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Combine two Java Optionals

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I was implementing a searching algorithm and I had to search for two things. In this article I describe how I implemented combining two Java optionals.

The algorithm had to do something similar to:

  1. Search inside an array the first item starting by A
  2. If none is found, search the first item starting by B
  3. If none is found, throw an Exception

Common code:

public abstract class ItemFinder {

    protected abstract String findItem(List<String> items);

    protected Optional<String> findFirstItemStartingWithA(List<String> items) {
        return findFirstItemStartingWith("A", items);

    protected Optional<String> findFirstItemStartingWithB(List<String> items) {
        return findFirstItemStartingWith("B", items);

    private Optional<String> findFirstItemStartingWith(String letter, List<String> items) {
        return items.stream()
            .filter(item -> item.startsWith(letter))

Java 8

The only way to achieve this with Optionals before Java 9 was to cascade the Optional call:

     public String findItem(List<String> items) {
        return findFirstItemStartingWithA(items)
            .orElseGet(() -> findFirstItemStartingWithB(items)
                .orElseThrow(() -> new RuntimeException("no item found")));

The alternative flow is cascaded in the orElseGet, which is a little bit hard to read

Java > 9

In Java 9, the Optional.or method is introduced, which enhances a lot the code for these scenarios. The code above can be rewritten in a much more understandable fashion:

    public String findItem(List<String> items) {
        return findFirstItemStartingWithA(items)
            .or(() -> findFirstItemStartingWithB(items))
            .orElseThrow(() -> new RuntimeException("no item found"));