBeans hints enabled and disable the check in the other tools, mainly because NetBeans native checks are faster.