Annotation Interface Nullable

@Documented @Target(TYPE_USE) @Retention(RUNTIME) public @interface Nullable
Indicates that the annotated type usage (commonly a parameter type or return type) is considered to include null as a value.

Example usages:

 @Nullable String field;

 @Nullable String getField() { return field; }

 void setField(@Nullable String value) { field = value; }

 List<@Nullable String> getList() { … }

For a comprehensive introduction to JSpecify, please see

Warning: These annotations are under development, and any aspect of their naming, locations, or design is subject to change until the JSpecify 1.0 release. Moreover, supporting analysis tools will be tracking the changes on varying schedules. Releasing a library using these annotations in its API is strongly discouraged at this time.

Meaning per each kind of type usage

The essential meaning of this annotation is always the same: the type it annotates is considered to include null as a value. But this may affect your code a little differently based on the kind of type usage involved.

  • On a parameter type: The setField method (at top) permissively accepts a "string-or-null", meaning that it is okay to pass an actual string, or to pass null. (This doesn't guarantee that passing null won't produce an exception at runtime, but it should be much less likely.) This also applies to the type of a lambda expression parameter, if that type is given explicitly (otherwise its nullness must be inferred from context).
  • On a method return type: The getField method returns a "string-or-null", so while the caller might get a string back, it should also address the possibility of getting null instead. (This doesn't guarantee there is any circumstance in which null will actually be returned.)
  • On a field type: The field field has the type "string-or-null", so at times it might hold a string, and at times it might hold null. (Of course, every field of a reference type originally holds null, but as long as the class ensures that its uninitialized states can't be observed, it's appropriate to overlook that fact.)
  • On a type argument: A type usage of "nullable string" appears within the compound type List<@Nullable String>. No matter how this type is used (return type, etc.), this means the same thing: every appearance of E in List's member signatures will be considered nullable. For a list, this means it may contain null elements. If the list reference itself might be null as well, we can write @Nullable List<@Nullable String>, a "nullable list of nullable strings".
  • On the upper bound of a type parameter: For example, as seen in class List<E extends @Nullable Object>. This means that a type argument supplied for that type parameter is permitted to be nullable if desired: List<@Nullable String>. (A non-null type argument, as in List<String>, is permitted either way.)
  • On a usage of a type variable: A type parameter, like the E in interface List<E>, defines a "type variable" of the same name, usable only within the scope of the declaring API element. In any example using String above, a type variable like E might appear instead. @Nullable continues to mean "or null" as always, but notably, this works without regard to whether the type argument is already nullable. For example, suppose that class Foo<E extends @Nullable Object> has a method @Nullable E eOrNull(). Then, whether foo is of type Foo<String> or Foo<@Nullable String>, the expression foo.eOrNull() is nullable either way. Using @Nullable E in this way is called "nullable projection" (non-null projection is likewise supported, but less commonly useful).
  • On a nested type: In most examples above, in place of String we might use a nested type such as Map.Entry. The Java syntax for annotating such a type as nullable looks like Map.@Nullable Entry.
  • On a record component: As expected, @Nullable here applies equally to the corresponding parameter type of the canonical constructor, and to the return type of a generated accessor method as well. If an explicit accessor method is provided for this record component, it must still be annotated explicitly. Any non-null components should be checked (for example using Objects.requireNonNull(T)) in a compact constructor.

Where it is applicable

This annotation and NonNull are applicable to any type usage except the following cases, where they have no defined meaning:

  • On any intrinsically non-null type usage. Some type usages are incapable of including null by the rules of the Java language. Examples include any usage of a primitive type, the argument to instanceof, a method return type in an annotation interface, or the type following throws or catch. In such locations, a nullness annotation could only be contradictory (@Nullable) or redundant (@NonNull).
  • On the root type of a local variable declaration. The nullness of a local variable itself is not a fixed declarative property of its type. Rather it should be inferred from the nullness of each expression assigned to the variable, possibly changing over time. (Why?). Subcomponents of the type (type arguments, array component types) are annotatable as usual.
  • On the root type in a cast expression. To inform an analyzer that an expression it sees as nullable is truly non-null, use an assertion or a method like Objects.requireNonNull(T). (Why?) Subcomponents of the type (type arguments, array component types) are annotatable as usual.
  • On any part of a receiver parameter type (JLS 8.4).
  • If both @Nullable and @NonNull appear on the same type usage, neither one is recognized.
Whether the code is NullMarked also has no consequence in the above locations.

Unannotated type usages

For a type usage where nullness annotations are applicable but not present, its nullness depends on whether it appears within null-marked code; see that class for details. Note in particular that nullness information from a superclass is never automatically "inherited".