Java Data TypesJ8 Home « Java Data Types

In this lesson we look at all types of class declaration and extension and how to use interfaces and the package and import statements. We examine the declaration, initialization and usage of primitives, arrays, enums, and objects as static, instance, local variables and their respective scopes. After this we cover correct use of overriding and overloading of methods as well as identifying legal return values for methods. we investigate constructors to determine if a default constructor will be created, and if so, determine the behaviour of that constructor. We finish of this lesson by studying class instantiation and how to instantiate nested and non-nested classes.

Lets take a look at the points outlined at Oracle Java SE 8 Programmer I for this part of the certification.

  • Working With Java Data Types
    1. Declare and initialize variables (including casting of primitive data types).
    2. Differentiate between object reference variables and primitive variables.
    3. Know how to read or write to object fields.
    4. Explain an Object's Lifecycle (creation, "dereference by reassignment" and garbage collection).
    5. Develop code that uses wrapper classes such as Boolean, Double, and Integer.

The table below breaks the above list down into topics with a link to the topic in question.

topic Link
Declare and initialize variables (including casting of primitive data types).
Differentiate between object reference variables and primitive variables.
Know how to read or write to object fields.
Explain an Object's Lifecycle (creation, "dereference by reassignment" and garbage collection).
Develop code that uses wrapper classes such as Boolean, Double, and Integer.

Variables in JavaTop

Java comes with two types of variables to choose from, primitives and reference, both of which can be declared as static variables, instance variables, method parameters and local variables. Java is a strongly typed language and as such cares about the type of the variables we declare. So what does this statement actually mean? Well whenever you declare a variable in Java, you have to give it a type, or the compiler complains when you come to compile your code. You also have to name the variable and there are rules on naming.

type diagram

Naming Rules and Keywords

These rules apply to all variables, as well as classes and methods (collectively known as identifiers)

  • Must start with a letter, the underscore symbol (_) or the dollar sign ($). A name can't start with a number or any other symbol.
  • You can use numbers after the first letter, you just can't start with a number.
  • The following reserved words used for literal values are unavailable for use as identifiers false, null and true.
  • You cannot use keywords recognized by the compiler. See the table below for the keywords you can't use.

Click a link in the table below to show lesson usage for any keyword you're interested in:

java Keywords
abstractassertbooleanbreakbyte
casecatchcharclassconst *
continuedefaultdodoubleelse
enumextendsfinalfinallyfloat
forgoto *ifimplementsimport
instanceofintinterfacelongnative
newpackageprivateprotectedpublic
returnshortstaticstrictfpsuper
switchsynchronizedthisthrowthrows
transienttryvoidvolatilewhile

Keywords marked with an asterisk (*) are not used.

Although not a rule as such it's also important to know that identifiers are case-sensitive.

Primitive VariablesTop

The table below lists the eight primitive types available in java:

Primitive Types
Type Description Bit Width Range
boolean and char
booleantrue/false valuesJVM specifictrue or false
charCharacter160  to  65535 - ('\u0000' to '\uffff' Unicode)
signed numeric integers
byte8-bit integer8-128  to  127
shortShort integer16-32,768  to  32,767
intInteger32-2,147,483,648  to  2,147,483,647
longLong integer64-9,233,372,036,854,775,808  to  9,233,372,036,854,775,807
signed floating point
floatSingle-precision float32varies
doubleDouble-precision float64varies

Reference VariablesTop

Reference variables are concerned with objects and how we access them. The reference variable doesn't hold the object itself but some bits that act as a pointer to an address in memory where the object exists. How the JVM holds this bits isn't important for us as programmers, just the fact that this memory address pointer is used by the JVM to access a unique object. There are three steps involved in object creation:

object creation

So lets go through the three step process above:

  1. Declaration - Here. we declare a reference variable named moggy of type Cat and the JVM allocates space for it.
  2. Creation - Tells the JVM to allocate space on The Heap for a new Cat object.
  3. Assignment - Assign the new Cat object to the reference variable moggy.

Access Modifiers

The table below shows the types of access available in Java for our top-level classes.

Access modifier Description
publicA top-level class may be declared with the public access modifier, and if it is the class is accessible to all other classes everywhere.
no modifier
package-private / (the default)
If a top-level class has no explicit access modifier, which is the default and is also known as package-private, it is accessible only within its own package.
  • The only access modifier that can be used with a top-level class is public.
  • Only one class can be marked as public per source file.
  • If a class within a source file is marked as public then the name of the source file must exactly match the name of the public class (followed by the .java extension).
  • A source file can include multiple non-public classes.
  • If a source file contains no public class then there is no naming constraints on that source file, ie. it doesn't have to match the name of one of the non-public classes.
  • Aside from access modifiers classes can also be marked with the non-access modifiers abstract, final and strictfp. The strictfp is not part of the certification and so we won't go into details. When a class is marked as abstract it has to be subclassed; when a class is marked as final it can't be subclassed, so these two modifers can never be used together.
  • A class can extend a maximum of one other class.


/*
  Some code showing class rules
*/
class A { }                        // OK
private class A { }                // No, can only use public access modifier with top level class
protected class A { }              // No, can only use public access modifier with top level class
public class A { }                 // OK
public class B extends A { }       // OK
public class C extends B, A { }    // No, can only extend one class
abstract class D { }               // OK
final class E { }                  // OK
abstract final class F { }         // No, cannot use both abstract and final

EnumsTop

In their simplest form enumerations are just a list of constants that define a new data type. Before java the only way to do this would have been using static final variable to define Java constants. The difference between using enumerations and static final variables to define Java constants, is that with static final variable we can't guarantee that another piece of code won't set an invalid value, instead of using one of our static final variables. With enumerations, objects of the enumerated type can only hold values defined in the list of constants such as months of the year and days of the week for example. Lets look at some code to see this in action:


/*
  Enumeration of soups
*/ 
enum Soup {
    TOMATO, CHICKEN, PRAWN
}

We create an enumeration using the enum keyword. The identifers TOMATO, CHICKEN and PRAWN are known as enumeration constants and are implicitly declared as public, static members of Soup. When we declare enumeration constants it's not obligatory to use all uppercase letters, but it lets others see this is a constant and so we use this convention here.

Overriding MethodsTop

A method override must adhere to the contract it has with the superclass method. This contract being, a method override must have exacly the same arguments and return type (or co-variant thereof) as the superclass method with the same method name. This is different to an overloaded method as discussed below and in the Objects & Classes section, in the Methods lesson, in which the argument lists has to be different. In fact if you change the argument lists, that's what you end up with an overloaded method. So to make sure we are doing a method override we need to keep the contract.

Overriding Method Rules

When we override a superclass method there are rules to adhere to:

  • A method override must have exacly the same arguments as the superclass method with the same method name or you end up with an overloaded method.
  • A method override must have the same return type (or co-variant thereof) as the superclass method with the same method name.
  • When we override a method, the overriding method can't be less accessible, but can be more accessible.
  • You cannot override a method marked with the final modifier.
  • You cannot override a method marked with the private access modifier. Even if you have a method in the subclass with the same method name and arguments as a private method in the superclass it knows nothing of that method as it can't see it and is just a normal non-overriding method
  • You cannot override a method marked with the static modifier as overridden methods pertain to instance methods and not the class. In fact if you use the same static method and parameters in a subclass as a static method in a superclass this is known as method hiding and is discussed in Static Overrides?.
  • An overriding method can throw any Error or RuntimeException exceptions, whether these are declared in the overridden method or not.
  • An overriding method must not throw any new checked exceptions or any checked exceptions that are higher up the inheritance tree than those declared in the overridden method.
  • An overriding method can throw checked exceptions that are lower in the inheritance tree than those declared in the overridden method, or throw fewer or none of the checked exceptions that were declared in the overridden method.


/*
  Some code showing method override rules
*/
import java.io.*; // Import IO exception classes

public class A { 
    void methodA(int i) { }
    final void methodB() {}
    private void methodC() {}
    protected void methodD(String s) {}
    protected void methodE(String s) {}
    void methodF(String s, int i) {}
    int methodG(String s, int i) { return i; }
    int methodH(long l, int i) { return i; }
    public A methodI() { 
        A a = new A();
        return a;
    }
    void methodJ() { }
    void methodK() { }
    void methodL() throws IOException { }
    void methodM() throws IOException { }
    void methodN() throws IOException { }
}


import java.io.*;  // Import IO exception classes

public class B extends A { 
    void methodA(int i) { }                     // OK, valid override
    void methodA(String s, int i) { }           // OK, this is an overloaded method
    final void methodB() {}                     // No, you can't override a method marked as final  
    void methodC() {}                           // OK, knows nothing of private method in superclass
    void methodD(String s) {}                   // No, override can't be less accessible
    public void methodE(String s) {}            // OK, override can be more accessible
    protected void methodF(int i, String s) {}  // OK, this is an overloaded method
    void methodF(String s, int i) { }           // OK, valid override
    int methodG(String s, int i) { return s; }  // No, imcompatible return types
    int methodH(long l, int i) { return i; }    // OK, valid override
    public B methodI() {
        B b = new B();
        return b;
    }                                           // OK, covariant (subtype) returned
    void methodJ() throws RuntimeException { }  // OK, overriding method can throw any Error  
                                                // or RuntimeExceptions, whether these are 
                                                // declared in the overridden method or not.
    void methodK() throws IOException { }       // No, an overriding method must not throw 
                                                // any new checked exceptions than are not 
                                                // declared in the overridden method.
    void methodL() throws Exception { }         // No, overriding method must not throw checked 
                                                // exceptions higher up the inheritance tree 
                                                // than those declared in the overridden method.
    void methodM() throws EOFException { }      // OK, overriding method can throw checked 
                                                // exceptions lower in the inheritance tree 
                                                // than those declared in the overridden method.
    void methodN() { }                          // OK, overriding method can throw fewer  
                                                // or none of the checked exceptions
                                                // that were declared in the overridden method.
}

Overloading MethodsTop

You can use the same method name more than once in a class or subclass and this is known as overloading. When using overloading each method must have different parameter lists so the compiler knows which method to call. Having the same parameter types is fine as long as the order differs.

Overloading Method Rules

When we overload a superclass method or a method in the same class there are rules to adhere to:

  • A method overload must have a different argument list to any like named methods in the same class.
  • A method overload must have a different argument list to any like named methods in a superclass or you end up with a method override and all the rules that apply when using overrides as listed in the section above.
  • A method overload has no constraints on return types.
  • A method overload has no constraints on accessibility.
  • A method overload has no constraints on checked exceptions.


/*
  Some code showing method override rules
*/
public class A { 
    void methodA(int i) { }
    final void methodB() {}
    protected void methodC(String s) {}
    void methodD(String s, int i) {}
    String methodE(String s, int i) { return s; }
    void methodF() { }
}


import java.io.*;  // Import IO exception classes

public class B extends A { 
    void methodA(int i) { }                    // OK, same parameter list as superclass so an override
    void methodA(String s, int i) { }          // OK, this is an overloaded method of superclass
    final void methodB(int i) {}               // OK, parameter list differs from superclass method 
                                               // marked as final, so valid overload  
    void methodC(int i) {}                     // OK, no constraints on subclass overload accessibility
    protected void methodD(int i, String s) {} // OK, this is an overloaded subclass method
    void methodD(String s, int i) { }          // OK, valid override
    int methodE(int i, String s) { return i; } // OK, no constraints on subclass overload return types
    void methodF(int i) throws IOException { } // OK, no constraints on subclass overload
                                               // checked exceptions  
    void methodG() {}                          
    void methodG(String s) {}                  // OK, overloaded in same class
}

ConstructorsTop

Constructors allow us to instantiate our objects via declaration, assignment and creation.

object creation
  1. Declaration - Here. we declare a reference variable named moggy of type Cat and the JVM allocates space for it.
  2. Creation - Tells the JVM to allocate space on The Heap for a new Cat object.
  3. Assignment - Assign the new Cat object to the reference variable moggy.

Access Modifiers

The table below shows the types of access available in Java for constructors.

Access modifier Description
publicA constructor may be declared with the public access modifier, and if it is the constructor is accessible to all other classes everywhere, assuming the class it resides in is accessible.
protectedA constructor may be declared with the protected access modifier, and if so, it is only accessible to the package the implementation is in.

See the Packages lesson for more information on packaging.
no modifier
package-private /
(the default)
If a constructor has no explicit access modifier, it is only accessible to the package the implementation is in.

See the Packages lesson for more information on packaging.
privateA constructor may be declared with the private access modifier, and if it is the constructor can only be constructed from within its own class.

Constructor Checklist


  • A constructor runs when we code the new() operator followed by a class name.
  • Constructors must have the same name as the class and no return type.
  • Constructors are used to initialize the instance variables (object state) of the object instance being constructed.
  • If you don't code a constructor in your class the compiler will put in a default no arguments constructor.
  • If you do code a constructor in your class, the compiler will NOT put in a default no arguments constructor, you will have to code it yourself.
  • We can have more than one constructor in a class and the constructors are then known as overloaded constructors.
  • When using overloaded constructors in a class, each constructor must have different argument lists so the compiler knows which constructor to use to construct our objects. Having the same argument types is fine as long as the order differs.
  • You can refer to any member of the current object from within a non-static method or constructor by using the this() keyword.
  • You can invoke one constructor from another constructor within the same class by calling this() and doing so is known as explicit constructor invocation and is the only way to invoke a constructor.
  • If we decide to use this() it must be the first statement within our constructor or we get a compiler error. This means we can't use this() and super() together.
  • We can use super() to invoke a superclass constructor and if we don't supply this explicitly, then the compiler inserts a no-args super() for us as the first statement in the constructor if we haven't used the this() keyword.
  • When explicitly coding super() we can supply arguments to invoke a constructor in the superclass matching the signature of our call.
  • When explicitly coding super() it must be the first statement within the constructor or we get a compiler error. This means we can't use super() and this() together.
  • When explicitly coding super() only methods and static variables can be used within the call.
  • Interfaces do not have constructors as they are not part of a particular classes inheritance tree.
  • Abstract classes do have constructors, although we can't code them, as they are part of a classes inheritance tree and so are called via super() on concrete subclass instantiation.


/*
  Some code showing constructor usage
*/
public class A { 
    public static void main(String args[]) { 
        A a = new A(); // OK, compiler puts in a default no arguments constructor so we can instantiate
    }
}   

public class B { 
    B() { } // OK, we code our own default no arguments constructor
}                                                

public class C { 
    void C() { } // OK, this is a method with the same name as the class as it has a return type
    public static void main(String args[]) { 
        C c = new C();
    }
}          
                                     
public class D { 
    D() { }
    D(int i) { } // OK, overloaded constructor
    public static void main(String args[]) { 
        D d = new D();
        D d2 = new D(5);
    }
}

public class E { 
    int i;    
    String s;

    E(int i) {
        this(i, "unknown"); // Invoke one constructor from another constructor within the same class
    }
    E(int i, String s) {
        this.i = i;
        this.s = s;
    }
    public static void main(String args[]) { 
        E e = new E(5);
    }
}

/*
  Following code will fail as compiler inserts a no arguments constructor for us which invokes 
  super() and there isn't a no arguments constructor in superclass
*/
public class F extends E { 
}

public class G extends E { 
    G(int i) { // here we invoke existing super constructor so works fine 
        super(i);
    }
    public static void main(String args[]) { 
        G g = new G(5);
    }
}

Nested ClassesTop

A nested class is only known to the enclosing class and shares its scope. This means that non-static nested classes have access to all the members and variables of the outer class. Conversely the outer class knows nothing of the internal working of the nested class. The benefits that all nested classes receive are:

  • When a class has a specific purpose that is only relevant to one other class it makes sense to put the helper class within the class that uses it and we can use a nested class for this purpose.
  • Because nested classes have access to all the outer classes members, including members with the private access modifier, it gives us a way to keep outer class members private while still being able to access them, thus increasing encapsulation.
  • Having nested classes allows us to have inner classes close to the top-level classes that enclose them, making code easier to understand and maintain.

Nested classes can be static, which are known as static member classes, or non-static, which are known as inner classes. The lesson on Nested Classes covers instantiation of all types of nested class so we will just cover the guidelines for each type here:

Static Member Classes

A static member class is associated with its outer class in the same way that static members of the outer class would be. This means that a static member class cannot refer to non-static variables and methods defined within the outer class and can only interact with them through an object reference.

Behaviourally, static member classes act like any other top-level class and essentially are top-level classes that have been nested in another top-level class to facilitate packaging, or are associated with the outer class but it makes no sense to attach them to an instance of that class.

Non-static Member Classes

This type of inner class is a member of the outer class just like instance variables and methods are and as such the same modifiers and rules apply as to amy member. We can instantiate a non-static member class as part of the outer class state or seperately when you don't want all outer instances to have an inner instance.

  • Using non-static member classes is very useful when we require a class that doesn't pass the IS-A test but is intrinsicly associated with its enclosing class.
  • A non-static member class is a member of a class just like any other member and as such can have the same modifers applied in its class declaration: these being abstract, final, private, protected, public, static and strictfp.
    • Of course using the static keyword in the class declaration means we have turned the non-static member class into a static member class and so no longer have access to any instance variables and methods.
  • If the class is required by other classes as well, then the class would be better suited as a standard top-level class instead.

Local Inner Classes

Local inner classes can be declared anywhere a local variable can be declared and have the same Method Scope. If you don't require the local inner class to be attached to an instance of the enclosing class, then the nested class should be declared in a static context. Local inner classes cannot contain static members and for readability the coding should be kept to a minimum.

  • The only valid modifers you can apply to a local inner class declaration are final or abstract.
  • Local inner classes can only be instantiated from within the method they are declared in.
  • When instantiating a local inner class, the instantiation code must come after the local inner class declaration.
  • The local inner class can only use final local variables defined within the method it resides in, outside those defined within itself and the outer instance.
  • When creating local inner classes and the code is quite robust, or the code needs to be accessible from more than one method, it is better to make a non-static member class.

Anonymous Inner Classes

The final type of inner classes we can use are anonymous inner classes which are different syntactically from anything else in Java and come with a lot of constraints:

  • Anonymous inner classes as the terminology implies have no name.
  • You can't execute the instanceof test against anonymous inner classes or any process that requires the name of the class.
  • Anonymous inner classes are not members of their enclosing class; in fact they are both declared and instantiated at the point of use.
  • Anonymous inner classes cannot contain any static members
  • Anonymous inner classes can be coded anywhere where an expression is legal, so keep the code to a minimum to maintain readability.
  • Anonymous inner classes can't be declared to extend a class and implement an interface
  • Anonymous inner classes can't implement multiple interfaces.
  • Anonymous inner classes can only invoke members inherited from the supertype

Related Java Tutorials

Fundamentals - Primitive Variables
Fundamentals - Method Scope
Objects & Classes - Arrays
Objects & Classes - Class Structure and Syntax
Objects & Classes - Reference Variables
Objects & Classes - Reference Variables - The new Operator
Objects & Classes - Methods - Overloaded Methods
Objects & Classes - Methods - Overloaded varargs Ambiguities
Objects & Classes - Instance Variables & Scope
Objects & Classes - Constructors
Objects & Classes - Enumerations
OO Concepts - Abstraction - Abstract Classes
OO Concepts - Inheritance - Overriding Methods
OO Concepts - Inheritance Concepts - Accessing Superclass Overrides
Inheritance Concepts -Superclass Constructors
OO Concepts - Interfaces
OO Concepts - Nested Classes
Flow Control - Methods - Overridden Methods & Exceptions
API Contents - Packages
API Contents - Packages - Imports
API Contents - Packages - Static Imports