What is this SELF in GenericContainer For?

GenericContainer class belongs to TestContainers library, which is used to create a container instance, launch and control it during integration testing. All other TestContainers classes, like MySQLContainer, KafkaContainer, etc, extend from this base class. However, it has a bit weird generic class definition itself as you may notice from below code block.

public class GenericContainer<SELF extends GenericContainer<SELF>>
        extends FailureDetectingExternalResource
        implements Container<SELF>, AutoCloseable, WaitStrategyTarget, Startable {

This somehow recursive generic SELF type usually leads developers to create extra class definitions in order to configure a container instance within their tests. For example;

    internal class KGenericContainer : GenericContainer<KGenericContainer>("redis:6.0.12-alpine")
    internal class KMySQLContainer : MySQLContainer<KMySQLContainer>("mysql:5.7.33")

The purpose of this SELF generic type is to let those subclasses extending from GenericContainer provide a more fluent API for their configurations within the test class. For example, MySQLContainer class defines some additional methods, apart from the ones coming from the GenericContainer, and this SELF generic type allows us to access those methods fluently.

private val mySQLContainer = KMySQLContainer()

While withReuse() and start() methods are coming from GenericContainer, other methods, such as withDatabaseName(), withUsername(), and withPassword() are defined in the MySQLContainer class, and we are able to just mix all of them during the instantiation and configuration of a container instance in one single line.

If you think that, having a fluent API is not that important for you, you can certainly skip this extra class definition step. This is actually easily achievable by giving Nothing type in Kotlin as the generic type as follows.

        private val mySQLContainer = MySQLContainer<Nothing>().apply {

Obviously, here we lose fluent API convention. However, thanks to Kotlin’s apply function which lets us invoke a given function block within that specific object from which apply function is called. Therefore, in practice, there seems not that much difference between those two initialization blocks, and I would rather get rid of this extra class definition at all.

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