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Java Formattable example


How to print Java object using custom format? Since Java 5 there’s Formattable interface exactly for that purpose. Here’s an example of how to use it.


Java has very flexible formatting syntax and allows to output text in very different ways. Since Java 5 there’s a java.util.Formattable interface that allows to apply custom formatting for printing own objects, which is very cool. :-) The interface has only one method formatTo(…) that should be implemented.

In the following example we create two books and print them applying different formatting rules: justification, alternate format, locales, applying size constraints:


import java.util.Formattable;
import java.util.Formatter;
import java.util.List;
import java.util.Locale;

import static java.util.Arrays.asList;
import static java.util.FormattableFlags.*;

public class FormattableExample {

    public static class Book implements Formattable {

        private String symbol;
        private String bookName;
        private String polishName;

        public Book(String symbol, String bookName, String polishName) {
            this.symbol = symbol;
            this.bookName = bookName;
            this.polishName = polishName;

        public void formatTo(Formatter fmt, int flags, int width, int precision) {
            StringBuilder sb = new StringBuilder();

            String name = computeName(fmt, flags, precision);
            applyPrecision(precision, sb, name);
            applyFilling(flags, width, sb);


        private void applyFilling(int flags, int minWidth, StringBuilder sb) {
            int currentLength = sb.length();
            if (currentLength < minWidth) {
                // prepend or append spaces depending on justification
                boolean leftJustified = isEnabled(flags, LEFT_JUSTIFY);
                for (int i = 0, toAdd = minWidth - currentLength; i < toAdd; i++) {
                    if (leftJustified) {
                        sb.append(' ');
                    } else {
                        sb.insert(0, ' ');

        private void applyPrecision(int precision, StringBuilder sb, String out) {
            if (unspecified(precision) || fitsInPrecision(precision, out)) {
            } else {
                sb.append(out.substring(0, precision-1)).append('*');

        private boolean fitsInPrecision(int precision, String out) {
            return out.length() < precision;

        private boolean unspecified(int precision) {
            return precision == -1;

        private String computeName(Formatter fmt, int flags, int precision) {
            return shouldUseSymbol(flags, precision) ? symbol : getLocalizedName(fmt);

        private String getLocalizedName(Formatter fmt) {
            return fmt.locale().equals(Locale.forLanguageTag("pl_PL"))
                    ? polishName : bookName;

        private boolean shouldUseSymbol(int flags, int precision) {
            return isEnabled(flags, ALTERNATE) || (precision != -1 && precision < 10);

        private boolean isEnabled(int flags, int leftJustify) {
            return (flags & leftJustify) == leftJustify;

        public String toString() {
            return String.format("[%s] %s", symbol, bookName);

    public static void main(String[] args) {
        List<Book> books = asList(
                new Book("GOF",
                        "Design Patterns: Elements of Reusable Object-Oriented Software",
                        "Wzorce projektowe. Elementy oprogramowania obiektowego wielokrotnego użytku"),
                new Book("Wizard Book",
                        "Structure and Interpretation of Computer Programs",
                        "Struktura i interpretacja programów komputerowych"));

        for (Book book : books) {

    private static void printBook(Book book) {
        System.out.println("Format: formatted output");
        System.out.printf("\"%%s\"(toString()): '%s'%n", book.toString());
        System.out.printf("\"%%s\": '%s'%n", book);
        // Alternate format:
        System.out.printf("\"%%#s\"(alternate): '%#s'%n", book);
        System.out.printf("\"%%-10.5s\"(left,width,precision): '%-10.5s'%n", book);
        System.out.printf("\"%%.13s\": '%.13s'%n", book);
        // With custom Locale:
                         "\"%%25s\"(pl_PL): '%25s'%n", book);

And here’s the output of the program:

Format: formatted output
"%s"(toString()): '[GOF] Design Patterns: Elements of Reusable Object-Oriented Software'
"%s": 'Design Patterns: Elements of Reusable Object-Oriented Software'
"%#s"(alternate): 'GOF'
"%-10.5s"(left,width,precision): 'GOF       '
"%.13s": 'Design Patte*'
"%25s"(pl_PL): 'Wzorce projektowe. Elementy oprogramowania obiektowego wielokrotnego użytku'

Format: formatted output
"%s"(toString()): '[Wizard Book] Structure and Interpretation of Computer Programs'
"%s": 'Structure and Interpretation of Computer Programs'
"%#s"(alternate): 'Wizard Book'
"%-10.5s"(left,width,precision): 'Wiza*     '
"%.13s": 'Structure an*'
"%25s"(pl_PL): 'Struktura i interpretacja programów komputerowych'

The output is pretty clear. One thing to note is how precision and width work together. This can be seen in the second book %-10.5s format. Even though width is 10 characters, the output contains only 5 (precision size) of them from the book, the rest is padding. So the way to interpret that is: width is the size of the output and precision is the part of output designated to use.

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