Is it best practices to never alter the contents of a Collection that is passed as a parameter?

I want orgSet to only have words. But, sometimes there are one char strings (like question marks, commas, etc.) that I want to remove from the set of words. These are not the full methods, but it makes my point:

 public static Set<String> removeSyntax_Foo(Set<String> orgSet) {
        Set<String> tmpSet = new HashSet();  
        for(String s : orgSet) {
            if(s.length()!=1) { tmpSet.add(s); }
            if(Character.UnicodeBlock.of(s.charAt(0)) == Character.UnicodeBlock.GENERAL_PUNCTUATION) { continue; }
        return tmpSet;

    public static void removeSyntax_Bar(Set<String> orgSet) {
        Set<String> tmpSet = new HashSet();

        for(String s : tmpSet) {
            if(s.length()!=1) { orgSet.add(s); }
            if(Character.UnicodeBlock.of(s.charAt(0)) == Character.UnicodeBlock.GENERAL_PUNCTUATION) { continue; }   

removeSyntax_Foo() has the potential for a careless memory leak. I actually have a list of static methods I use to clean-up my Set of words. If each of those methods creates a new collection... But, I feel this is the correct solution to use.
removeSyntax_Bar() jumbles the contents of the invoker's Set which might be a huge surprise to the invoker. You are not suppose to do that, right?

Is removeSyntax_Foo() or removeSyntax_Bar() best practices?

  • I disagree that this is primarily opinion-based: there are well-established and objective criteria for answering this question.
    – user22815
    Commented Dec 31, 2015 at 17:58

2 Answers 2


The _Foo() variant, treating the input as read-only, is more thread-safe. For example, a parallel thread could do something else with origSet (again, in a read-only manner) while your code is trimming punctuation. The _Foo() variant will cause fewer surprises and probably less bugs. And, it is more flexible for future requirements. For example, somebody adds a requirement to create a set of the punctuation. Possible with the _Bar() version, but much easier with_Foo()


The answer is mostly six of one, half a dozen of the other.
For my simple need of cleansing html mark-up, numbers, syntax, etc. out of a tokenized doc, removeSyntax_bar() makes sense; those are simple utility methods. But, for interface design intended for public consumption, removeSyntax_foo() is what you're suppose to do.

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