Don't declare local variables before use

Most local variables are declared and initialized on the same line, at the point in the method where both its initial value is available and the variable itself is immediately useful.

Declaring local variables without using them immediately may unnecessarily increase their scope. This decreases legibility, and increases the likelihood of error.

There are two common cases where a local variable is assigned some default initial value (typically null, 0, false, or an empty String):


Here, input and output are examples of local variables being initialized to null, since they need to be visible in both the try and finally blocks.

As well, line is an example of a loop variable declared and initialized outside the loop.

Note that this example uses JDK 6, simply to illustrate the point. In JDK 7, try-with-resources would be used to automatically close streams, and the issue of stream references being initialized to null would not occur.


/** JDK 6 or before. */
public class ReadWriteTextFile {

  * Fetch the entire contents of a text file, and return it in a String.
  * This style of implementation does not throw Exceptions to the caller.
  * @param aFile is a file which already exists and can be read.
  static public String getContents(File aFile) {
    //...checks on aFile are elided
    StringBuilder contents = new StringBuilder();
    try {
      //use buffering, reading one line at a time
      //FileReader always assumes default encoding is OK!
      BufferedReader input =  new BufferedReader(new FileReader(aFile));
      try {
        String line = null; //not declared within while loop
        * readLine is a bit quirky :
        * it returns the content of a line MINUS the newline.
        * it returns null only for the END of the stream.
        * it returns an empty String if two newlines appear in a row.
        while (( line = input.readLine()) != null){
      finally {
    catch (IOException ex){
    return contents.toString();

  * Change the contents of text file in its entirety, overwriting any
  * existing text.
  * This style of implementation throws all exceptions to the caller.
  * @param aFile is an existing file which can be written to.
  * @throws IllegalArgumentException if param does not comply.
  * @throws FileNotFoundException if the file does not exist.
  * @throws IOException if problem encountered during write.
  static public void setContents(File aFile, String aContents)
                                 throws FileNotFoundException, IOException {
    if (aFile == null) {
      throw new IllegalArgumentException("File should not be null.");
    if (!aFile.exists()) {
      throw new FileNotFoundException ("File does not exist: " + aFile);
    if (!aFile.isFile()) {
      throw new IllegalArgumentException("Should not be a directory: " + aFile);
    if (!aFile.canWrite()) {
      throw new IllegalArgumentException("File cannot be written: " + aFile);

    //use buffering
    Writer output = new BufferedWriter(new FileWriter(aFile));
    try {
      //FileWriter always assumes default encoding is OK!
      output.write( aContents );
    finally {

  /** Simple test harness.   */
  public static void main (String... aArguments) throws IOException {
    File testFile = new File("C:\\Temp\\blah.txt");
    System.out.println("Original file contents: " + getContents(testFile));
    setContents(testFile, "The content of this file has been overwritten...");
    System.out.println("New file contents: " + getContents(testFile));

See Also :
Initializing fields to 0-false-null is redundant
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