List of Strongly-Typed Objects Acting Like Enum in Kotlin

Suppose you have a list of object instances (Kotlin’s concept for singleton classes) that are logically related to one another and you therefore want to group them together, but also want to provide direct (non-index- or iterator-based) access to them, similar to how you access an enum.

How would you go about doing that in Kotlin?

As an example, take the following DataType interface and implementing object Geolocation:

interface DataType { val typeName: String }

object GeolocationType : DataType
    override val typeName: String = "geolocation"

    fun create( longitude: Double, latitude: Double ) =
        Pair( longitude, latitude )

Imagine many more DataType‘s: WeightType, StepcountType, etc. Now you want to provide a list of SupportedTypes containing all the types your codebase supports, but you also want to provide direct access to that list, so that the create() method (and other potential type-specific members) for Geolocation can be called.

While enums in Kotlin are fairly powerful—they largely behave like normal classes and can implement interfaces—they do not support generic type parameters and (as far as I could figure out) enum values cannot be instantiated based on existing instances. You could let the enum implement the interface of the instances you want to represent and override all methods redirecting them to the wrapped instance, but:

  • This introduces an intermediate instance, which might not be desirable for equality checking.
  • Does not provide access to type-specific members, such as create() in the example given.
  • Leads to heavy code bloat which is no fun to maintain.
enum class SupportedTypes : DataType
        override val typeName = GeolocationType.typeName

        // This method can't be accessed!
        fun create( longitude: Double, latitude: Double ) =
            GeolocationType.create( longitude, latitude )

Instead, I opted to create the following base class …

open class EnumObjectList<T>
    private constructor( private val list: MutableList<T> ) :
    List<T> by list
    constructor() : this( mutableListOf() )

    protected fun <TAdd : T> add( item: TAdd ): TAdd =
        item.also { list.add( it ) }

.. and use it as follows:

object SupportedTypes : EnumObjectList<DataType>()
    val GEOLOCATION = add( GeolocationType )

This now allows to iterate all supported types, just like enums or a list, but also to get the full type information (including generics) when accessing the member directly:

val supportedTypeNames = { it.typeName }

val data = SupportedTypes.GEOLOCATION.create( 42.0, 42.0 )

For a real-world use case, which this simplified example was based on, check out PhoneSensorMeasure.SamplingSchemes in the project for which I introduced this base class.

Author: Steven Jeuris

I have a PhD in Human-Computer Interaction and am currently working both as a software engineer at iMotions and as a postdoc at the Technical University of Denmark (DTU). This blend of research and development is the type of work which motivates and excites me the most. Currently, I am working on a distributed platform which enables researchers to conduct biometric research 'in the wild' (outside of the lab environment). I have almost 10 years of professional software development experience. Prior to academia, I worked for several years as a professional full-stack software developer at a game development company in Belgium: AIM Productions. I liked the work and colleagues at the company too much to give up entirely for further studies, so I decided to combine the two. In 2009 I started studying for my master in Game and Media Technology at the University of Utrecht in the Netherlands, from which I graduated in 2012.

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