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Unlike many languages, Kotlin distinguishes between mutable and immutable collections (lists, sets, maps, etc). Precise control over exactly when collections can be edited is useful for eliminating bugs, and for designing good APIs.

It is important to understand up front the difference between a read only view of a mutable collection, and an actually immutable collection. Both are easy to create, but the type system doesn't express the difference, so keeping track of that (if it's relevant) is up to you.

The Kotlin List<out T> type is an interface that provides read only operations like size, get and so on. Like in Java, it inherits from Collection<T> and that in turn inherits from Iterable<T>. Methods that change the list are added by the MutableList<T> interface. This pattern holds also for Set<out T>/MutableSet<T> and Map<K, out V>/MutableMap<K, V>.

We can see basic usage of the list and set types below:

val numbers: MutableList<Int> = mutableListOf(1, 2, 3)
val readOnlyView: List<Int> = numbers
println(numbers)        // prints "[1, 2, 3]"
println(readOnlyView)   // prints "[1, 2, 3, 4]"
readOnlyView.clear()    // -> does not compile

val strings = hashSetOf("a", "b", "c", "c")
assert(strings.size == 3)

Kotlin does not have dedicated syntax constructs for creating lists or sets. Use methods from the standard library, such as listOf(), mutableListOf(), setOf(), mutableSetOf(). For creating maps in a not performance-critical code a simple idiom may be used: mapOf(a to b, c to d)

Note that the readOnlyView variable points to the same list and changes as the underlying list changes. If the only references that exist to a list are of the read only variety, we can consider the collection fully immutable. A simple way to create such a collection is like this:

val items = listOf(1, 2, 3)

Currently, the listOf method is implemented using an array list, but in future more memory-efficient fully immutable collection types could be returned that exploit the fact that they know they can't change.

Note that the read only types are covariant. That means, you can take a List<Rectangle> and assign it to List<Shape> assuming Rectangle inherits from Shape. This wouldn't be allowed with the mutable collection types because it would allow for failures at runtime.

Sometimes you want to return to the caller a snapshot of a collection at a particular point in time, one that's guaranteed to not change:

class Controller {
    private val _items = mutableListOf<String>()
    val items: List<String> get() = _items.toList()

The toList extension method just duplicates the lists items, thus, the returned list is guaranteed to never change.

There are various useful extension methods on lists and sets that are worth being familiar with:

val items = listOf(1, 2, 3, 4)
items.first == 1
items.last == 4
items.filter { it % 2 == 0 }   // Returns [2, 4]
if (rwList.none { it > 6 }) println("No items above 6")
val item = rwList.firstOrNull()

… as well as all the utilities you would expect such as sort, zip, fold, reduce and so on.

Maps follow the same pattern. They can be easily instantiated and accessed like this:

val readWriteMap = hashMapOf("foo" to 1, "bar" to 2)
val snapshot: Map<String, Int> = HashMap(readWriteMap)