Use Pre-Encoded Characters

One of the first things you learn when programming servlets is to use a PrintWriter for writing characters and an OutputStream for writing bytes. And while that’s stylistically good advice, it’s also a bit simplistic. Here’s the full truth: just because you’re outputting characters doesn’t mean you should always use a PrintWriter!

A PrintWriter has a downside: specifically, it has to encode every character from a char to a byte sequence internally. When you have content that’s already encoded—such as content in a file, URL, or database, or even in a String held in memory—it’s often better to stick with streams. That way you can enable a straight byte-to-byte transfer. Except for those rare times when there’s a charset mismatch between the stored encoding and the required encoding, there’s no need to first decode the content into a String and then encode it again to bytes on the way to the client. Use the pre-encoded characters and you can save a lot of overhead.

To demonstrate, the servlet in Example 3-1 uses a reader to read from a text file and a writer to output text to the client. Although this follows the mantra of using Reader/Writer classes for text, it involves a wasteful, needless conversion.

Example 3-1. Chars in, chars out
import java.io.*; import java.util.prefs.*; import javax.servlet.*; import javax.servlet.http.*; public class WastedConversions extends HttpServlet { // Random file, for demo purposes only String name = "content.txt"; ...

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