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Working with Random Access Files

The input and output streams in this lesson so far have been sequential access streams--streams whose contents must be read or written sequentially. While still incredibly useful, sequential access files are a consequence of a sequential medium such as magnetic tape. Random access files, on the other hand, permit nonsequential, or random, access to the contents of a file.

So why might you need random access files. Consider the archive format known as "zip." Zip archives contain files and are typically compressed to save space. Zip archives also contain a dir-entry at the end that indicates where the various files contained within the zip archive begin:

Suppose that you want to extract a specific file from a zip archive. If you use a sequential access stream, you have to do the following:

On average, using this algorithm, you'd have to read half the zip archive before finding the file that you wanted to extract. You can extract the same file from the zip archive more efficiently using the seek feature of a random access file: This algorithm is more efficient because you only read the dir-entry and the file that you want to extract.

The RandomAccessFile(in the API reference documentation) class in the package implements a random access file.

Using Random Access Files

Unlike the input and output stream classes in, RandomAccessFile is used for both reading and writing files. You create a RandomAccessFile object with different arguments depending on whether you intend to read or write.

Writing Filters for Random Access Files

RandomAccessFile is somewhat disconnected from the input and output streams in doesn't inherit from the InputStream or OutputStream. This has some disadvantages in that you can't apply the same filters to RandomAccessFiles that you can to streams. However, RandomAccessFile does implement the DataInput and DataOutput interfaces, so if you design a filter that works for either DataInput or DataOutput, it will work on some sequential access files (the ones that implemented DataInput or DataOutput) as well as any RandomAccessFile.

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