The Queue core interface in the collection framework, is a collection that stores elements that can be accessed at some later point to process (like waiting in line at the bank teller). A Queue accesses elements in a (usually) First In First Out (FIFO) manner where elements are inserted at the tail (back) of the collection and removed from the head (front).

A Queue has two types of access methods for inserting, removing, and getting but not removing the head of the Queue.

The following methods throw an exception when:

  • add() - there is no space for the element
  • remove() - there are no elements to remove
  • element() - there are no elements to get

The following methods return a special value:

  • offer() - false there is no space for the element
  • poll() - null there are no elements to remove
  • peek() - null there are no elements to get

The methods that return a special value should be used when working with a statically sized Queue and the exception throwing methods when using a dynamic Queue.

Like the other collection framework interfaces, Queue has many implementations. We’ll focus on LinkedList and PriorityQueue. We’ve seen LinkedList be used as a List implementation and it’s also perfect when needing a basic Queue implementation. Being able to use a LinkedList as both a List and Queue implementation is a perfect example of the compatibility within the collection framework. The PriorityQueue ensures the top element is the smallest relative to the data type’s natural ordering (or some custom comparison algorithm you provide).

Let’s look at an example of Queue with a LinkedList implementation:

Queue<String> stringQueue = new LinkedList<>(); stringQueue.add("Mike"); // true - state of queue -> "Mike" stringQueue.offer("Jeff"); // true - state of queue -> "Mike", "Jeff" String a = stringQueue.remove() // Returns "Mike" - state of queue -> 1 String b = stringQueue.poll() // Returns "Jeff" - state of queue -> empty String c = stringQueue.peek() // Returns null String d = stringQueue.element() // Throws NoSuchElementException

In the example above we:

  • Created a new String Queue reference with a LinkedList implementation.
  • Called add() and offer() to insert elements into the Queue. Note the state of the Queue after each call.
  • Called remove() and poll() to remove and retrieve the element at the front of the Queue.
  • Called peek() and element() to retrieve but not remove the element at the front of the Queue. Note the results when stringQueue is empty.

We can iterate through a Queue using the enhanced for-loop. For example:

// Assuming `stringQueue` has elements -> "Mike", "Jack", "John" for (String name: stringQueue) { System.out.println(name); } // OUTPUT TERMINAL: "Mike", "Jack", "John"

One thing to note about a PriorityQueue is that an enhanced for-loop (or Iterator) makes no guarantee in the ordering of elements after the head.

Let’s practice creating a Queue and iterating through it.



In main() of Main.java we’ve made a Queue named line with names (Strings) and printed out the contents of the Queue. We’d like to be able to process line in alphabetical order rather than FIFO.

Let’s start by defining a new public static method named processAlphabetically with a String Queue parameter named queue. This method returns no value.


Recall that a PriorityQueue will have the smallest element at the head of the collection. The smallest element in a collection of Strings will be in lexicographic (alphabetical) order.

In processAlphabetically() create a String Queue reference with a PriorityQueue implementation named alphabeticalQueue.

Next, let’s add all the elements in queue into alphabeticalQueue by using an enhanced for-loop. The for-loop should iterate through queue using a String reference called name. Add name to alphabeticalQueue during each iteration of the loop.


Let’s process the names in alphabeticalQueue alphabetically.

Under the for-loop in processAlphabetically() define a while loop that will iterate until peek() of alphabeticalQueue returns null. In the body of the while loop create a String reference named headElement and store the result of removing the head from alphabeticalQueue. Finally, use System.out.println() to print the following message:

Processing: <element>

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