Java Syntax from the Ground Up - Introducing Java - Java in a Nutshell, 6th Edition (2015)

Java in a Nutshell, 6th Edition (2015)

Part I. Introducing Java

Chapter 2. Java Syntax from the Ground Up

This chapter is a terse but comprehensive introduction to Java syntax. It is written primarily for readers who are new to the language but have some previous programming experience. Determined novices with no prior programming experience may also find it useful. If you already know Java, you should find it a useful language reference. The chapter includes some comparisons of Java to C and C++ for the benefit of programmers coming from those languages.

This chapter documents the syntax of Java programs by starting at the very lowest level of Java syntax and building from there, covering increasingly higher orders of structure. It covers:

§ The characters used to write Java programs and the encoding of those characters.

§ Literal values, identifiers, and other tokens that comprise a Java program.

§ The data types that Java can manipulate.

§ The operators used in Java to group individual tokens into larger expressions.

§ Statements, which group expressions and other statements to form logical chunks of Java code.

§ Methods, which are named collections of Java statements that can be invoked by other Java code.

§ Classes, which are collections of methods and fields. Classes are the central program element in Java and form the basis for object-oriented programming. Chapter 3 is devoted entirely to a discussion of classes and objects.

§ Packages, which are collections of related classes.

§ Java programs, which consist of one or more interacting classes that may be drawn from one or more packages.

The syntax of most programming languages is complex, and Java is no exception. In general, it is not possible to document all elements of a language without referring to other elements that have not yet been discussed. For example, it is not really possible to explain in a meaningful way the operators and statements supported by Java without referring to objects. But it is also not possible to document objects thoroughly without referring to the operators and statements of the language. The process of learning Java, or any language, is therefore an iterative one.

Java Programs from the Top Down

Before we begin our bottom-up exploration of Java syntax, let’s take a moment for a top-down overview of a Java program. Java programs consist of one or more files, or compilation units, of Java source code. Near the end of the chapter, we describe the structure of a Java file and explain how to compile and run a Java program. Each compilation unit begins with an optional package declaration followed by zero or more import declarations. These declarations specify the namespace within which the compilation unit will define names, and the namespaces from which the compilation unit imports names. We’ll see package and import again later in this chapter in “Packages and the Java Namespace”.

The optional package and import declarations are followed by zero or more reference type definitions. We will meet the full variety of possible reference types in Chapters 3 and 4, but for now, we should note that these are most often either class or interface definitions.

Within the definition of a reference type, we will encounter members such as fields, methods, and constructors. Methods are the most important kind of member. Methods are blocks of Java code comprised of statements.

With these basic terms defined, let’s start by approaching a Java program from the bottom up by examining the basic units of syntax—often referred to as lexical tokens.

Lexical Structure

This section explains the lexical structure of a Java program. It starts with a discussion of the Unicode character set in which Java programs are written. It then covers the tokens that comprise a Java program, explaining comments, identifiers, reserved words, literals, and so on.

The Unicode Character Set

Java programs are written using Unicode. You can use Unicode characters anywhere in a Java program, including comments and identifiers such as variable names. Unlike the 7-bit ASCII character set, which is useful only for English, and the 8-bit ISO Latin-1 character set, which is useful only for major Western European languages, the Unicode character set can represent virtually every written language in common use on the planet.


If you do not use a Unicode-enabled text editor, or if you do not want to force other programmers who view or edit your code to use a Unicode-enabled editor, you can embed Unicode characters into your Java programs using the special Unicode escape sequence \uxxxx, in other words, a backslash and a lowercase u, followed by four hexadecimal characters. For example, \u0020 is the space character, and \u03c0 is the character π.

Java has invested a large amount of time and engineering effort in ensuring that its Unicode support is first class. If your business application needs to deal with global users, especially in non-Western markets, then the Java platform is a great choice.

Case Sensitivity and Whitespace

Java is a case-sensitive language. Its keywords are written in lowercase and must always be used that way. That is, While and WHILE are not the same as the while keyword. Similarly, if you declare a variable named i in your program, you may not refer to it as I.


In general, relying on case sensitivity to distinguish identifiers is a terrible idea. Do not use it in your own code, and in particular never give an identifier the same name as a keyword but differently cased.

Java ignores spaces, tabs, newlines, and other whitespace, except when it appears within quoted characters and string literals. Programmers typically use whitespace to format and indent their code for easy readability, and you will see common indentation conventions in the code examples of this book.


Comments are natural-language text intended for human readers of a program. They are ignored by the Java compiler. Java supports three types of comments. The first type is a single-line comment, which begins with the characters // and continues until the end of the current line. For example:

int i = 0; // Initialize the loop variable

The second kind of comment is a multiline comment. It begins with the characters /* and continues, over any number of lines, until the characters */. Any text between the /* and the */ is ignored by javac. Although this style of comment is typically used for multiline comments, it can also be used for single-line comments. This type of comment cannot be nested (i.e., one /* */ comment cannot appear within another). When writing multiline comments, programmers often use extra * characters to make the comments stand out. Here is a typical multiline comment:


* First, establish a connection to the server.

* If the connection attempt fails, quit right away.


The third type of comment is a special case of the second. If a comment begins with /**, it is regarded as a special doc comment. Like regular multiline comments, doc comments end with */ and cannot be nested. When you write a Java class you expect other programmers to use, use doc comments to embed documentation about the class and each of its methods directly into the source code. A program named javadoc extracts these comments and processes them to create online documentation for your class. A doc comment can contain HTML tags and can use additional syntax understood by javadoc. For example:


* Upload a file to a web server.


* @param file The file to upload.

* @return <tt>true</tt> on success,

* <tt>false</tt> on failure.

* @author David Flanagan


See Chapter 7 for more information on the doc comment syntax and Chapter 13 for more information on the javadoc program.

Comments may appear between any tokens of a Java program, but may not appear within a token. In particular, comments may not appear within double-quoted string literals. A comment within a string literal simply becomes a literal part of that string.

Reserved Words

The following words are reserved in Java (they are part of the syntax of the language and may not be used to name variables, classes, and so forth):

abstract const final int public throw

assert continue finally interface return throws

boolean default float long short transient

break do for native static true

byte double goto new strictfp try

case else if null super void

catch enum implements package switch volatile

char extends import private synchronized while

class false instanceof protected this

We’ll meet each of these reserved words again later in this book. Some of them are the names of primitive types and others are the names of Java statements, both of which are discussed later in this chapter. Still others are used to define classes and their members (see Chapter 3).

Note that const and goto are reserved but aren’t actually used in the language, and that interface has an additional variant form—@interface, which is used when defining types known as annotations. Some of the reserved words (notably final and default) have a variety of different meanings depending on context.


An identifier is simply a name given to some part of a Java program, such as a class, a method within a class, or a variable declared within a method. Identifiers may be of any length and may contain letters and digits drawn from the entire Unicode character set. An identifier may not begin with a digit. In general, identifiers may not contain punctuation characters. Exceptions include the ASCII underscore (_) and dollar sign ($) as well as other Unicode currency symbols such as £ and ¥.


Currency symbols are intended for use in automatically generated source code, such as code produced by javac. By avoiding the use of currency symbols in your own identifiers, you don’t have to worry about collisions with automatically generated identifiers.

Formally, the characters allowed at the beginning of and within an identifier are defined by the methods isJavaIdentifierStart() and isJavaIdentifierPart() of the class java.lang.Character.

The following are examples of legal identifiers:

i x1 theCurrentTime the_current_time 獺

Note in particular the example of a UTF-8 identifier—獺. This is the Kanji character for “otter” and is perfectly legal as a Java identifier. The usage of non-ASCII identifiers is unusual in programs predominantly written by Westerners, but is sometimes seen.


Literals are values that appear directly in Java source code. They include integer and floating-point numbers, single characters within single quotes, strings of characters within double quotes, and the reserved words true, false, and null. For example, the following are all literals:

1 1.0 '1' "one" true false null

The syntax for expressing numeric, character, and string literals is detailed in “Primitive Data Types”.


Java also uses a number of punctuation characters as tokens. The Java Language Specification divides these characters (somewhat arbitrarily) into two categories, separators and operators. The twelve separators are:

( ) { } [ ]

... @ ::

; , .

The operators are:

+ — * / % & | ^ << >> >>>

+= -= *= /= %= &= |= ^= <<= >>= >>>=

= == != < <= > >=

! ~ && || ++ -- ? : ->

We’ll see separators throughout the book, and will cover each operator individually in “Expressions and Operators”.

Primitive Data Types

Java supports eight basic data types known as primitive types as described in Table 2-1. The primitive types include a Boolean type, a character type, four integer types, and two floating-point types. The four integer types and the two floating-point types differ in the number of bits that represent them and therefore in the range of numbers they can represent.







true or false


1 bit



Unicode character


16 bits

\u0000 to \uFFFF


Signed integer


8 bits

-128 to 127


Signed integer


16 bits

-32768 to 32767


Signed integer


32 bits

-2147483648 to 2147483647


Signed integer


64 bits

-9223372036854775808 to 9223372036854775807


IEEE 754 floating point


32 bits

1.4E-45 to 3.4028235E+38


IEEE 754 floating point


64 bits

4.9E-324 to 1.7976931348623157E+308

Table 2-1. Java primitive data types

The next section summarizes these primitive data types. In addition to these primitive types, Java supports nonprimitive data types known as reference types, which are introduced in “Reference Types”.

The boolean Type

The boolean type represents truth values. This type has only two possible values, representing the two Boolean states: on or off, yes or no, true or false. Java reserves the words true and false to represent these two Boolean values.

Programmers coming to Java from other languages (especially JavaScript) should note that Java is much stricter about its Boolean values than other languages—in particular, a boolean is neither an integral nor an object type, and incompatible values cannot be used in place of a boolean. In other words, you cannot take shortcuts such as the following in Java:

Object o = new Object();

int i = 1;

if (o) {

while(i) {




Instead, Java forces you to write cleaner code by explicitly stating the comparisons you want:

if (o != null) {

while(i != 0) {

// ...



The char Type

The char type represents Unicode characters. Java has a slightly unique approach to representing characters—javac accepts identifiers as UTF-8 (a variable-width encoding) in input, but represents chars internally as a fixed-width encoding that is 16 bits wide.

These distinctions do not normally need to concern the developer, however. In most cases, all that is required is to remember the rule that to include a character literal in a Java program, simply place it between single quotes (apostrophes):

char c = 'A';

You can, of course, use any Unicode character as a character literal, and you can use the \u Unicode escape sequence. In addition, Java supports a number of other escape sequences that make it easy both to represent commonly used nonprinting ASCII characters such as newline and to escape certain punctuation characters that have special meaning in Java. For example:

char tab = '\t', nul = '\000', aleph = '\u05D0', slash = '\\';

Table 2-2 lists the escape characters that can be used in char literals. These characters can also be used in string literals, which are covered in the next section.

Escape sequence

Character value




Horizontal tab




Form feed


Carriage return


Double quote


Single quote



\ xxx

The Latin-1 character with the encoding xxx, where xxx is an octal (base 8) number between 000 and 377. The forms \ x and \ xx are also legal, as in \0, but are not recommended because they can cause difficulties in string constants where the escape sequence is followed by a regular digit. This form is generally discouraged in favor of the \uXXXXform.

\u xxxx

The Unicode character with encoding xxxx, where xxxx is four hexadecimal digits. Unicode escapes can appear anywhere in a Java program, not only in character and string literals.

Table 2-2. Java escape characters

char values can be converted to and from the various integral types, and the char data type is a 16-bit integral type. Unlike byte, short, int, and long, however, char is an unsigned type. The Character class defines a number of useful static methods for working with characters, including isDigit(), isJavaLetter(), isLowerCase(), and toUpperCase().

The Java language and its char type were designed with Unicode in mind. The Unicode standard is evolving, however, and each new version of Java adopts a new version of Unicode. Java 7 uses Unicode 6.0 and Java 8 uses Unicode 6.2.

Recent releases of Unicode include characters whose encodings, or codepoints, do not fit in 16 bits. These supplementary characters, which are mostly infrequently used Han (Chinese) ideographs, occupy 21 bits and cannot be represented in a single char value. Instead, you must use an intvalue to hold the codepoint of a supplementary character, or you must encode it into a so-called “surrogate pair” of two char values.

Unless you commonly write programs that use Asian languages, you are unlikely to encounter any supplementary characters. If you do anticipate having to process characters that do not fit into a char, methods have been added to the Character, String, and related classes for working with text using int codepoints.

String literals

In addition to the char type, Java also has a data type for working with strings of text (usually simply called strings). The String type is a class, however, and is not one of the primitive types of the language. Because strings are so commonly used, though, Java does have a syntax for including string values literally in a program. A String literal consists of arbitrary text within double quotes (as opposed to the single quotes for char literals). For example:

"Hello, world"

"'This' is a string!"

String literals can contain any of the escape sequences that can appear as char literals (see Table 2-2). Use the \" sequence to include a double quote within a String literal. Because String is a reference type, string literals are described in more detail later in this chapter in “Object Literals”. Chapter 9 contains more details on some of the ways you can work with String objects in Java.

Integer Types

The integer types in Java are byte, short, int, and long. As shown in Table 2-1, these four types differ only in the number of bits and, therefore, in the range of numbers each type can represent. All integral types represent signed numbers; there is no unsigned keyword as there is in C and C++.

Literals for each of these types are written exactly as you would expect: as a string of decimal digits, optionally preceded by a minus sign.1 Here are some legal integer literals:





Integer literals can also be expressed in hexadecimal, binary, or octal notation. A literal that begins with 0x or 0X is taken as a hexadecimal number, using the letters A to F (or a to f) as the additional digits required for base-16 numbers.

Integer binary literals start with 0b and may, of course, only feature the digits 1 or 0. As binary literals can be very long, underscores are often used as part of a binary literal. The underscore character is ignored whenever it is encountered in any numerical literal—it’s allowed purely to help with readability of literals.

Java also supports octal (base-8) integer literals. These literals begin with a leading 0 and cannot include the digits 8 or 9. They are not often used and should be avoided unless needed. Legal hexadecimal, binary, and octal literals include:

0xff // Decimal 255, expressed in hexadecimal

0377 // The same number, expressed in octal (base 8)

0b0010_1111 // Decimal 47, expressed in binary

0xCAFEBABE // A magic number used to identify Java class files

Integer literals are 32-bit int values unless they end with the character L or l, in which case they are 64-bit long values:

1234 // An int value

1234L // A long value

0xffL // Another long value

Integer arithmetic in Java never produces an overflow or an underflow when you exceed the range of a given integer type. Instead, numbers just wrap around. For example:

byte b1 = 127, b2 = 1; // Largest byte is 127

byte sum = (byte)(b1 + b2); // Sum wraps to -128, the smallest byte

Neither the Java compiler nor the Java interpreter warns you in any way when this occurs. When doing integer arithmetic, you simply must ensure that the type you are using has a sufficient range for the purposes you intend. Integer division by zero and modulo by zero are illegal and cause an ArithmeticException to be thrown.

Each integer type has a corresponding wrapper class: Byte, Short, Integer, and Long. Each of these classes defines MIN_VALUE and MAX_VALUE constants that describe the range of the type. The classes also define useful static methods, such as Byte.parseByte() andInteger.parseInt(), for converting strings to integer values.

Floating-Point Types

Real numbers in Java are represented by the float and double data types. As shown in Table 2-1, float is a 32-bit, single-precision floating-point value, and double is a 64-bit, double-precision floating-point value. Both types adhere to the IEEE 754-1985 standard, which specifies both the format of the numbers and the behavior of arithmetic for the numbers.

Floating-point values can be included literally in a Java program as an optional string of digits, followed by a decimal point and another string of digits. Here are some examples:




Floating-point literals can also use exponential, or scientific, notation, in which a number is followed by the letter e or E (for exponent) and another number. This second number represents the power of 10 by which the first number is multiplied. For example:

1.2345E02 // 1.2345 * 10^2 or 123.45

1e-6 // 1 * 10^-6 or 0.000001

6.02e23 // Avogadro's Number: 6.02 * 10^23

Floating-point literals are double values by default. To include a float value literally in a program, follow the number with f or F:

double d = 6.02E23;

float f = 6.02e23f;

Floating-point literals cannot be expressed in hexadecimal, binary, or octal notation.


Most real numbers, by their very nature, cannot be represented exactly in any finite number of bits. Thus, it is important to remember that float and double values are only approximations of the numbers they are meant to represent. A float is a 32-bit approximation, which results in at least six significant decimal digits, and a double is a 64-bit approximation, which results in at least 15 significant digits. In Chapter 9, we will cover floating-point representations in more detail.

In addition to representing ordinary numbers, the float and double types can also represent four special values: positive and negative infinity, zero, and NaN. The infinity values result when a floating-point computation produces a value that overflows the representable range of a float ordouble. When a floating-point computation underflows the representable range of a float or a double, a zero value results.

The Java floating-point types make a distinction between positive zero and negative zero, depending on the direction from which the underflow occurred. In practice, positive and negative zero behave pretty much the same. Finally, the last special floating-point value is NaN, which stands for “Not-a-number.” The NaN value results when an illegal floating-point operation, such as 0.0/0.0, is performed. Here are examples of statements that result in these special values:

double inf = 1.0/0.0; // Infinity

double neginf = -1.0/0.0; // Negative Infinity

double negzero = -1.0/inf; // Negative zero

double NaN = 0.0/0.0; // Not-a-number

Because the Java floating-point types can handle overflow to infinity and underflow to zero and have a special NaN value, floating-point arithmetic never throws exceptions, even when performing illegal operations, like dividing zero by zero or taking the square root of a negative number.

The float and double primitive types have corresponding classes, named Float and Double. Each of these classes defines the following useful constants: MIN_VALUE, MAX_VALUE, NEGATIVE_INFINITY, POSITIVE_INFINITY, and NaN.

The infinite floating-point values behave as you would expect. Adding or subtracting any finite value to or from infinity, for example, yields infinity. Negative zero behaves almost identically to positive zero, and, in fact, the == equality operator reports that negative zero is equal to positive zero. One way to distinguish negative zero from positive, or regular, zero is to divide by it: 1.0/0.0 yields positive infinity, but 1.0 divided by negative zero yields negative infinity. Finally, because NaN is Not-a-number, the == operator says that it is not equal to any other number, including itself! To check whether a float or double value is NaN, you must use the Float.isNaN() and Double.isNaN() methods.

Primitive Type Conversions

Java allows conversions between integer values and floating-point values. In addition, because every character corresponds to a number in the Unicode encoding, char values can be converted to and from the integer and floating-point types. In fact, boolean is the only primitive type that cannot be converted to or from another primitive type in Java.

There are two basic types of conversions. A widening conversion occurs when a value of one type is converted to a wider type—one that has a larger range of legal values. For example, Java performs widening conversions automatically when you assign an int literal to a double variable or a char literal to an int variable.

Narrowing conversions are another matter, however. A narrowing conversion occurs when a value is converted to a type that is not wider than it is. Narrowing conversions are not always safe: it is reasonable to convert the integer value 13 to a byte, for example, but it is not reasonable to convert 13,000 to a byte, because byte can hold only numbers between -128 and 127. Because you can lose data in a narrowing conversion, the Java compiler complains when you attempt any narrowing conversion, even if the value being converted would in fact fit in the narrower range of the specified type:

int i = 13;

byte b = i; // The compiler does not allow this

The one exception to this rule is that you can assign an integer literal (an int value) to a byte or short variable if the literal falls within the range of the variable.

If you need to perform a narrowing conversion and are confident you can do so without losing data or precision, you can force Java to perform the conversion using a language construct known as a cast. Perform a cast by placing the name of the desired type in parentheses before the value to be converted. For example:

int i = 13;

byte b = (byte) i; // Force the int to be converted to a byte

i = (int) 13.456; // Force this double literal to the int 13

Casts of primitive types are most often used to convert floating-point values to integers. When you do this, the fractional part of the floating-point value is simply truncated (i.e., the floating-point value is rounded toward zero, not toward the nearest integer). The static methodsMath.round(), Math.floor(), and Math.ceil() perform other types of rounding.

The char type acts like an integer type in most ways, so a char value can be used anywhere an int or long value is required. Recall, however, that the char type is unsigned, so it behaves differently than the short type, even though both are 16 bits wide:

short s = (short) 0xffff; // These bits represent the number -1

char c = '\uffff'; // The same bits, as a Unicode character

int i1 = s; // Converting the short to an int yields -1

int i2 = c; // Converting the char to an int yields 65535

Table 2-3 shows which primitive types can be converted to which other types and how the conversion is performed. The letter N in the table means that the conversion cannot be performed. The letter Y means that the conversion is a widening conversion and is therefore performed automatically and implicitly by Java. The letter C means that the conversion is a narrowing conversion and requires an explicit cast.

Finally, the notation Y* means that the conversion is an automatic widening conversion, but that some of the least significant digits of the value may be lost in the conversion. This can happen when converting an int or long to a floating-point type—see the table for details. The floating-point types have a larger range than the integer types, so any int or long can be represented by a float or double. However, the floating-point types are approximations of numbers and cannot always hold as many significant digits as the integer types (see Chapter 9 for some more detail about floating-point numbers).

Convert to:

Convert from:

















































































Table 2-3. Java primitive type conversions

Expressions and Operators

So far in this chapter, we’ve learned about the primitive types that Java programs can manipulate and seen how to include primitive values as literals in a Java program. We’ve also used variables as symbolic names that represent, or hold, values. These literals and variables are the tokens out of which Java programs are built.

An expression is the next higher level of structure in a Java program. The Java interpreter evaluates an expression to compute its value. The very simplest expressions are called primary expressions and consist of literals and variables. So, for example, the following are all expressions:

1.7 // A floating-point literal

true // A Boolean literal

sum // A variable

When the Java interpreter evaluates a literal expression, the resulting value is the literal itself. When the interpreter evaluates a variable expression, the resulting value is the value stored in the variable.

Primary expressions are not very interesting. More complex expressions are made by using operators to combine primary expressions. For example, the following expression uses the assignment operator to combine two primary expressions—a variable and a floating-point literal—into an assignment expression:

sum = 1.7

But operators are used not only with primary expressions; they can also be used with expressions at any level of complexity. The following are all legal expressions:

sum = 1 + 2 + 3 * 1.2 + (4 + 8)/3.0

sum/Math.sqrt(3.0 * 1.234)

(int)(sum + 33)

Operator Summary

The kinds of expressions you can write in a programming language depend entirely on the set of operators available to you. Java has a wealth of operators, but to work effectively with them, there are two important concepts that need to be understood: precedence and associativity. These concepts—and the operators themselves—are explained in more detail in the following sections.


The P column of Table 2-4 specifies the precedence of each operator. Precedence specifies the order in which operations are performed. Operations that have higher precedence are performed before those with lower precedence. For example, consider this expression:

a + b * c

The multiplication operator has higher precedence than the addition operator, so a is added to the product of b and c, just as we expect from elementary mathematics. Operator precedence can be thought of as a measure of how tightly operators bind to their operands. The higher the number, the more tightly they bind.

Default operator precedence can be overridden through the use of parentheses that explicitly specify the order of operations. The previous expression can be rewritten to specify that the addition should be performed before the multiplication:

(a + b) * c

The default operator precedence in Java was chosen for compatibility with C; the designers of C chose this precedence so that most expressions can be written naturally without parentheses. There are only a few common Java idioms for which parentheses are required. Examples include:

// Class cast combined with member access

((Integer) o).intValue();

// Assignment combined with comparison

while((line = in.readLine()) != null) { ... }

// Bitwise operators combined with comparison

if ((flags & (PUBLIC | PROTECTED)) != 0) { ... }


Associativity is a property of operators that defines how to evaluate expressions that would otherwise be ambiguous. This is particularly important when an expression involves several operators that have the same precedence.

Most operators are left-to-right associative, which means that the operations are performed from left to right. The assignment and unary operators, however, have right-to-left associativity. The A column of Table 2-4 specifies the associativity of each operator or group of operators. The value L means left to right, and R means right to left.

The additive operators are all left-to-right associative, so the expression a+b-c is evaluated from left to right: (a+b)-c. Unary operators and assignment operators are evaluated from right to left. Consider this complex expression:

a = b += c = -~d

This is evaluated as follows:

a = (b += (c = -(~d)))

As with operator precedence, operator associativity establishes a default order of evaluation for an expression. This default order can be overridden through the use of parentheses. However, the default operator associativity in Java has been chosen to yield a natural expression syntax, and you should rarely need to alter it.

Operator summary table

Table 2-4 summarizes the operators available in Java. The P and A columns of the table specify the precedence and associativity of each group of related operators, respectively. You should use this table as a quick reference for operators (especially their precedence) when required.




Operand type(s)

Operation performed




object, member

Object member access

[ ]

array, int

Array element access

( args )

method, arglist

Method invocation

++, --


Post-increment, post-decrement



++, --


Pre-increment, pre-decrement

+, -


Unary plus, unary minus



Bitwise complement



Boolean NOT




class, arglist

Object creation

( type )

type, any

Cast (type conversion)



\*, /, %

number, number

Multiplication, division, remainder



+, -

number, number

Addition, subtraction


string, any

String concatenation




integer, integer

Left shift


integer, integer

Right shift with sign extension


integer, integer

Right shift with zero extension



<, <=

number, number

Less than, less than or equal

>, >=

number, number

Greater than, greater than or equal


reference, type

Type comparison




primitive, primitive

Equal (have identical values)


primitive, primitive

Not equal (have different values)


reference, reference

Equal (refer to same object)


reference, reference

Not equal (refer to different objects)




integer, integer

Bitwise AND


boolean, boolean

Boolean AND




integer, integer

Bitwise XOR


boolean, boolean

Boolean XOR




integer, integer

Bitwise OR


boolean, boolean

Boolean OR




boolean, boolean

Conditional AND




boolean, boolean

Conditional OR



? :

boolean, any

Conditional (ternary) operator




variable, any


*=, /=, %=,

variable, any

Assignment with operation

+=, -=, <<=,

>>=, >>>=,

&=, ^=, |=



arglist, method body

lambda expression

Table 2-4. Java operators

Operand number and type

The fourth column of Table 2-4 specifies the number and type of the operands expected by each operator. Some operators operate on only one operand; these are called unary operators. For example, the unary minus operator changes the sign of a single number:

-n // The unary minus operator

Most operators, however, are binary operators that operate on two operand values. The - operator actually comes in both forms:

a – b // The subtraction operator is a binary operator

Java also defines one ternary operator, often called the conditional operator. It is like an if statement inside an expression. Its three operands are separated by a question mark and a colon; the second and third operands must be convertible to the same type:

x > y ? x : y // Ternary expression; evaluates to larger of x and y

In addition to expecting a certain number of operands, each operator also expects particular types of operands. The fourth column of the table lists the operand types. Some of the codes used in that column require further explanation:


An integer, floating-point value, or character (i.e., any primitive type except boolean). Autounboxing (see “Boxing and Unboxing Conversions”) means that the wrapper classes (such as Character, Integer, and Double) for these types can be used in this context as well.


A byte, short, int, long, or char value (long values are not allowed for the array access operator [ ]). With autounboxing, Byte, Short, Integer, Long, and Character values are also allowed.


An object or array.


A variable or anything else, such as an array element, to which a value can be assigned.

Return type

Just as every operator expects its operands to be of specific types, each operator produces a value of a specific type. The arithmetic, increment and decrement, bitwise, and shift operators return a double if at least one of the operands is a double. They return a float if at least one of the operands is a float. They return a long if at least one of the operands is a long. Otherwise, they return an int, even if both operands are byte, short, or char types that are narrower than int.

The comparison, equality, and Boolean operators always return boolean values. Each assignment operator returns whatever value it assigned, which is of a type compatible with the variable on the left side of the expression. The conditional operator returns the value of its second or third argument (which must both be of the same type).

Side effects

Every operator computes a value based on one or more operand values. Some operators, however, have side effects in addition to their basic evaluation. If an expression contains side effects, evaluating it changes the state of a Java program in such a way that evaluating the expression again may yield a different result.

For example, the ++ increment operator has the side effect of incrementing a variable. The expression ++a increments the variable a and returns the newly incremented value. If this expression is evaluated again, the value will be different. The various assignment operators also have side effects. For example, the expression a\*=2 can also be written as a=a\*2. The value of the expression is the value of a multiplied by 2, but the expression has the side effect of storing that value back into a.

The method invocation operator () has side effects if the invoked method has side effects. Some methods, such as Math.sqrt(), simply compute and return a value without side effects of any kind. Typically, however, methods do have side effects. Finally, the new operator has the profound side effect of creating a new object.

Order of evaluation

When the Java interpreter evaluates an expression, it performs the various operations in an order specified by the parentheses in the expression, the precedence of the operators, and the associativity of the operators. Before any operation is performed, however, the interpreter first evaluates the operands of the operator. (The exceptions are the &&, ||, and ?: operators, which do not always evaluate all their operands.) The interpreter always evaluates operands in order from left to right. This matters if any of the operands are expressions that contain side effects. Consider this code, for example:

int a = 2;

int v = ++a + ++a * ++a;

Although the multiplication is performed before the addition, the operands of the + operator are evaluated first. As the operands of ++ are both a+, these are evaluated to 3 and 4, and so the expression evaluates to 3 + 4 * 5, or 23.

Arithmetic Operators

The arithmetic operators can be used with integers, floating-point numbers, and even characters (i.e., they can be used with any primitive type other than boolean). If either of the operands is a floating-point number, floating-point arithmetic is used; otherwise, integer arithmetic is used. This matters because integer arithmetic and floating-point arithmetic differ in the way division is performed and in the way underflows and overflows are handled, for example. The arithmetic operators are:

Addition (+)

The + operator adds two numbers. As we’ll see shortly, the + operator can also be used to concatenate strings. If either operand of + is a string, the other one is converted to a string as well. Be sure to use parentheses when you want to combine addition with concatenation. For example:

System.out.println("Total: " + 3 + 4); // Prints "Total: 34", not 7!

Subtraction (-)

When the - operator is used as a binary operator, it subtracts its second operand from its first. For example, 7-3 evaluates to 4. The - operator can also perform unary negation.

Multiplication (*)

The * operator multiplies its two operands. For example, 7*3 evaluates to 21.

Division (/)

The / operator divides its first operand by its second. If both operands are integers, the result is an integer, and any remainder is lost. If either operand is a floating-point value, however, the result is a floating-point value. When dividing two integers, division by zero throws anArithmeticException. For floating-point calculations, however, division by zero simply yields an infinite result or NaN:

7/3 // Evaluates to 2

7/3.0f // Evaluates to 2.333333f

7/0 // Throws an ArithmeticException

7/0.0 // Evaluates to positive infinity

0.0/0.0 // Evaluates to NaN

Modulo (%)

The % operator computes the first operand modulo the second operand (i.e., it returns the remainder when the first operand is divided by the second operand an integral number of times). For example, 7%3 is 1. The sign of the result is the same as the sign of the first operand. While the modulo operator is typically used with integer operands, it also works for floating-point values. For example, 4.3%2.1 evaluates to 0.1. When operating with integers, trying to compute a value modulo zero causes an ArithmeticException. When working with floating-point values, anything modulo 0.0 evaluates to NaN, as does infinity modulo anything.

Unary minus (-)

When the - operator is used as a unary operator—that is, before a single operand—it performs unary negation. In other words, it converts a positive value to an equivalently negative value, and vice versa.

String Concatenation Operator

In addition to adding numbers, the + operator (and the related += operator) also concatenates, or joins, strings. If either of the operands to + is a string, the operator converts the other operand to a string. For example:

// Prints "Quotient: 2.3333333"

System.out.println("Quotient: " + 7/3.0f);

As a result, you must be careful to put any addition expressions in parentheses when combining them with string concatenation. If you do not, the addition operator is interpreted as a concatenation operator.

The Java interpreter has built-in string conversions for all primitive types. An object is converted to a string by invoking its toString() method. Some classes define custom toString() methods so that objects of that class can easily be converted to strings in this way. An array is converted to a string by invoking the built-in toString() method, which, unfortunately, does not return a useful string representation of the array contents.

Increment and Decrement Operators

The ++ operator increments its single operand, which must be a variable, an element of an array, or a field of an object, by 1. The behavior of this operator depends on its position relative to the operand. When used before the operand, where it is known as the pre-increment operator, it increments the operand and evaluates to the incremented value of that operand. When used after the operand, where it is known as the post-increment operator, it increments its operand, but evaluates to the value of that operand before it was incremented.

For example, the following code sets both i and j to 2:

i = 1;

j = ++i;

But these lines set i to 2 and j to 1:

i = 1;

j = i++;

Similarly, the -- operator decrements its single numeric operand, which must be a variable, an element of an array, or a field of an object, by one. Like the ++ operator, the behavior of -- depends on its position relative to the operand. When used before the operand, it decrements the operand and returns the decremented value. When used after the operand, it decrements the operand, but returns the undecremented value.

The expressions x++ and x-- are equivalent to x=x+1 and x=x-1, respectively, except that when using the increment and decrement operators, x is only evaluated once. If x is itself an expression with side effects, this makes a big difference. For example, these two expressions are not equivalent:

a[i++]++; // Increments an element of an array

// Adds 1 to an array element and stores new value in another element

a[i++] = a[i++] + 1;

These operators, in both prefix and postfix forms, are most commonly used to increment or decrement the counter that controls a loop.

Comparison Operators

The comparison operators consist of the equality operators that test values for equality or inequality and the relational operators used with ordered types (numbers and characters) to test for greater than and less than relationships. Both types of operators yield a boolean result, so they are typically used with if statements and while and for loops to make branching and looping decisions. For example:

if (o != null) ...; // The not equals operator

while(i < a.length) ...; // The less than operator

Java provides the following equality operators:

Equals (==)

The == operator evaluates to true if its two operands are equal and false otherwise. With primitive operands, it tests whether the operand values themselves are identical. For operands of reference types, however, it tests whether the operands refer to the same object or array. In other words, it does not test the equality of two distinct objects or arrays. In particular, note that you cannot test two distinct strings for equality with this operator.

If == is used to compare two numeric or character operands that are not of the same type, the narrower operand is converted to the type of the wider operand before the comparison is done. For example, when comparing a short to a float, the short is first converted to a float before the comparison is performed. For floating-point numbers, the special negative zero value tests equal to the regular, positive zero value. Also, the special NaN (Not-a-number) value is not equal to any other number, including itself. To test whether a floating-point value is NaN, use theFloat.isNan() or Double.isNan() method.

Not equals (!=)

The != operator is exactly the opposite of the == operator. It evaluates to true if its two primitive operands have different values or if its two reference operands refer to different objects or arrays. Otherwise, it evaluates to false.

The relational operators can be used with numbers and characters, but not with boolean values, objects, or arrays because those types are not ordered. Java provides the following relational operators:

Less than (<)

Evaluates to true if the first operand is less than the second.

Less than or equal (<=)

Evaluates to true if the first operand is less than or equal to the second.

Greater than (>)

Evaluates to true if the first operand is greater than the second.

Greater than or equal (>=)

Evaluates to true if the first operand is greater than or equal to the second.

Boolean Operators

As we’ve just seen, the comparison operators compare their operands and yield a boolean result, which is often used in branching and looping statements. In order to make branching and looping decisions based on conditions more interesting than a single comparison, you can use the Boolean (or logical) operators to combine multiple comparison expressions into a single, more complex expression. The Boolean operators require their operands to be boolean values and they evaluate to boolean values. The operators are:

Conditional AND (&&)

This operator performs a Boolean AND operation on its operands. It evaluates to true if and only if both its operands are true. If either or both operands are false, it evaluates to false. For example:

if (x < 10 && y > 3) ... // If both comparisons are true

This operator (and all the Boolean operators except the unary ! operator) have a lower precedence than the comparison operators. Thus, it is perfectly legal to write a line of code like the one just shown. However, some programmers prefer to use parentheses to make the order of evaluation explicit:

if ((x < 10) && (y > 3)) ...

You should use whichever style you find easier to read.

This operator is called a conditional AND because it conditionally evaluates its second operand. If the first operand evaluates to false, the value of the expression is false, regardless of the value of the second operand. Therefore, to increase efficiency, the Java interpreter takes a shortcut and skips the second operand. The second operand is not guaranteed to be evaluated, so you must use caution when using this operator with expressions that have side effects. On the other hand, the conditional nature of this operator allows us to write Java expressions such as the following:

if (data != null && i < data.length && data[i] != -1)


The second and third comparisons in this expression would cause errors if the first or second comparisons evaluated to false. Fortunately, we don’t have to worry about this because of the conditional behavior of the && operator.

Conditional OR (||)

This operator performs a Boolean OR operation on its two boolean operands. It evaluates to true if either or both of its operands are true. If both operands are false, it evaluates to false. Like the && operator, || does not always evaluate its second operand. If the first operand evaluates to true, the value of the expression is true, regardless of the value of the second operand. Thus, the operator simply skips the second operand in that case.

Boolean NOT (!)

This unary operator changes the boolean value of its operand. If applied to a true value, it evaluates to false, and if applied to a false value, it evaluates to true. It is useful in expressions like these:

if (!found) ... // found is a boolean declared somewhere

while (!c.isEmpty()) ... // The isEmpty() method returns a boolean

Because ! is a unary operator, it has a high precedence and often must be used with parentheses:

if (!(x > y && y > z))

Boolean AND (&)

When used with boolean operands, the & operator behaves like the && operator, except that it always evaluates both operands, regardless of the value of the first operand. This operator is almost always used as a bitwise operator with integer operands, however, and many Java programmers would not even recognize its use with boolean operands as legal Java code.

Boolean OR (|)

This operator performs a Boolean OR operation on its two boolean operands. It is like the || operator, except that it always evaluates both operands, even if the first one is true. The | operator is almost always used as a bitwise operator on integer operands; its use with booleanoperands is very rare.

Boolean XOR (^)

When used with boolean operands, this operator computes the exclusive OR (XOR) of its operands. It evaluates to true if exactly one of the two operands is true. In other words, it evaluates to false if both operands are false or if both operands are true. Unlike the && and ||operators, this one must always evaluate both operands. The ^ operator is much more commonly used as a bitwise operator on integer operands. With boolean operands, this operator is equivalent to the != operator.

Bitwise and Shift Operators

The bitwise and shift operators are low-level operators that manipulate the individual bits that make up an integer value. The bitwise operators are not commonly used in modern Java except for low-level work (e.g., network programming). They are used for testing and setting individual flag bits in a value. In order to understand their behavior, you must understand binary (base-2) numbers and the two’s complement format used to represent negative integers.

You cannot use these operators with floating-point, boolean, array, or object operands. When used with boolean operands, the &, |, and \^ operators perform a different operation, as described in the previous section.

If either of the arguments to a bitwise operator is a long, the result is a long. Otherwise, the result is an int. If the left operand of a shift operator is a long, the result is a long; otherwise, the result is an int. The operators are:

Bitwise complement (~)

The unary ~ operator is known as the bitwise complement, or bitwise NOT, operator. It inverts each bit of its single operand, converting 1s to 0s and 0s to 1s. For example:

byte b = ~12; // ~00001100 = => 11110011 or -13 decimal

flags = flags & ~f; // Clear flag f in a set of flags

Bitwise AND (&)

This operator combines its two integer operands by performing a Boolean AND operation on their individual bits. The result has a bit set only if the corresponding bit is set in both operands. For example:

10 & 7 // 00001010 & 00000111 = => 00000010 or 2

if ((flags & f) != 0) // Test whether flag f is set

When used with boolean operands, & is the infrequently used Boolean AND operator described earlier.

Bitwise OR (|)

This operator combines its two integer operands by performing a Boolean OR operation on their individual bits. The result has a bit set if the corresponding bit is set in either or both of the operands. It has a zero bit only where both corresponding operand bits are zero. For example:

10 | 7 // 00001010 | 00000111 = => 00001111 or 15

flags = flags | f; // Set flag f

When used with boolean operands, | is the infrequently used Boolean OR operator described earlier.

Bitwise XOR (^)

This operator combines its two integer operands by performing a Boolean XOR (exclusive OR) operation on their individual bits. The result has a bit set if the corresponding bits in the two operands are different. If the corresponding operand bits are both 1s or both 0s, the result bit is a 0. For example:

10 ^ 7 // 00001010 ^ 00000111 = => 00001101 or 13

When used with boolean operands, ^ is the seldom used Boolean XOR operator.

Left shift (<<)

The << operator shifts the bits of the left operand left by the number of places specified by the right operand. High-order bits of the left operand are lost, and zero bits are shifted in from the right. Shifting an integer left by n places is equivalent to multiplying that number by 2n. For example:

10 << 1 // 00001010 << 1 = 00010100 = 20 = 10*2

7 << 3 // 00000111 << 3 = 00111000 = 56 = 7*8

-1 << 2 // 0xFFFFFFFF << 2 = 0xFFFFFFFC = -4 = -1*4

If the left operand is a long, the right operand should be between 0 and 63. Otherwise, the left operand is taken to be an int, and the right operand should be between 0 and 31.

Signed right shift (>>)

The >> operator shifts the bits of the left operand to the right by the number of places specified by the right operand. The low-order bits of the left operand are shifted away and are lost. The high-order bits shifted in are the same as the original high-order bit of the left operand. In other words, if the left operand is positive, 0s are shifted into the high-order bits. If the left operand is negative, 1s are shifted in instead. This technique is known as sign extension; it is used to preserve the sign of the left operand. For example:

10 >> 1 // 00001010 >> 1 = 00000101 = 5 = 10/2

27 >> 3 // 00011011 >> 3 = 00000011 = 3 = 27/8

-50 >> 2 // 11001110 >> 2 = 11110011 = -13 != -50/4

If the left operand is positive and the right operand is n, the >> operator is the same as integer division by 2n.

Unsigned right shift (>>>)

This operator is like the >> operator, except that it always shifts zeros into the high-order bits of the result, regardless of the sign of the left-hand operand. This technique is called zero extension; it is appropriate when the left operand is being treated as an unsigned value (despite the fact that Java integer types are all signed). These are examples:

0xff >>> 4 // 11111111 >>> 4 = 00001111 = 15 = 255/16

-50 >>> 2 // 0xFFFFFFCE >>> 2 = 0x3FFFFFF3 = 1073741811

Assignment Operators

The assignment operators store, or assign, a value into some kind of variable. The left operand must evaluate to an appropriate local variable, array element, or object field. The right side can be any value of a type compatible with the variable. An assignment expression evaluates to the value that is assigned to the variable. More importantly, however, the expression has the side effect of actually performing the assignment. Unlike all other binary operators, the assignment operators are right-associative, which means that the assignments in a=b=c are performed right to left, as follows: a=(b=c).

The basic assignment operator is =. Do not confuse it with the equality operator, ==. In order to keep these two operators distinct, we recommend that you read = as “is assigned the value.”

In addition to this simple assignment operator, Java also defines 11 other operators that combine assignment with the 5 arithmetic operators and the 6 bitwise and shift operators. For example, the += operator reads the value of the left variable, adds the value of the right operand to it, stores the sum back into the left variable as a side effect, and returns the sum as the value of the expression. Thus, the expression x+=2 is almost the same as x=x+2. The difference between these two expressions is that when you use the += operator, the left operand is evaluated only once. This makes a difference when that operand has a side effect. Consider the following two expressions, which are not equivalent:

a[i++] += 2;

a[i++] = a[i++] + 2;

The general form of these combination assignment operators is:

var op= value

This is equivalent (unless there are side effects in var) to:

var = var op value

The available operators are:

+= -= *= /= %= // Arithmetic operators plus assignment

&= |= ^= // Bitwise operators plus assignment

<<= >>= >>>= // Shift operators plus assignment

The most commonly used operators are += and -=, although &= and |= can also be useful when working with boolean flags. For example:

i += 2; // Increment a loop counter by 2

c -= 5; // Decrement a counter by 5

flags |= f; // Set a flag f in an integer set of flags

flags &= ~f; // Clear a flag f in an integer set of flags

The Conditional Operator

The conditional operator ?: is a somewhat obscure ternary (three-operand) operator inherited from C. It allows you to embed a conditional within an expression. You can think of it as the operator version of the if/else statement. The first and second operands of the conditional operator are separated by a question mark (?) while the second and third operands are separated by a colon (:). The first operand must evaluate to a boolean value. The second and third operands can be of any type, but they must be convertible to the same type.

The conditional operator starts by evaluating its first operand. If it is true, the operator evaluates its second operand and uses that as the value of the expression. On the other hand, if the first operand is false, the conditional operator evaluates and returns its third operand. The conditional operator never evaluates both its second and third operand, so be careful when using expressions with side effects with this operator. Examples of this operator are:

int max = (x > y) ? x : y;

String name = (name != null) ? name : "unknown";

Note that the ?: operator has lower precedence than all other operators except the assignment operators, so parentheses are not usually necessary around the operands of this operator. Many programmers find conditional expressions easier to read if the first operand is placed within parentheses, however. This is especially true because the conditional if statement always has its conditional expression written within parentheses.

The instanceof Operator

The instanceof operator is intimately bound up with objects and the operation of the Java type system. If this is your first look at Java, it may be preferable to skim this definition and return to this section after you have a decent grasp of Java’s objects.

instanceof requires an object or array value as its left operand and the name of a reference type as its right operand. It evaluates to true if the object or array is an instance of the specified type; it returns false otherwise. If the left operand is null, instanceof always evaluates tofalse. If an instanceof expression evaluates to true, it means that you can safely cast and assign the left operand to a variable of the type of the right operand.

The instanceof operator can be used only with reference types and objects, not primitive types and values. Examples of instanceof are:

// True: all strings are instances of String

"string" instanceof String

// True: strings are also instances of Object

"" instanceof Object

// False: null is never an instance of anything

null instanceof String

Object o = new int[] {1,2,3};

o instanceof int[] // True: the array value is an int array

o instanceof byte[] // False: the array value is not a byte array

o instanceof Object // True: all arrays are instances of Object

// Use instanceof to make sure that it is safe to cast an object

if (object instanceof Point) {

Point p = (Point) object;


Special Operators

Java has six language constructs that are sometimes considered operators and sometimes considered simply part of the basic language syntax. These “operators” were included in Table 2-4 in order to show their precedence relative to the other true operators. The use of these language constructs is detailed elsewhere in this book, but is described briefly here so that you can recognize them in code examples:

Object member access (.)

An object is a collection of data and methods that operate on that data; the data fields and methods of an object are called its members. The dot (.) operator accesses these members. If o is an expression that evaluates to an object reference, and f is the name of a field of the object, o.fevaluates to the value contained in that field. If m is the name of a method, o.m refers to that method and allows it to be invoked using the () operator shown later.

Array element access ([])

An array is a numbered list of values. Each element of an array can be referred to by its number, or index. The [ ] operator allows you to refer to the individual elements of an array. If a is an array, and i is an expression that evaluates to an int, a[i] refers to one of the elements of a. Unlike other operators that work with integer values, this operator restricts array index values to be of type int or narrower.

Method invocation (())

A method is a named collection of Java code that can be run, or invoked, by following the name of the method with zero or more comma-separated expressions contained within parentheses. The values of these expressions are the arguments to the method. The method processes the arguments and optionally returns a value that becomes the value of the method invocation expression. If o.m is a method that expects no arguments, the method can be invoked with o.m(). If the method expects three arguments, for example, it can be invoked with an expression such aso.m(x,y,z). Before the Java interpreter invokes a method, it evaluates each of the arguments to be passed to the method. These expressions are guaranteed to be evaluated in order from left to right (which matters if any of the arguments have side effects).

Lambda expression (→)

A lambda expression is an anonymous collection of executable Java code, essentially a method body. It consists of a method argument list (zero or more comma-separated expressions contained within parentheses) followed by the lambda arrow operator followed by a block of Java code. If the block of code comprises just a single statement, then the usual curly braces to denote block boundaries can be omitted.

Object creation (new)

In Java, objects (and arrays) are created with the new operator, which is followed by the type of the object to be created and a parenthesized list of arguments to be passed to the object constructor. A constructor is a special block of code that initializes a newly created object, so the object creation syntax is similar to the Java method invocation syntax. For example:

new ArrayList();

new Point(1,2)

Type conversion or casting (())

As we’ve already seen, parentheses can also be used as an operator to perform narrowing type conversions, or casts. The first operand of this operator is the type to be converted to; it is placed between the parentheses. The second operand is the value to be converted; it follows the parentheses. For example:

(byte) 28 // An integer literal cast to a byte type

(int) (x + 3.14f) // A floating-point sum value cast to an integer

(String)h.get(k) // A generic object cast to a string


A statement is a basic unit of execution in the Java language—it expresses a single piece of intent by the programmer. Unlike expressions, Java statements do not have a value. Statements also typically contain expressions and operators (especially assignment operators) and are frequently executed for the side effects that they cause.

Many of the statements defined by Java are flow-control statements, such as conditionals and loops, that can alter the default, linear order of execution in well-defined ways. Table 2-5 summarizes the statements defined by Java.





side effects

var = expr ; expr ++; method (); new Type ( );


group statements

{ statements }


do nothing



name a statement

label : statement


declare a variable

[final] type name [= value ] [, name [= value ]] …;



if ( expr ) statement [ else statement ]



switch ( expr ) { [ case expr : statements ] … [ default: statements ] }



while ( expr ) statement



do statement while ( expr );


simplified loop

for ( init ; test ; increment ) statement


collection iteration

for ( variable : iterable ) statement


exit block

break [ label ] ;


restart loop

continue [ label ] ;


end method

return [ expr ] ;


critical section

synchronized ( expr ) { statements }


throw exception

throw expr ;


handle exception

try { statements } [ catch ( type name ) { statements } ] ... [ finally { statements } ]


verify invariant

assert invariant [ : error ];

Table 2-5. Java statements

Expression Statements

As we saw earlier in the chapter, certain types of Java expressions have side effects. In other words, they do not simply evaluate to some value; they also change the program state in some way. Any expression with side effects can be used as a statement simply by following it with a semicolon. The legal types of expression statements are assignments, increments and decrements, method calls, and object creation. For example:

a = 1; // Assignment

x *= 2; // Assignment with operation

i++; // Post-increment

--c; // Pre-decrement

System.out.println("statement"); // Method invocation

Compound Statements

A compound statement is any number and kind of statements grouped together within curly braces. You can use a compound statement anywhere a statement is required by Java syntax:

for(int i = 0; i < 10; i++) {

a[i]++; // Body of this loop is a compound statement.

b[i]--; // It consists of two expression statements

} // within curly braces.

The Empty Statement

An empty statement in Java is written as a single semicolon. The empty statement doesn’t do anything, but the syntax is occasionally useful. For example, you can use it to indicate an empty loop body in a for loop:

for(int i = 0; i < 10; a[i++]++) // Increment array elements

/* empty */; // Loop body is empty statement

Labeled Statements

A labeled statement is simply a statement that has been given a name by prepending an identifier and a colon to it. Labels are used by the break and continue statements. For example:

rowLoop: for(int r = 0; r < rows.length; r++) { // Labeled loop

colLoop: for(int c = 0; c < columns.length; c++) { // Another one

break rowLoop; // Use a label



Local Variable Declaration Statements

A local variable, often simply called a variable, is a symbolic name for a location to store a value that is defined within a method or compound statement. All variables must be declared before they can be used; this is done with a variable declaration statement. Because Java is a statically typed language, a variable declaration specifies the type of the variable, and only values of that type can be stored in the variable.

In its simplest form, a variable declaration specifies a variable’s type and name:

int counter;

String s;

A variable declaration can also include an initializer: an expression that specifies an initial value for the variable. For example:

int i = 0;

String s = readLine();

int[] data = {x+1, x+2, x+3}; // Array initializers are discussed later

The Java compiler does not allow you to use a local variable that has not been initialized, so it is usually convenient to combine variable declaration and initialization into a single statement. The initializer expression need not be a literal value or a constant expression that can be evaluated by the compiler; it can be an arbitrarily complex expression whose value is computed when the program is run.

A single variable declaration statement can declare and initialize more than one variable, but all variables must be of the same type. Variable names and optional initializers are separated from each other with commas:

int i, j, k;

float x = 1.0, y = 1.0;

String question = "Really Quit?", response;

Variable declaration statements can begin with the final keyword. This modifier specifies that once an initial value is specified for the variable, that value is never allowed to change:

final String greeting = getLocalLanguageGreeting();

We will have more to say about the final keyword later on, especially when talking about the immutable style of programming.

C programmers should note that Java variable declaration statements can appear anywhere in Java code; they are not restricted to the beginning of a method or block of code. Local variable declarations can also be integrated with the initialize portion of a for loop, as we’ll discuss shortly.

Local variables can be used only within the method or block of code in which they are defined. This is called their scope or lexical scope:

void method() { // A method definition

int i = 0; // Declare variable i

while (i < 10) { // i is in scope here

int j = 0; // Declare j; the scope of j begins here

i++; // i is in scope here; increment it

} // j is no longer in scope;

System.out.println(i); // i is still in scope here

} // The scope of i ends here

The if/else Statement

The if statement is a fundamental control statement that allows Java to make decisions or, more precisely, to execute statements conditionally. The if statement has an associated expression and statement. If the expression evaluates to true, the interpreter executes the statement. If the expression evaluates to false, the interpreter skips the statement.


Java allows the expression to be of the wrapper type Boolean instead of the primitive type boolean. In this case, the wrapper object is automatically unboxed.

Here is an example if statement:

if (username == null) // If username is null,

username = "John Doe"; // use a default value

Although they look extraneous, the parentheses around the expression are a required part of the syntax for the if statement. As we already saw, a block of statements enclosed in curly braces is itself a statement, so we can write if statements that look like this as well:

if ((address == null) || (address.equals(""))) {

address = "[undefined]";

System.out.println("WARNING: no address specified.");


An if statement can include an optional else keyword that is followed by a second statement. In this form of the statement, the expression is evaluated, and, if it is true, the first statement is executed. Otherwise, the second statement is executed. For example:

if (username != null)

System.out.println("Hello " + username);

else {

username = askQuestion("What is your name?");

System.out.println("Hello " + username + ". Welcome!");


When you use nested if/else statements, some caution is required to ensure that the else clause goes with the appropriate if statement. Consider the following lines:

if (i == j)

if (j == k)

System.out.println("i equals k");


System.out.println("i doesn't equal j"); // WRONG!!

In this example, the inner if statement forms the single statement allowed by the syntax of the outer if statement. Unfortunately, it is not clear (except from the hint given by the indentation) which if the else goes with. And in this example, the indentation hint is wrong. The rule is that anelse clause like this is associated with the nearest if statement. Properly indented, this code looks like this:

if (i == j)

if (j == k)

System.out.println("i equals k");


System.out.println("i doesn't equal j"); // WRONG!!

This is legal code, but it is clearly not what the programmer had in mind. When working with nested if statements, you should use curly braces to make your code easier to read. Here is a better way to write the code:

if (i == j) {

if (j == k)

System.out.println("i equals k");


else {

System.out.println("i doesn't equal j");


The else if clause

The if/else statement is useful for testing a condition and choosing between two statements or blocks of code to execute. But what about when you need to choose between several blocks of code? This is typically done with an else if clause, which is not really new syntax, but a common idiomatic usage of the standard if/else statement. It looks like this:

if (n == 1) {

// Execute code block #1


else if (n == 2) {

// Execute code block #2


else if (n == 3) {

// Execute code block #3


else {

// If all else fails, execute block #4


There is nothing special about this code. It is just a series of if statements, where each if is part of the else clause of the previous statement. Using the else if idiom is preferable to, and more legible than, writing these statements out in their fully nested form:

if (n == 1) {

// Execute code block #1


else {

if (n == 2) {

// Execute code block #2


else {

if (n == 3) {

// Execute code block #3


else {

// If all else fails, execute block #4




The switch Statement

An if statement causes a branch in the flow of a program’s execution. You can use multiple if statements, as shown in the previous section, to perform a multiway branch. This is not always the best solution, however, especially when all of the branches depend on the value of a single variable. In this case, it is inefficient to repeatedly check the value of the same variable in multiple if statements.

A better solution is to use a switch statement, which is inherited from the C programming language. Although the syntax of this statement is not nearly as elegant as other parts of Java, the brute practicality of the construct makes it worthwhile.


A switch statement starts with an expression whose type is an int, short, char, byte (or their wrapper type), String, or an enum (see Chapter 4 for more on enumerated types).

This expression is followed by a block of code in curly braces that contains various entry points that correspond to possible values for the expression. For example, the following switch statement is equivalent to the repeated if and else/if statements shown in the previous section:

switch(n) {

case 1: // Start here if n == 1

// Execute code block #1

break; // Stop here

case 2: // Start here if n == 2

// Execute code block #2

break; // Stop here

case 3: // Start here if n == 3

// Execute code block #3

break; // Stop here

default: // If all else fails...

// Execute code block #4

break; // Stop here


As you can see from the example, the various entry points into a switch statement are labeled either with the keyword case, followed by an integer value and a colon, or with the special default keyword, followed by a colon. When a switch statement executes, the interpreter computes the value of the expression in parentheses and then looks for a case label that matches that value. If it finds one, the interpreter starts executing the block of code at the first statement following the case label. If it does not find a case label with a matching value, the interpreter starts execution at the first statement following a special-case default: label. Or, if there is no default: label, the interpreter skips the body of the switch statement altogether.

Note the use of the break keyword at the end of each case in the previous code. The break statement is described later in this chapter, but, in this case, it causes the interpreter to exit the body of the switch statement. The case clauses in a switch statement specify only the starting point of the desired code. The individual cases are not independent blocks of code, and they do not have any implicit ending point. Therefore, you must explicitly specify the end of each case with a break or related statement. In the absence of break statements, a switch statement begins executing code at the first statement after the matching case label and continues executing statements until it reaches the end of the block. On rare occasions, it is useful to write code like this that falls through from one case label to the next, but 99% of the time you should be careful to end every case and default section with a statement that causes the switch statement to stop executing. Normally you use a break statement, but return and throw also work.

A switch statement can have more than one case clause labeling the same statement. Consider the switch statement in the following method:

boolean parseYesOrNoResponse(char response) {

switch(response) {

case 'y':

case 'Y': return true;

case 'n':

case 'N': return false;


throw new IllegalArgumentException("Response must be Y or N");



The switch statement and its case labels have some important restrictions. First, the expression associated with a switch statement must have an appropriate type—either byte, char, short, int (or their wrappers), or an enum type or a String. The floating-point and boolean types are not supported, and neither is long, even though long is an integer type. Second, the value associated with each case label must be a constant value or a constant expression the compiler can evaluate. A case label cannot contain a runtime expression involving variables or method calls, for example. Third, the case label values must be within the range of the data type used for the switch expression. And finally, it is not legal to have two or more case labels with the same value or more than one default label.

The while Statement

The while statement is a basic statement that allows Java to perform repetitive actions—or, to put it another way, it is one of Java’s primary looping constructs. It has the following syntax:

while (expression)


The while statement works by first evaluating the expression, which must result in a boolean or Boolean value. If the value is false, the interpreter skips the statement associated with the loop and moves to the next statement in the program. If it is true, however, the statementthat forms the body of the loop is executed, and the expression is reevaluated. Again, if the value of expression is false, the interpreter moves on to the next statement in the program; otherwise, it executes the statement again. This cycle continues while the expression remainstrue (i.e., until it evaluates to false), at which point the while statement ends, and the interpreter moves on to the next statement. You can create an infinite loop with the syntax while(true).

Here is an example while loop that prints the numbers 0 to 9:

int count = 0;

while (count < 10) {




As you can see, the variable count starts off at 0 in this example and is incremented each time the body of the loop runs. Once the loop has executed 10 times, the expression becomes false (i.e., count is no longer less than 10), the while statement finishes, and the Java interpreter can move to the next statement in the program. Most loops have a counter variable like count. The variable names i, j, and k are commonly used as loop counters, although you should use more descriptive names if it makes your code easier to understand.

The do Statement

A do loop is much like a while loop, except that the loop expression is tested at the bottom of the loop rather than at the top. This means that the body of the loop is always executed at least once. The syntax is:



while (expression);

Notice a couple of differences between the do loop and the more ordinary while loop. First, the do loop requires both the do keyword to mark the beginning of the loop and the while keyword to mark the end and introduce the loop condition. Also, unlike the while loop, the do loop is terminated with a semicolon. This is because the do loop ends with the loop condition rather than simply ending with a curly brace that marks the end of the loop body. The following do loop prints the same output as the while loop just discussed:

int count = 0;

do {



} while(count < 10);

The do loop is much less commonly used than its while cousin because, in practice, it is unusual to encounter a situation where you are sure you always want a loop to execute at least once.

The for Statement

The for statement provides a looping construct that is often more convenient than the while and do loops. The for statement takes advantage of a common looping pattern. Most loops have a counter, or state variable of some kind, that is initialized before the loop starts, tested to determine whether to execute the loop body, and then incremented or updated somehow at the end of the loop body before the test expression is evaluated again. The initialization, test, and update steps are the three crucial manipulations of a loop variable, and the for statement makes these three steps an explicit part of the loop syntax:

for(initialize; test; update) {



This for loop is basically equivalent to the following while loop:


while (test) {




Placing the initialize, test, and update expressions at the top of a for loop makes it especially easy to understand what the loop is doing, and it prevents mistakes such as forgetting to initialize or update the loop variable. The interpreter discards the values of the initialize andupdate expressions, so to be useful, these expressions must have side effects. initialize is typically an assignment expression while update is usually an increment, decrement, or some other assignment.

The following for loop prints the numbers 0 to 9, just as the previous while and do loops have done:

int count;

for(count = 0 ; count < 10 ; count++)


Notice how this syntax places all the important information about the loop variable on a single line, making it very clear how the loop executes. Placing the update expression in the for statement itself also simplifies the body of the loop to a single statement; we don’t even need to use curly braces to produce a statement block.

The for loop supports some additional syntax that makes it even more convenient to use. Because many loops use their loop variables only within the loop, the for loop allows the initialize expression to be a full variable declaration, so that the variable is scoped to the body of the loop and is not visible outside of it. For example:

for(int count = 0 ; count < 10 ; count++)


Furthermore, the for loop syntax does not restrict you to writing loops that use only a single variable. Both the initialize and update expressions of a for loop can use a comma to separate multiple initializations and update expressions. For example:

for(int i = 0, j = 10 ; i < 10 ; i++, j--)

sum += i * j;

Even though all the examples so far have counted numbers, for loops are not restricted to loops that count numbers. For example, you might use a for loop to iterate through the elements of a linked list:

for(Node n = listHead; n != null; n = n.nextNode())


The initialize, test, and update expressions of a for loop are all optional; only the semicolons that separate the expressions are required. If the test expression is omitted, it is assumed to be true. Thus, you can write an infinite loop as for(;;).

The foreach Statement

Java’s for loop works well for primitive types, but it is needlessly clunky for handling collections of objects. Instead, an alternative syntax known as a foreach loop is used for handling collections of objects that need to be looped over.

The foreach loop uses the keyword for followed by an opening parenthesis, a variable declaration (without initializer), a colon, an expression, a closing parenthesis, and finally the statement (or block) that forms the body of the loop:

for( declaration : expression )


Despite its name, the foreach loop does not have a keyword foreach—instead, it is common to read the colon as “in”—as in “foreach name in studentNames.”

For the while, do, and for loops, we’ve shown an example that prints 10 numbers. The foreach loop can do this too, but it needs a collection to iterate over. In order to loop 10 times (to print out 10 numbers), we need an array or other collection with 10 elements. Here’s code we can use:

// These are the numbers we want to print

int[] primes = new int[] { 2, 3, 5, 7, 11, 13, 17, 19, 23, 29 };

// This is the loop that prints them

for(int n : primes)


What foreach cannot do

Foreach is different from the while, for, or do loops, because it hides the loop counter or Iterator from you. This is a very powerful idea, as we’ll see when we discuss lambda expressions, but there are some algorithms that cannot be expressed very naturally with a foreach loop.

For example, suppose you want to print the elements of an array as a comma-separated list. To do this, you need to print a comma after every element of the array except the last, or equivalently, before every element of the array except the first. With a traditional for loop, the code might look like this:

for(int i = 0; i < words.length; i++) {

if (i > 0) System.out.print(", ");



This is a very straightforward task, but you simply cannot do it with foreach. The problem is that the foreach loop doesn’t give you a loop counter or any other way to tell if you’re on the first iteration, the last iteration, or somewhere in between.


A similar issue exists when using foreach to iterate through the elements of a collection. Just as a foreach loop over an array has no way to obtain the array index of the current element, a foreach loop over a collection has no way to obtain the Iterator object that is being used to itemize the elements of the collection.

Here are some other things you cannot do with a foreach style loop:

§ Iterate backward through the elements of an array or List.

§ Use a single loop counter to access the same-numbered elements of two distinct arrays.

§ Iterate through the elements of a List using calls to its get() method rather than calls to its iterator.

The break Statement

A break statement causes the Java interpreter to skip immediately to the end of a containing statement. We have already seen the break statement used with the switch statement. The break statement is most often written as simply the keyword break followed by a semicolon:


When used in this form, it causes the Java interpreter to immediately exit the innermost containing while, do, for, or switch statement. For example:

for(int i = 0; i < data.length; i++) {

if (data[i] == target) { // When we find what we're looking for,

index = i; // remember where we found it

break; // and stop looking!


} // The Java interpreter goes here after executing break

The break statement can also be followed by the name of a containing labeled statement. When used in this form, break causes the Java interpreter to immediately exit the named block, which can be any kind of statement, not just a loop or switch. For example:

TESTFORNULL: if (data != null) {

for(int row = 0; row < numrows; row++) {

for(int col = 0; col < numcols; col++) {

if (data[row][col] == null)

break TESTFORNULL; // treat the array as undefined.



} // Java interpreter goes here after executing break TESTFORNULL

The continue Statement

While a break statement exits a loop, a continue statement quits the current iteration of a loop and starts the next one. continue, in both its unlabeled and labeled forms, can be used only within a while, do, or for loop. When used without a label, continue causes the innermost loop to start a new iteration. When used with a label that is the name of a containing loop, it causes the named loop to start a new iteration. For example:

for(int i = 0; i < data.length; i++) { // Loop through data.

if (data[i] == -1) // If a data value is missing,

continue; // skip to the next iteration.

process(data[i]); // Process the data value.


while, do, and for loops differ slightly in the way that continue starts a new iteration:

§ With a while loop, the Java interpreter simply returns to the top of the loop, tests the loop condition again, and, if it evaluates to true, executes the body of the loop again.

§ With a do loop, the interpreter jumps to the bottom of the loop, where it tests the loop condition to decide whether to perform another iteration of the loop.

§ With a for loop, the interpreter jumps to the top of the loop, where it first evaluates the update expression and then evaluates the test expression to decide whether to loop again. As you can see from the examples, the behavior of a for loop with a continue statement is different from the behavior of the “basically equivalent” while loop presented earlier; update gets evaluated in the for loop but not in the equivalent while loop.

The return Statement

A return statement tells the Java interpreter to stop executing the current method. If the method is declared to return a value, the return statement must be followed by an expression. The value of the expression becomes the return value of the method. For example, the following method computes and returns the square of a number:

double square(double x) { // A method to compute x squared

return x * x; // Compute and return a value


Some methods are declared void to indicate that they do not return any value. The Java interpreter runs methods like this by executing their statements one by one until it reaches the end of the method. After executing the last statement, the interpreter returns implicitly. Sometimes, however, a void method has to return explicitly before reaching the last statement. In this case, it can use the return statement by itself, without any expression. For example, the following method prints, but does not return, the square root of its argument. If the argument is a negative number, it returns without printing anything:

// A method to print square root of x

void printSquareRoot(double x) {

if (x < 0) return; // If x is negative, return

System.out.println(Math.sqrt(x)); // Print the square root of x

} // Method end: return implicitly

The synchronized Statement

Java has always provided support for multithreaded programming. We cover this in some detail later on (especially in “Java’s Support for Concurrency”)—but the reader should be aware that concurrency is difficult to get right, and has a number of subtleties.

In particular, when working with multiple threads, you must often take care to prevent multiple threads from modifying an object simultaneously in a way that might corrupt the object’s state. Java provides the synchronized statement to help the programmer prevent corruption. The syntax is:

synchronized ( expression ) {



expression is an expression that must evaluate to an object or an array. statements constitute the code of the section that could cause damage and must be enclosed in curly braces.

Before executing the statement block, the Java interpreter first obtains an exclusive lock on the object or array specified by expression. It holds the lock until it is finished running the block, then releases it. While a thread holds the lock on an object, no other thread can obtain that lock.

The synchronized keyword is also available as a method modifier in Java, and when applied to a method, the synchronized keyword indicates that the entire method is locked. For a synchronized class method (a static method), Java obtains an exclusive lock on the class before executing the method. For a synchronized instance method, Java obtains an exclusive lock on the class instance. (Class and instance methods are discussed in Chapter 3.)

The throw Statement

An exception is a signal that indicates some sort of exceptional condition or error has occurred. To throw an exception is to signal an exceptional condition. To catch an exception is to handle it—to take whatever actions are necessary to recover from it. In Java, the throw statement is used to throw an exception:

throw expression;

The expression must evaluate to an exception object that describes the exception or error that has occurred. We’ll talk more about types of exceptions shortly; for now, all you need to know is that an exception is represented by an object, which has a slightly specialized role. Here is some example code that throws an exception:

public static double factorial(int x) {

if (x < 0)

throw new IllegalArgumentException("x must be >= 0");

double fact;

for(fact=1.0; x > 1; fact *= x, x--)

/* empty */ ; // Note use of the empty statement

return fact;


When the Java interpreter executes a throw statement, it immediately stops normal program execution and starts looking for an exception handler that can catch, or handle, the exception. Exception handlers are written with the try/catch/finally statement, which is described in the next section. The Java interpreter first looks at the enclosing block of code to see if it has an associated exception handler. If so, it exits that block of code and starts running the exception-handling code associated with the block. After running the exception handler, the interpreter continues execution at the statement immediately following the handler code.

If the enclosing block of code does not have an appropriate exception handler, the interpreter checks the next higher enclosing block of code in the method. This continues until a handler is found. If the method does not contain an exception handler that can handle the exception thrown by thethrow statement, the interpreter stops running the current method and returns to the caller. Now the interpreter starts looking for an exception handler in the blocks of code of the calling method. In this way, exceptions propagate up through the lexical structure of Java methods, up the call stack of the Java interpreter. If the exception is never caught, it propagates all the way up to the main() method of the program. If it is not handled in that method, the Java interpreter prints an error message, prints a stack trace to indicate where the exception occurred, and then exits.

The try/catch/finally Statement

Java has two slightly different exception-handling mechanisms. The classic form is the try/catch/finally statement. The try clause of this statement establishes a block of code for exception handling. This try block is followed by zero or more catch clauses, each of which is a block of statements designed to handle specific exceptions. Each catch block can handle more than one different exception—to indicate that a catch block should handle multiple exceptions, we use the | symbol to separate the different exceptions a catch block should handle. The catch clauses are followed by an optional finally block that contains cleanup code guaranteed to be executed regardless of what happens in the try block.


Both the catch and finally clauses are optional, but every try block must be accompanied by at least one or the other. The try, catch, and finally blocks all begin and end with curly braces. These are a required part of the syntax and cannot be omitted, even if the clause contains only a single statement.

The following code illustrates the syntax and purpose of the try/catch/finally statement:

try {

// Normally this code runs from the top of the block to the bottom

// without problems. But it can sometimes throw an exception,

// either directly with a throw statement or indirectly by calling

// a method that throws an exception.


catch (SomeException e1) {

// This block contains statements that handle an exception object

// of type SomeException or a subclass of that type. Statements in

// this block can refer to that exception object by the name e1.


catch (AnotherException | YetAnotherException e2) {

// This block contains statements that handle an exception of

// type AnotherException or YetAnotherException, or a subclass of

// either of those types. Statements in this block refer to the

// exception object they receive by the name e2.


finally {

// This block contains statements that are always executed

// after we leave the try clause, regardless of whether we leave it:

// 1) normally, after reaching the bottom of the block;

// 2) because of a break, continue, or return statement;

// 3) with an exception that is handled by a catch clause above;

// 4) with an uncaught exception that has not been handled.

// If the try clause calls System.exit(), however, the interpreter

// exits before the finally clause can be run.



The try clause simply establishes a block of code that either has its exceptions handled or needs special cleanup code to be run when it terminates for any reason. The try clause by itself doesn’t do anything interesting; it is the catch and finally clauses that do the exception-handling and cleanup operations.


A try block can be followed by zero or more catch clauses that specify code to handle various types of exceptions. Each catch clause is declared with a single argument that specifies the types of exceptions the clause can handle (possibly using the special | syntax to indicate that thecatch block can handle more than one type of exception) and also provides a name the clause can use to refer to the exception object it is currently handling. Any type that a catch block wishes to handle must be some subclass of Throwable.

When an exception is thrown, the Java interpreter looks for a catch clause with an argument that matches the same type as the exception object or a superclass of that type. The interpreter invokes the first such catch clause it finds. The code within a catch block should take whatever action is necessary to cope with the exceptional condition. If the exception is a exception, for example, you might handle it by asking the user to check his spelling and try again.

It is not required to have a catch clause for every possible exception; in some cases, the correct response is to allow the exception to propagate up and be caught by the invoking method. In other cases, such as a programming error signaled by NullPointerException, the correct response is probably not to catch the exception at all, but allow it to propagate and have the Java interpreter exit with a stack trace and an error message.


The finally clause is generally used to clean up after the code in the try clause (e.g., close files and shut down network connections). The finally clause is useful because it is guaranteed to be executed if any portion of the try block is executed, regardless of how the code in the tryblock completes. In fact, the only way a try clause can exit without allowing the finally clause to be executed is by invoking the System.exit() method, which causes the Java interpreter to stop running.

In the normal case, control reaches the end of the try block and then proceeds to the finally block, which performs any necessary cleanup. If control leaves the try block because of a return, continue, or break statement, the finally block is executed before control transfers to its new destination.

If an exception occurs in the try block and there is an associated catch block to handle the exception, control transfers first to the catch block and then to the finally block. If there is no local catch block to handle the exception, control transfers first to the finally block, and then propagates up to the nearest containing catch clause that can handle the exception.

If a finally block itself transfers control with a return, continue, break, or throw statement or by calling a method that throws an exception, the pending control transfer is abandoned, and this new transfer is processed. For example, if a finally clause throws an exception, that exception replaces any exception that was in the process of being thrown. If a finally clause issues a return statement, the method returns normally, even if an exception has been thrown and has not yet been handled.

try and finally can be used together without exceptions or any catch clauses. In this case, the finally block is simply cleanup code that is guaranteed to be executed, regardless of any break, continue, or return statements within the try clause.

The try-with-resources Statement

The standard form of a try block is very general, but there is a common set of circumstances that require developers to be very careful when writing catch and finally blocks. These circumstances are when operating with resources that need to be cleaned up or closed when no longer needed.

Java (since version 7) provides a very useful mechanism for automatically closing resources that require cleanup. This is known as try-with-resources, or TWR. We discuss TWR in detail in “Classic Java I/O”—but for completeness, let’s introduce the syntax now. The following example shows how to open a file using the FileInputStream class (which results in an object which will require cleanup):

try (InputStream is = new FileInputStream("/Users/ben/details.txt")) {

// ... process the file


This new form of try takes parameters that are all objects that require cleanup.2 These objects are scoped to this try block, and are then cleaned up automatically no matter how this block is exited. The developer does not need to write any catch or finally blocks—the Java compiler automatically inserts correct cleanup code.

All new code that deals with resources should be written in the TWR style—it is considerably less error prone than manually writing catch blocks, and does not suffer from the problems that plague techniques such as finalization (see “Finalization” for details).

The assert Statement

An assert statement is an attempt to provide a capability to verify design assumptions in Java code. An assertion consists of the assert keyword followed by a boolean expression that the programmer believes should always evaluate to true. By default, assertions are not enabled, and theassert statement does not actually do anything.

It is possible to enable assertions as a debugging tool, however; when this is done, the assert statement evaluates the expression. If it is indeed true, assert does nothing. On the other hand, if the expression evaluates to false, the assertion fails, and the assert statement throws ajava.lang.AssertionError.


Outside of the core JDK libraries, the assert statement is extremely rarely used. It turns out to be too inflexible for testing most applications and is not often used by ordinary developers, except sometimes for field-debugging complex multithreaded applications.

The assert statement may include an optional second expression, separated from the first by a colon. When assertions are enabled and the first expression evaluates to false, the value of the second expression is taken as an error code or error message and is passed to theAssertionError() constructor. The full syntax of the statement is:

assert assertion;


assert assertion : errorcode;

To use assertions effectively, you must also be aware of a couple of fine points. First, remember that your programs will normally run with assertions disabled and only sometimes with assertions enabled. This means that you should be careful not to write assertion expressions that contain side effects.


You should never throw AssertionError from your own code, as it may have unexpected results in future versions of the platform.

If an AssertionError is thrown, it indicates that one of the programmer’s assumptions has not held up. This means that the code is being used outside of the parameters for which it was designed, and it cannot be expected to work correctly. In short, there is no plausible way to recover from an AssertionError, and you should not attempt to catch it (unless you catch it at the top level simply so that you can display the error in a more user-friendly fashion).

Enabling assertions

For efficiency, it does not make sense to test assertions each time code is executed—assert statements encode assumptions that should always be true. Thus, by default, assertions are disabled, and assert statements have no effect. The assertion code remains compiled in the class files, however, so it can always be enabled for diagnostic or debugging purposes. You can enable assertions, either across the board or selectively, with command-line arguments to the Java interpreter.

To enable assertions in all classes except for system classes, use the -ea argument. To enable assertions in system classes, use -esa. To enable assertions within a specific class, use -ea followed by a colon and the classname:

java -ea:com.example.sorters.MergeSort com.example.sorters.Test

To enable assertions for all classes in a package and in all of its subpackages, follow the -ea argument with a colon, the package name, and three dots:

java -ea:com.example.sorters... com.example.sorters.Test

You can disable assertions in the same way, using the -da argument. For example, to enable assertions throughout a package and then disable them in a specific class or subpackage, use:

java -ea:com.example.sorters... -da:com.example.sorters.QuickSort

java -ea:com.example.sorters... -da:com.example.sorters.plugins..

Finally, it is possible to control whether or not assertions are enabled or disabled at classloading time. If you use a custom classloader (see Chapter 11 for details on custom classloading) in your program and want to turn on assertions, you may be interested in these methods.


A method is a named sequence of Java statements that can be invoked by other Java code. When a method is invoked, it is passed zero or more values known as arguments. The method performs some computations and, optionally, returns a value. As described earlier in “Expressions and Operators”, a method invocation is an expression that is evaluated by the Java interpreter. Because method invocations can have side effects, however, they can also be used as expression statements. This section does not discuss method invocation, but instead describes how to define methods.

Defining Methods

You already know how to define the body of a method; it is simply an arbitrary sequence of statements enclosed within curly braces. What is more interesting about a method is its signature.3 The signature specifies the following:

§ The name of the method

§ The number, order, type, and name of the parameters used by the method

§ The type of the value returned by the method

§ The checked exceptions that the method can throw (the signature may also list unchecked exceptions, but these are not required)

§ Various method modifiers that provide additional information about the method

A method signature defines everything you need to know about a method before calling it. It is the method specification and defines the API for the method. In order to use the Java platform’s online API reference, you need to know how to read a method signature. And, in order to write Java programs, you need to know how to define your own methods, each of which begins with a method signature.

A method signature looks like this:

modifiers type name ( paramlist ) [ throws exceptions ]

The signature (the method specification) is followed by the method body (the method implementation), which is simply a sequence of Java statements enclosed in curly braces. If the method is abstract (see Chapter 3), the implementation is omitted, and the method body is replaced with a single semicolon.

The signature of a method may also include type variable declarations—such methods are known as generic methods. Generic methods and type variables are discussed in Chapter 4.

Here are some example method definitions, which begin with the signature and are followed by the method body:

// This method is passed an array of strings and has no return value.

// All Java programs have an entry point with this name and signature.

public static void main(String[] args) {

if (args.length > 0) System.out.println("Hello " + args[0]);

else System.out.println("Hello world");


// This method is passed two double arguments and returns a double.

static double distanceFromOrigin(double x, double y) {

return Math.sqrt(x*x + y*y);


// This method is abstract which means it has no body.

// Note that it may throw exceptions when invoked.

protected abstract String readText(File f, String encoding)

throws FileNotFoundException, UnsupportedEncodingException;

modifiers is zero or more special modifier keywords, separated from each other by spaces. A method might be declared with the public and static modifiers, for example. The allowed modifiers and their meanings are described in the next section.

The type in a method signature specifies the return type of the method. If the method does not return a value, type must be void. If a method is declared with a non-void return type, it must include a return statement that returns a value of (or convertible to) the declared type.

A constructor is a block of code, similar to a method, that is used to initialize newly created objects. As we’ll see in Chapter 3, constructors are defined in a very similar way to methods, except that their signatures do not include this type specification.

The name of a method follows the specification of its modifiers and type. Method names, like variable names, are Java identifiers and, like all Java identifiers, may contain letters in any language represented by the Unicode character set. It is legal, and often quite useful, to define more than one method with the same name, as long as each version of the method has a different parameter list. Defining multiple methods with the same name is called method overloading.


Unlike some other languages, Java does not have anonymous methods. Instead, Java 8 introduces lambda expressions, which are similar to anonymous methods, but which the Java runtime automatically converts to a suitable named method—see “Lambda Expressions” for more details.

For example, the System.out.println() method we’ve seen already is an overloaded method. One method by this name prints a string and other methods by the same name print the values of the various primitive types. The Java compiler decides which method to call based on the type of the argument passed to the method.

When you are defining a method, the name of the method is always followed by the method’s parameter list, which must be enclosed in parentheses. The parameter list defines zero or more arguments that are passed to the method. The parameter specifications, if there are any, each consist of a type and a name and are separated from each other by commas (if there are multiple parameters). When a method is invoked, the argument values it is passed must match the number, type, and order of the parameters specified in this method signature line. The values passed need not have exactly the same type as specified in the signature, but they must be convertible to those types without casting.


When a Java method expects no arguments, its parameter list is simply (), not (void). Java does not regard void as a type—C and C++ programmers in particular should pay heed.

Java allows the programmer to define and invoke methods that accept a variable number of arguments, using a syntax known colloquially as varargs. Varargs are covered in detail later in this chapter.

The final part of a method signature is the throws clause, which is used to list the checked exceptions that a method can throw. Checked exceptions are a category of exception classes that must be listed in the throws clauses of methods that can throw them. If a method uses the throwstatement to throw a checked exception, or if it calls some other method that throws a checked exception and does not catch or handle that exception, the method must declare that it can throw that exception. If a method can throw one or more checked exceptions, it specifies this by placing the throws keyword after the argument list and following it by the name of the exception class or classes it can throw. If a method does not throw any exceptions, it does not use the throws keyword. If a method throws more than one type of exception, separate the names of the exception classes from each other with commas. More on this in a bit.

Method Modifiers

The modifiers of a method consist of zero or more modifier keywords such as public, static, or abstract. Here is a list of allowed modifiers and their meanings:


An abstract method is a specification without an implementation. The curly braces and Java statements that would normally comprise the body of the method are replaced with a single semicolon. A class that includes an abstract method must itself be declared abstract. Such a class is incomplete and cannot be instantiated (see Chapter 3).


A final method may not be overridden or hidden by a subclass, which makes it amenable to compiler optimizations that are not possible for regular methods. All private methods are implicitly final, as are all methods of any class that is declared final.


The native modifier specifies that the method implementation is written in some “native” language such as C and is provided externally to the Java program. Like abstract methods, native methods have no body: the curly braces are replaced with a semicolon.


When Java was first released, native methods were sometimes used for efficiency reasons. That is almost never necessary today. Instead, native methods are used to interface Java code to existing libraries written in C or C++. native methods are implicitly platform-dependent, and the procedure for linking the implementation with the Java class that declares the method is dependent on the implementation of the Java virtual machine. native methods are not covered in this book.

public, protected, private

These access modifiers specify whether and where a method can be used outside of the class that defines it. These very important modifiers are explained in Chapter 3.


A method declared static is a class method associated with the class itself rather than with an instance of the class (we cover this in more detail in Chapter 3).


The fp in this awkwardly named, rarely used modifier stands for “floating point.” Java normally takes advantage of any extended precision available to the runtime platform’s floating-point hardware. The use of this keyword forces Java to strictly obey the standard while running thestrictfp method and only perform floating-point arithmetic using 32- or 64-bit floating-point formats, even if this makes the results less accurate.


The synchronized modifier makes a method threadsafe. Before a thread can invoke a synchronized method, it must obtain a lock on the method’s class (for static methods) or on the relevant instance of the class (for non-static methods). This prevents two threads from executing the method at the same time.

The synchronized modifier is an implementation detail (because methods can make themselves threadsafe in other ways) and is not formally part of the method specification or API. Good documentation specifies explicitly whether a method is threadsafe; you should not rely on the presence or absence of the synchronized keyword when working with multithreaded programs.


Annotations are an interesting special case (see Chapter 4 for more on annotations)—they can be thought of as a halfway house between a method modifier and additional supplementary type information.

Checked and Unchecked Exceptions

The Java exception-handling scheme distinguishes between two types of exceptions, known as checked and unchecked exceptions.

The distinction between checked and unchecked exceptions has to do with the circumstances under which the exceptions could be thrown. Checked exceptions arise in specific, well-defined circumstances, and very often are conditions from which the application may be able to partially or fully recover.

For example, consider some code that might find its configuration file in one of several possible directories. If we attempt to open the file from a directory it isn’t present in, then a FileNotFoundException will be thrown. In our example, we want to catch this exception and move on to try the next possible location for the file. In other words, although the file not being present is an exceptional condition, it is one from which we can recover, and it is an understood and anticipated failure.

On the other hand, in the Java environment there are a set of failures that cannot easily be predicted or anticipated, due to such things as runtime conditions or abuse of library code. There is no good way to predict an OutOfMemoryError, for example, and any method that uses objects or arrays can throw a NullPointerException if it is passed an invalid null argument.

These are the unchecked exceptions—and practically any method can throw an unchecked exception at essentially any time. They are the Java environment’s version of Murphy’s law: “Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong.” Recovery from an unchecked exception is usually very difficult, if not impossible—simply due to their sheer unpredictability.

To figure out whether an exception is checked or unchecked, remember that exceptions are Throwable objects and that exceptions fall into two main categories, specified by the Error and Exception subclasses. Any exception object that is an Error is unchecked. There is also a subclass of Exception called RuntimeException—and any subclass of RuntimeException is also an unchecked exception. All other exceptions are checked exceptions.

Working with checked exceptions

Java has different rules for working with checked and unchecked exceptions. If you write a method that throws a checked exception, you must use a throws clause to declare the exception in the method signature. The Java compiler checks to make sure you have declared them in method signatures and produces a compilation error if you have not (that’s why they’re called “checked exceptions”).

Even if you never throw a checked exception yourself, sometimes you must use a throws clause to declare a checked exception. If your method calls a method that can throw a checked exception, you must either include exception-handling code to handle that exception or use throws to declare that your method can also throw that exception.

For example, the following method tries to estimate the size of a web page—it uses the standard libraries, and the class URL (we’ll meet these in Chapter 10) to contact the web page. It uses methods and constructors that can throw various types of, so it declares this fact with a throws clause:

public static estimateHomepageSize(String host) throws IOException {

URL url = new URL("htp://"+ host +"/");

try (InputStream in = url.openStream()) {

return in.available();



In fact, the preceding code has a bug: we’ve misspelled the protocol specifier—there’s no such protocol as htp://. So, the estimateHomepageSize() method will always fail with a MalformedURLException.

How do you know if the method you are calling can throw a checked exception? You can look at its method signature to find out. Or, failing that, the Java compiler will tell you (by reporting a compilation error) if you’ve called a method whose exceptions you must handle or declare.

Variable-Length Argument Lists

Methods may be declared to accept, and may be invoked with, variable numbers of arguments. Such methods are commonly known as varargs methods. The “print formatted” method System.out.printf() as well as the related format() methods of String use varargs, as do a number of important methods from the Reflection API of java.lang.reflect.

A variable-length argument list is declared by following the type of the last argument to the method with an ellipsis (…), indicating that this last argument can be repeated zero or more times. For example:

public static int max(int first, int... rest) {

/* body omitted for now */


Varargs methods are handled purely by the compiler. They operate by converting the variable number of arguments into an array. To the Java runtime, the max() method is indistinguishable from this one:

public static int max(int first, int[] rest) {

/* body omitted for now */


To convert a varargs signature to the “real” signature, simply replace ... with [ ]. Remember that only one ellipsis can appear in a parameter list, and it may only appear on the last parameter in the list.

Let’s flesh out the max() example a little:

public static int max(int first, int... rest) {

int max = first;

for(int i : rest) { // legal because rest is actually an array

if (i > max) max = i;


return max;


This max() method is declared with two arguments. The first is just a regular int value. The second, however, may be repeated zero or more times. All of the following are legal invocations of max():


max(1, 2)

max(16, 8, 4, 2, 1)

Because varargs methods are compiled into methods that expect an array of arguments, invocations of those methods are compiled to include code that creates and initializes such an array. So the call max(1,2,3) is compiled to this:

max(1, new int[] { 2, 3 })

In fact, if you already have method arguments stored in an array, it is perfectly legal for you to pass them to the method that way, instead of writing them out individually. You can treat any ... argument as if it were declared as an array. The converse is not true, however: you can only use varargs method invocation syntax when the method is actually declared as a varargs method using an ellipsis.

Introduction to Classes and Objects

Now that we have introduced operators, expressions, statements, and methods, we can finally talk about classes. A class is a named collection of fields that hold data values and methods that operate on those values. Classes are just one of five reference types supported by Java, but they are the most important type. Classes are thoroughly documented in a chapter of their own (Chapter 3). We introduce them here, however, because they are the next higher level of syntax after methods, and because the rest of this chapter requires a basic familiarity with the concept of a class and the basic syntax for defining a class, instantiating it, and using the resulting object.

The most important thing about classes is that they define new data types. For example, you might define a class named Point to represent a data point in the two-dimensional Cartesian coordinate system. This class would define fields (each of type double) to hold the x and y coordinates of a point and methods to manipulate and operate on the point. The Point class is a new data type.

When discussing data types, it is important to distinguish between the data type itself and the values the data type represents. char is a data type: it represents Unicode characters. But a char value represents a single specific character. A class is a data type; a class value is called an object. We use the name class because each class defines a type (or kind, or species, or class) of objects. The Point class is a data type that represents x,y points, while a Point object represents a single specific x,y point. As you might imagine, classes and their objects are closely linked. In the sections that follow, we will discuss both.

Defining a Class

Here is a possible definition of the Point class we have been discussing:

/** Represents a Cartesian (x,y) point */

public class Point {

// The coordinates of the point

public double x, y;

public Point(double x, double y) { // A constructor that

this.x = x; this.y = y; // initializes the fields


public double distanceFromOrigin() { // A method that operates

return Math.sqrt(x*x + y*y); // on the x and y fields



This class definition is stored in a file named and compiled to a file named Point.class, where it is available for use by Java programs and other classes. This class definition is provided here for completeness and to provide context, but don’t expect to understand all the details just yet; most of Chapter 3 is devoted to the topic of defining classes.

Keep in mind that you don’t have to define every class you want to use in a Java program. The Java platform includes thousands of predefined classes that are guaranteed to be available on every computer that runs Java.

Creating an Object

Now that we have defined the Point class as a new data type, we can use the following line to declare a variable that holds a Point object:

Point p;

Declaring a variable to hold a Point object does not create the object itself, however. To actually create an object, you must use the new operator. This keyword is followed by the object’s class (i.e., its type) and an optional argument list in parentheses. These arguments are passed to the constructor for the class, which initializes internal fields in the new object:

// Create a Point object representing (2,-3.5).

// Declare a variable p and store a reference to the new Point object

Point p = new Point(2.0, -3.5);

// Create some other objects as well

// A Date object that represents the current time

Date d = new Date();

// A HashSet object to hold a set of object

Set words = new HashSet();

The new keyword is by far the most common way to create objects in Java. A few other ways are also worth mentioning. First, classes that meet certain criteria are so important that Java defines special literal syntax for creating objects of those types (as we discuss later in this section). Second, Java supports a dynamic loading mechanism that allows programs to load classes and create instances of those classes dynamically. See Chapter 11 for more details. Finally, objects can also be created by deserializing them. An object that has had its state saved, or serialized, usually to a file, can be re-created using the class.

Using an Object

Now that we’ve seen how to define classes and instantiate them by creating objects, we need to look at the Java syntax that allows us to use those objects. Recall that a class defines a collection of fields and methods. Each object has its own copies of those fields and has access to those methods. We use the dot character (.) to access the named fields and methods of an object. For example:

Point p = new Point(2, 3); // Create an object

double x = p.x; // Read a field of the object

p.y = p.x * p.x; // Set the value of a field

double d = p.distanceFromOrigin(); // Access a method of the object

This syntax is very common when programming in object-oriented languages, and Java is no exception, so you’ll see it a lot. Note, in particular, p.distanceFromOrigin(). This expression tells the Java compiler to look up a method named distanceFromOrigin() (which is defined by the class Point) and use that method to perform a computation on the fields of the object p. We’ll cover the details of this operation in Chapter 3.

Object Literals

In our discussion of primitive types, we saw that each primitive type has a literal syntax for including values of the type literally into the text of a program. Java also defines a literal syntax for a few special reference types, as described next.

String literals

The String class represents text as a string of characters. Because programs usually communicate with their users through the written word, the ability to manipulate strings of text is quite important in any programming language. In Java, strings are objects; the data type used to represent text is the String class. Modern Java programs usually use more string data than anything else.

Accordingly, because strings are such a fundamental data type, Java allows you to include text literally in programs by placing it between double-quote (") characters. For example:

String name = "David";

System.out.println("Hello, " + name);

Don’t confuse the double-quote characters that surround string literals with the single-quote (or apostrophe) characters that surround char literals. String literals can contain any of the escape sequences char literals can (see Table 2-2). Escape sequences are particularly useful for embedding double-quote characters within double-quoted string literals. For example:

String story = "\t\"How can you stand it?\" he asked sarcastically.\n";

String literals cannot contain comments and may consist of only a single line. Java does not support any kind of continuation-character syntax that allows two separate lines to be treated as a single line. If you need to represent a long string of text that does not fit on a single line, break it into independent string literals and use the + operator to concatenate the literals. For example:

// This is illegal; string literals cannot be broken across lines.

String x = "This is a test of the

emergency broadcast system";

String s = "This is a test of the " + // Do this instead

"emergency broadcast system";

This concatenation of literals is done when your program is compiled, not when it is run, so you do not need to worry about any kind of performance penalty.

Type literals

The second type that supports its own special object literal syntax is the class named Class. Instances of the Class class represent a Java data type, and contain metadata about the type that is referred to. To include a Class object literally in a Java program, follow the name of any data type with .class. For example:

Class<?> typeInt = int.class;

Class<?> typeIntArray = int[].class;

Class<?> typePoint = Point.class;

The null reference

The null keyword is a special literal value that is a reference to nothing, or an absence of a reference. The null value is unique because it is a member of every reference type. You can assign null to variables of any reference type. For example:

String s = null;

Point p = null;

Lambda Expressions

In Java 8, a major new feature was introduced—lambda expressions. These are a very common programming language construct, and in particular are extremely widely used in the family of languages known as functional programming languages (e.g., Lisp, Haskell, and OCaml). The power and flexibility of lambdas goes far beyond just functional languages, and they can be found in almost all modern programming languages.


A lambda expression is essentially a function that does not have a name, and can be treated as a value in the language. As Java does not allow code to run around on its own outside of classes, in Java, this means that a lambda is an anonymous method that is defined on some class (that is possibly unknown to the developer).

The syntax for a lambda expression looks like this:

( paramlist ) -> { statements }

One simple, very traditional example:

Runnable r = () -> System.out.println("Hello World");

When a lambda expression is used as a value it is automatically converted to a new object of the correct type for the variable that it is being placed into. This auto-conversion and type inference is essential to Java’s approach to lambda expressions. Unfortunately, it relies on a proper understanding of Java’s type system as a whole. “Lambda Expressions” provides a more detailed explanation of lambda expressions—so for now, it suffices to simply recognize the syntax for lambdas.

A slightly more complex example:

ActionListener listener = (e) -> {

System.out.println("Event fired at: "+ e.getWhen());

System.out.println("Event command: "+ e.getActionCommand());



An array is a special kind of object that holds zero or more primitive values or references. These values are held in the elements of the array, which are unnamed variables referred to by their position or index. The type of an array is characterized by its element type, and all elements of the array must be of that type.

Array elements are numbered starting with zero, and valid indexes range from zero to the number of elements minus one. The array element with index 1, for example, is the second element in the array. The number of elements in an array is its length. The length of an array is specified when the array is created, and it never changes.

The element type of an array may be any valid Java type, including array types. This means that Java supports arrays of arrays, which provide a kind of multidimensional array capability. Java does not support the matrix-style multidimensional arrays found in some languages.

Array Types

Array types are reference types, just as classes are. Instances of arrays are objects, just as the instances of a class are.4 Unlike classes, array types do not have to be defined. Simply place square brackets after the element type. For example, the following code declares three variables of array type:

byte b; // byte is a primitive type

byte[] arrayOfBytes; // byte[] is an array of byte values

byte[][] arrayOfArrayOfBytes; // byte[][] is an array of byte[]

String[] points; // String[] is an array of strings

The length of an array is not part of the array type. It is not possible, for example, to declare a method that expects an array of exactly four int values, for example. If a method parameter is of type int[], a caller can pass an array with any number (including zero) of elements.

Array types are not classes, but array instances are objects. This means that arrays inherit the methods of java.lang.Object. Arrays implement the Cloneable interface and override the clone() method to guarantee that an array can always be cloned and that clone() never throws aCloneNotSupportedException. Arrays also implement Serializable so that any array can be serialized if its element type can be serialized. Finally, all arrays have a public final int field named length that specifies the number of elements in the array.

Array type widening conversions

Because arrays extend Object and implement the Cloneable and Serializable interfaces, any array type can be widened to any of these three types. But certain array types can also be widened to other array types. If the element type of an array is a reference type T, and T is assignable to a type S, the array type T[] is assignable to the array type S[]. Note that there are no widening conversions of this sort for arrays of a given primitive type. As examples, the following lines of code show legal array widening conversions:

String[] arrayOfStrings; // Created elsewhere

int[][] arrayOfArraysOfInt; // Created elsewhere

// String is assignable to Object,

// so String[] is assignable to Object[]

Object[] oa = arrayOfStrings;

// String implements Comparable, so a String[] can

// be considered a Comparable[]

Comparable[] ca = arrayOfStrings;

// An int[] is an Object, so int[][] is assignable to Object[]

Object[] oa2 = arrayOfArraysOfInt;

// All arrays are cloneable, serializable Objects

Object o = arrayOfStrings;

Cloneable c = arrayOfArraysOfInt;

Serializable s = arrayOfArraysOfInt[0];

This ability to widen an array type to another array type means that the compile-time type of an array is not always the same as its runtime type.


This widening is known as array covariance—and as we shall see in “Wildcards” it is regarded by modern standards as a historical artifact and a misfeature, because of the mismatch between compile and runtime typing that it exposes.

The compiler must usually insert runtime checks before any operation that stores a reference value into an array element to ensure that the runtime type of the value matches the runtime type of the array element. If the runtime check fails, an ArrayStoreException is thrown.

C compatibility syntax

As we’ve seen, an array type is written simply by placing brackets after the element type. For compatibility with C and C++, however, Java supports an alternative syntax in variable declarations: brackets may be placed after the name of the variable instead of, or in addition to, the element type. This applies to local variables, fields, and method parameters. For example:

// This line declares local variables of type int, int[] and int[][]

int justOne, arrayOfThem[], arrayOfArrays[][];

// These three lines declare fields of the same array type:

public String[][] aas1; // Preferred Java syntax

public String aas2[][]; // C syntax

public String[] aas3[]; // Confusing hybrid syntax

// This method signature includes two parameters with the same type

public static double dotProduct(double[] x, double y[]) { ... }


This compatibility syntax is extremely uncommon, and you should not use it.

Creating and Initializing Arrays

To create an array value in Java, you use the new keyword, just as you do to create an object. Array types don’t have constructors, but you are required to specify a length whenever you create an array. Specify the desired size of your array as a nonnegative integer between square brackets:

// Create a new array to hold 1024 bytes

byte[] buffer = new byte[1024];

// Create an array of 50 references to strings

String[] lines = new String[50];

When you create an array with this syntax, each of the array elements is automatically initialized to the same default value that is used for the fields of a class: false for boolean elements, \u0000 for char elements, 0 for integer elements, 0.0 for floating-point elements, and null for elements of reference type.

Array creation expressions can also be used to create and initialize a multidimensional array of arrays. This syntax is somewhat more complicated and is explained later in this section.

Array initializers

To create an array and initialize its elements in a single expression, omit the array length and follow the square brackets with a comma-separated list of expressions within curly braces. The type of each expression must be assignable to the element type of the array, of course. The length of the array that is created is equal to the number of expressions. It is legal, but not necessary, to include a trailing comma following the last expression in the list. For example:

String[] greetings = new String[] { "Hello", "Hi", "Howdy" };

int[] smallPrimes = new int[] { 2, 3, 5, 7, 11, 13, 17, 19, };

Note that this syntax allows arrays to be created, initialized, and used without ever being assigned to a variable. In a sense, these array creation expressions are anonymous array literals. Here are examples:

// Call a method, passing an anonymous array literal that

// contains two strings

String response = askQuestion("Do you want to quit?",

new String[] {"Yes", "No"});

// Call another method with an anonymous array (of anonymous objects)

double d = computeAreaOfTriangle(new Point[] { new Point(1,2),

new Point(3,4),

new Point(3,2) });

When an array initializer is part of a variable declaration, you may omit the new keyword and element type and list the desired array elements within curly braces:

String[] greetings = { "Hello", "Hi", "Howdy" };

int[] powersOfTwo = {1, 2, 4, 8, 16, 32, 64, 128};

Array literals are created and initialized when the program is run, not when the program is compiled. Consider the following array literal:

int[] perfectNumbers = {6, 28};

This is compiled into Java byte codes that are equivalent to:

int[] perfectNumbers = new int[2];

perfectNumbers[0] = 6;

perfectNumbers[1] = 28;

The fact that Java does all array initialization at runtime has an important corollary. It means that the expressions in an array initializer may be computed at runtime and need not be compile-time constants. For example:

Point[] points = { circle1.getCenterPoint(), circle2.getCenterPoint() };

Using Arrays

Once an array has been created, you are ready to start using it. The following sections explain basic access to the elements of an array and cover common idioms of array usage such as iterating through the elements of an array and copying an array or part of an array.

Accessing array elements

The elements of an array are variables. When an array element appears in an expression, it evaluates to the value held in the element. And when an array element appears on the left-hand side of an assignment operator, a new value is stored into that element. Unlike a normal variable, however, an array element has no name, only a number. Array elements are accessed using a square bracket notation. If a is an expression that evaluates to an array reference, you index that array and refer to a specific element with a[i], where i is an integer literal or an expression that evaluates to an int. For example:

// Create an array of two strings

String[] responses = new String[2];

responses[0] = "Yes"; // Set the first element of the array

responses[1] = "No"; // Set the second element of the array

// Now read these array elements

System.out.println(question + " (" + responses[0] + "/" +

responses[1] + " ): ");

// Both the array reference and the array index may be more complex

double datum = data.getMatrix()[data.row() * data.numColumns() +


The array index expression must be of type int, or a type that can be widened to an int: byte, short, or even char. It is obviously not legal to index an array with a boolean, float, or double value. Remember that the length field of an array is an int and that arrays may not have more than Integer.MAX_VALUE elements. Indexing an array with an expression of type long generates a compile-time error, even if the value of that expression at runtime would be within the range of an int.

Array bounds

Remember that the first element of an array a is a[0] , the second element is a[1], and the last is a[a.length-1].

A common bug involving arrays is use of an index that is too small (a negative index) or too large (greater than or equal to the array length). In languages like C or C++, accessing elements before the beginning or after the end of an array yields unpredictable behavior that can vary from invocation to invocation and platform to platform. Such bugs may not always be caught, and if a failure occurs, it may be at some later time. While it is just as easy to write faulty array indexing code in Java, Java guarantees predictable results by checking every array access at runtime. If an array index is too small or too large, Java immediately throws an ArrayIndexOutOfBoundsException.

Iterating arrays

It is common to write loops that iterate through each of the elements of an array in order to perform some operation on it. This is typically done with a for loop. The following code, for example, computes the sum of an array of integers:

int[] primes = { 2, 3, 5, 7, 11, 13, 17, 19, 23 };

int sumOfPrimes = 0;

for(int i = 0; i < primes.length; i++)

sumOfPrimes += primes[i];

The structure of this for loop is idiomatic, and you’ll see it frequently. Java also has the foreach syntax that we’ve already met. The summing code could be rewritten succinctly as follows:

for(int p : primes) sumOfPrimes += p;

Copying arrays

All array types implement the Cloneable interface, and any array can be copied by invoking its clone() method. Note that a cast is required to convert the return value to the appropriate array type, but that the clone() method of arrays is guaranteed not to throwCloneNotSupportedException:

int[] data = { 1, 2, 3 };

int[] copy = (int[]) data.clone();

The clone() method makes a shallow copy. If the element type of the array is a reference type, only the references are copied, not the referenced objects themselves. Because the copy is shallow, any array can be cloned, even if the element type is not itself Cloneable.

Sometimes you simply want to copy elements from one existing array to another existing array. The System.arraycopy() method is designed to do this efficiently, and you can assume that Java VM implementations perform this method using high-speed block copy operations on the underlying hardware.

arraycopy() is a straightforward function that is difficult to use only because it has five arguments to remember. First pass the source array from which elements are to be copied. Second, pass the index of the start element in that array. Pass the destination array and the destination index as the third and fourth arguments. Finally, as the fifth argument, specify the number of elements to be copied.

arraycopy() works correctly even for overlapping copies within the same array. For example, if you’ve “deleted” the element at index 0 from array a and want to shift the elements between indexes 1 and n down one so that they occupy indexes 0 through n-1 you could do this:

System.arraycopy(a, 1, a, 0, n);

Array utilities

The java.util.Arrays class contains a number of static utility methods for working with arrays. Most of these methods are heavily overloaded, with versions for arrays of each primitive type and another version for arrays of objects. The sort() and binarySearch() methods are particularly useful for sorting and searching arrays. The equals() method allows you to compare the content of two arrays. The Arrays.toString() method is useful when you want to convert array content to a string, such as for debugging or logging output.

The Arrays class also includes deepEquals(), deepHashCode(), and deepToString() methods that work correctly for multidimensional arrays.

Multidimensional Arrays

As we’ve seen, an array type is written as the element type followed by a pair of square brackets. An array of char is char[], and an array of arrays of char is char[][]. When the elements of an array are themselves arrays, we say that the array is multidimensional. In order to work with multidimensional arrays, you need to understand a few additional details.

Imagine that you want to use a multidimensional array to represent a multiplication table:

int[][] products; // A multiplication table

Each of the pairs of square brackets represents one dimension, so this is a two-dimensional array. To access a single int element of this two-dimensional array, you must specify two index values, one for each dimension. Assuming that this array was actually initialized as a multiplication table, the int value stored at any given element would be the product of the two indexes. That is, products[2][4] would be 8, and products[3][7] would be 21.

To create a new multidimensional array, use the new keyword and specify the size of both dimensions of the array. For example:

int[][] products = new int[10][10];

In some languages, an array like this would be created as a single block of 100 int values. Java does not work this way. This line of code does three things:

§ Declares a variable named products to hold an array of arrays of int.

§ Creates a 10-element array to hold 10 arrays of int.

§ Creates 10 more arrays, each of which is a 10-element array of int. It assigns each of these 10 new arrays to the elements of the initial array. The default value of every int element of each of these 10 new arrays is 0.

To put this another way, the previous single line of code is equivalent to the following code:

int[][] products = new int[10][]; // An array to hold 10 int[] values

for(int i = 0; i < 10; i++) // Loop 10 times...

products[i] = new int[10]; // ...and create 10 arrays

The new keyword performs this additional initialization automatically for you. It works with arrays with more than two dimensions as well:

float[][][] globalTemperatureData = new float[360][180][100];

When using new with multidimensional arrays, you do not have to specify a size for all dimensions of the array, only the leftmost dimension or dimensions. For example, the following two lines are legal:

float[][][] globalTemperatureData = new float[360][][];

float[][][] globalTemperatureData = new float[360][180][];

The first line creates a single-dimensional array, where each element of the array can hold a float[][]. The second line creates a two-dimensional array, where each element of the array is a float[]. If you specify a size for only some of the dimensions of an array, however, those dimensions must be the leftmost ones. The following lines are not legal:

float[][][] globalTemperatureData = new float[360][][100]; // Error!

float[][][] globalTemperatureData = new float[][180][100]; // Error!

Like a one-dimensional array, a multidimensional array can be initialized using an array initializer. Simply use nested sets of curly braces to nest arrays within arrays. For example, we can declare, create, and initialize a 5 × 5 multiplication table like this:

int[][] products = { {0, 0, 0, 0, 0},

{0, 1, 2, 3, 4},

{0, 2, 4, 6, 8},

{0, 3, 6, 9, 12},

{0, 4, 8, 12, 16} };

Or, if you want to use a multidimensional array without declaring a variable, you can use the anonymous initializer syntax:

boolean response = bilingualQuestion(question, new String[][] {

{ "Yes", "No" },

{ "Oui", "Non" }});

When you create a multidimensional array using the new keyword, it is usually good practice to only use rectangular arrays: one in which all the array values for a given dimension have the same size.

Reference Types

Now that we’ve covered arrays and introduced classes and objects, we can turn to a more general description of reference types. Classes and arrays are two of Java’s five kinds of reference types. Classes were introduced earlier and are covered in complete detail, along with interfaces, inChapter 3. Enumerated types and annotation types are reference types introduced in Chapter 4.

This section does not cover specific syntax for any particular reference type, but instead explains the general behavior of reference types and illustrates how they differ from Java’s primitive types. In this section, the term object refers to a value or instance of any reference type, including arrays.

Reference Versus Primitive Types

Reference types and objects differ substantially from primitive types and their primitive values:

§ Eight primitive types are defined by the Java language, and the programmer cannot define new primitive types. Reference types are user-defined, so there is an unlimited number of them. For example, a program might define a class named Point and use objects of this newly defined type to store and manipulate x,y points in a Cartesian coordinate system.

§ Primitive types represent single values. Reference types are aggregate types that hold zero or more primitive values or objects. Our hypothetical Point class, for example, might hold two double values to represent the x and y coordinates of the points. The char[] and Point[] array types are aggregate types because they hold a sequence of primitive char values or Point objects.

§ Primitive types require between one and eight bytes of memory. When a primitive value is stored in a variable or passed to a method, the computer makes a copy of the bytes that hold the value. Objects, on the other hand, may require substantially more memory. Memory to store an object is dynamically allocated on the heap when the object is created and this memory is automatically “garbage collected” when the object is no longer needed.


When an object is assigned to a variable or passed to a method, the memory that represents the object is not copied. Instead, only a reference to that memory is stored in the variable or passed to the method.

References are completely opaque in Java and the representation of a reference is an implementation detail of the Java runtime. If you are a C programmer, however, you can safely imagine a reference as a pointer or a memory address. Remember, though, that Java programs cannot manipulate references in any way.

Unlike pointers in C and C++, references cannot be converted to or from integers, and they cannot be incremented or decremented. C and C++ programmers should also note that Java does not support the & address-of operator or the * and -> dereference operators.

Manipulating Objects and Reference Copies

The following code manipulates a primitive int value:

int x = 42;

int y = x;

After these lines execute, the variable y contains a copy of the value held in the variable x. Inside the Java VM, there are two independent copies of the 32-bit integer 42.

Now think about what happens if we run the same basic code but use a reference type instead of a primitive type:

Point p = new Point(1.0, 2.0);

Point q = p;

After this code runs, the variable q holds a copy of the reference held in the variable p. There is still only one copy of the Point object in the VM, but there are now two copies of the reference to that object. This has some important implications. Suppose the two previous lines of code are followed by this code:

System.out.println(p.x); // Print out the x coordinate of p: 1.0

q.x = 13.0; // Now change the X coordinate of q

System.out.println(p.x); // Print out p.x again; this time it is 13.0

Because the variables p and q hold references to the same object, either variable can be used to make changes to the object, and those changes are visible through the other variable as well. As arrays are a kind of object then the same thing happens with arrays, as illustrated by the following code:

// greet holds an array reference

char[] greet = { 'h','e','l','l','o' };

char[] cuss = greet; // cuss holds the same reference

cuss[4] = '!'; // Use reference to change an element

System.out.println(greet); // Prints "hell!"

A similar difference in behavior between primitive types and reference types occurs when arguments are passed to methods. Consider the following method:

void changePrimitive(int x) {

while(x > 0) {




When this method is invoked, the method is given a copy of the argument used to invoke the method in the parameter x. The code in the method uses x as a loop counter and decrements it to zero. Because x is a primitive type, the method has its own private copy of this value, so this is a perfectly reasonable thing to do.

On the other hand, consider what happens if we modify the method so that the parameter is a reference type:

void changeReference(Point p) {

while(p.x > 0) {




When this method is invoked, it is passed a private copy of a reference to a Point object and can use this reference to change the Point object. For example, consider the following:

Point q = new Point(3.0, 4.5); // A point with an x coordinate of 3

changeReference(q); // Prints 3,2,1 and modifies the Point

System.out.println(q.x); // The x coordinate of q is now 0!

When the changeReference() method is invoked, it is passed a copy of the reference held in variable q. Now both the variable q and the method parameter p hold references to the same object. The method can use its reference to change the contents of the object. Note, however, that it cannot change the contents of the variable q. In other words, the method can change the Point object beyond recognition, but it cannot change the fact that the variable q refers to that object.

Comparing Objects

We’ve seen that primitive types and reference types differ significantly in the way they are assigned to variables, passed to methods, and copied. The types also differ in the way they are compared for equality. When used with primitive values, the equality operator (==) simply tests whether two values are identical (i.e., whether they have exactly the same bits). With reference types, however, == compares references, not actual objects. In other words, == tests whether two references refer to the same object; it does not test whether two objects have the same content. Here’s an example:

String letter = "o";

String s = "hello"; // These two String objects

String t = "hell" + letter; // contain exactly the same text.

if (s == t) System.out.println("equal"); // But they are not equal!

byte[] a = { 1, 2, 3 };

// A copy with identical content.

byte[] b = (byte[]) a.clone();

if (a == b) System.out.println("equal"); // But they are not equal!

When working with reference types, there are two kinds of equality: equality of reference and equality of object. It is important to distinguish between these two kinds of equality. One way to do this is to use the word “identical” when talking about equality of references and the word “equal” when talking about two distinct objects that have the same content. To test two nonidentical objects for equality, pass one of them to the equals() method of the other:

String letter = "o";

String s = "hello"; // These two String objects

String t = "hell" + letter; // contain exactly the same text.

if (s.equals(t)) { // And the equals() method

System.out.println("equal"); // tells us so.


All objects inherit an equals() method (from Object), but the default implementation simply uses == to test for identity of references, not equality of content. A class that wants to allow objects to be compared for equality can define its own version of the equals() method. Our Pointclass does not do this, but the String class does, as indicated in the code example. You can call the equals() method on an array, but it is the same as using the == operator, because arrays always inherit the default equals() method that compares references rather than array content. You can compare arrays for equality with the convenience method java.util.Arrays.equals().

Boxing and Unboxing Conversions

Primitive types and reference types behave quite differently. It is sometimes useful to treat primitive values as objects, and for this reason, the Java platform includes wrapper classes for each of the primitive types. Boolean, Byte, Short, Character, Integer, Long, Float, and Doubleare immutable, final classes whose instances each hold a single primitive value. These wrapper classes are usually used when you want to store primitive values in collections such as java.util.List:

// Create a List collection

List numbers = new ArrayList();

// Store a wrapped primitive

numbers.add(new Integer(-1));

// Extract the primitive value

int i = ((Integer)numbers.get(0)).intValue();

Java allows types of conversions known as boxing and unboxing conversions. Boxing conversions convert a primitive value to its corresponding wrapper object and unboxing conversions do the opposite. You may explicitly specify a boxing or unboxing conversion with a cast, but this is unnecessary, as these conversions are automatically performed when you assign a value to a variable or pass a value to a method. Furthermore, unboxing conversions are also automatic if you use a wrapper object when a Java operator or statement expects a primitive value. Because Java performs boxing and unboxing automatically, this language feature is often known as autoboxing.

Here are some examples of automatic boxing and unboxing conversions:

Integer i = 0; // int literal 0 boxed to an Integer object

Number n = 0.0f; // float literal boxed to Float and widened to Number

Integer i = 1; // this is a boxing conversion

int j = i; // i is unboxed here

i++; // i is unboxed, incremented, and then boxed up again

Integer k = i+2; // i is unboxed and the sum is boxed up again

i = null;

j = i; // unboxing here throws a NullPointerException

Autoboxing makes dealing with collections much easier as well. Let’s look at an example that uses Java’s generics (a language feature we’ll meet properly in “Java Generics”) that allows us to restrict what types can be put into lists and other collections:

List<Integer> numbers = new ArrayList<>(); // Create a List of Integer

numbers.add(-1); // Box int to Integer

int i = numbers.get(0); // Unbox Integer to int

Packages and the Java Namespace

A package is a named collection of classes, interfaces, and other reference types. Packages serve to group related classes and define a namespace for the classes they contain.

The core classes of the Java platform are in packages whose names begin with java. For example, the most fundamental classes of the language are in the package java.lang. Various utility classes are in java.util. Classes for input and output are in, and classes for networking are in Some of these packages contain subpackages, such as java.lang.reflect and java.util.regex. Extensions to the Java platform that have been standardized by Oracle (or originally Sun) typically have package names that begin with javax. Some of these extensions, such as javax.swing and its myriad subpackages, were later adopted into the core platform itself. Finally, the Java platform also includes several “endorsed standards,” which have packages named after the standards body that created them, such as org.w3c and org.omg.

Every class has both a simple name, which is the name given to it in its definition, and a fully qualified name, which includes the name of the package of which it is a part. The String class, for example, is part of the java.lang package, so its fully qualified name is java.lang.String.

This section explains how to place your own classes and interfaces into a package and how to choose a package name that won’t conflict with anyone else’s package name. Next, it explains how to selectively import type names or static members into the namespace so that you don’t have to type the package name of every class or interface you use.

Package Declaration

To specify the package a class is to be part of, you use a package declaration. The package keyword, if it appears, must be the first token of Java code (i.e., the first thing other than comments and space) in the Java file. The keyword should be followed by the name of the desired package and a semicolon. Consider a Java file that begins with this directive:


All classes defined by this file are part of the package

If no package directive appears in a Java file, all classes defined in that file are part of an unnamed default package. In this case, the qualified and unqualified names of a class are the same.


The possibility of naming conflicts means that you should not use the default package. As your project grows more complicated, conflicts become almost inevitable—much better to create packages right from the start.

Globally Unique Package Names

One of the important functions of packages is to partition the Java namespace and prevent name collisions between classes. It is only their package names that keep the java.util.List and java.awt.List classes distinct, for example. In order for this to work, however, package names must themselves be distinct. As the developer of Java, Oracle controls all package names that begin with java, javax, and sun.

One scheme in common use is to use your domain name, with its elements reversed, as the prefix for all your package names. For example, the Apache Project produces a networking library as part of the Apache Commons project. The Commons project can be found at and accordingly, the package name used for the networking library is

Note that these package-naming rules apply primarily to API developers. If other programmers will be using classes that you develop along with unknown other classes, it is important that your package name be globally unique. On the other hand, if you are developing a Java application and will not be releasing any of the classes for reuse by others, you know the complete set of classes that your application will be deployed with and do not have to worry about unforeseen naming conflicts. In this case, you can choose a package naming scheme for your own convenience rather than for global uniqueness. One common approach is to use the application name as the main package name (it may have subpackages beneath it).

Importing Types

When referring to a class or interface in your Java code, you must, by default, use the fully qualified name of the type, including the package name. If you’re writing code to manipulate a file and need to use the File class of the package, you must type This rule has three exceptions:

§ Types from the package java.lang are so important and so commonly used that they can always be referred to by their simple names.

§ The code in a type p.T may refer to other types defined in the package p by their simple names.

§ Types that have been imported into the namespace with an import declaration may be referred to by their simple names.

The first two exceptions are known as “automatic imports.” The types from java.lang and the current package are “imported” into the namespace so that they can be used without their package name. Typing the package name of commonly used types that are not in java.lang or the current package quickly becomes tedious, and so it is also possible to explicitly import types from other packages into the namespace. This is done with the import declaration.

import declarations must appear at the start of a Java file, immediately after the package declaration, if there is one, and before any type definitions. You may use any number of import declarations in a file. An import declaration applies to all type definitions in the file (but not to anyimport declarations that follow it).

The import declaration has two forms. To import a single type into the namespace, follow the import keyword with the name of the type and a semicolon:

import; // Now we can type File instead of

This is known as the “single type import” declaration.

The other form of import is the “on-demand type import.” In this form, you specify the name of a package followed by the characters .* to indicate that any type from that package may be used without its package name. Thus, if you want to use several other classes from the java.iopackage in addition to the File class, you can simply import the entire package:

import*; // Use simple names for all classes in

This on-demand import syntax does not apply to subpackages. If I import the java.util package, I must still refer to the class by its fully qualified name.

Using an on-demand type import declaration is not the same as explicitly writing out a single type import declaration for every type in the package. It is more like an explicit single type import for every type in the package that you actually use in your code. This is the reason it’s called “on demand”; types are imported as you use them.

Naming conflicts and shadowing

import declarations are invaluable to Java programming. They do expose us to the possibility of naming conflicts, however. Consider the packages java.util and java.awt. Both contain types named List.

java.util.List is an important and commonly used interface. The java.awt package contains a number of important types that are commonly used in client-side applications, but java.awt.List has been superseded and is not one of these important types. It is illegal to import bothjava.util.List and java.awt.List in the same Java file. The following single type import declarations produce a compilation error:

import java.util.List;

import java.awt.List;

Using on-demand type imports for the two packages is legal:

import java.util.*; // For collections and other utilities.

import java.awt.*; // For fonts, colors, and graphics.

Difficulty arises, however, if you actually try to use the type List. This type can be imported “on demand” from either package, and any attempt to use List as an unqualified type name produces a compilation error. The workaround, in this case, is to explicitly specify the package name you want.

Because java.util.List is much more commonly used than java.awt.List, it is useful to combine the two on-demand type import declarations with a single-type import declaration that serves to disambiguate what we mean when we say List:

import java.util.*; // For collections and other utilities.

import java.awt.*; // For fonts, colors, and graphics.

import java.util.List; // To disambiguate from java.awt.List

With these import declarations in place, we can use List to mean the java.util.List interface. If we actually need to use the java.awt.List class, we can still do so as long as we include its package name. There are no other naming conflicts between java.util and java.awt, and their types will be imported “on demand” when we use them without a package name.

Importing Static Members

As well as types, you can import the static members of types using the keywords import static. (Static members are explained in Chapter 3. If you are not already familiar with them, you may want to come back to this section later.) Like type import declarations, these static import declarations come in two forms: single static member import and on-demand static member import. Suppose, for example, that you are writing a text-based program that sends a lot of output to System.out. In this case, you might use this single static member import to save yourself typing:

import static java.lang.System.out;

With this import in place, you can then use out.println() instead of System.out.println(). Or suppose you are writing a program that uses many of the trigonometric and other functions of the Math class. In a program that is clearly focused on numerical methods like this, having to repeatedly type the class name “Math” does not add clarity to your code; it just gets in the way. In this case, an on-demand static member import may be appropriate:

import static java.lang.Math.*

With this import declaration, you are free to write concise expressions like sqrt(abs(sin(x))) without having to prefix the name of each static method with the class name Math.

Another important use of import static declarations is to import the names of constants into your code. This works particularly well with enumerated types (see Chapter 4). Suppose, for example, that you want to use the values of this enumerated type in code you are writing:

package climate.temperate;


You could import the type climate.temperate.Seasons and then prefix the constants with the type name: Seasons.SPRING. For more concise code, you could import the enumerated values themselves:

import static climate.temperate.Seasons.*;

Using static member import declarations for constants is generally a better technique than implementing an interface that defines the constants.

Static member imports and overloaded methods

A static import declaration imports a name, not any one specific member with that name. Because Java allows method overloading and allows a type to have fields and methods with the same name, a single static member import declaration may actually import more than one member. Consider this code:

import static java.util.Arrays.sort;

This declaration imports the name “sort” into the namespace, not any one of the 19 sort() methods defined by java.util.Arrays. If you use the imported name sort to invoke a method, the compiler will look at the types of the method arguments to determine which method you mean.

It is even legal to import static methods with the same name from two or more different types as long as the methods all have different signatures. Here is one natural example:

import static java.util.Arrays.sort;

import static java.util.Collections.sort;

You might expect that this code would cause a syntax error. In fact, it does not because the sort() methods defined by the Collections class have different signatures than all of the sort() methods defined by the Arrays class. When you use the name “sort” in your code, the compiler looks at the types of the arguments to determine which of the 21 possible imported methods you mean.

Java File Structure

This chapter has taken us from the smallest to the largest elements of Java syntax, from individual characters and tokens to operators, expressions, statements, and methods, and on up to classes and packages. From a practical standpoint, the unit of Java program structure you will be dealing with most often is the Java file. A Java file is the smallest unit of Java code that can be compiled by the Java compiler. A Java file consists of:

§ An optional package directive

§ Zero or more import or import static directives

§ One or more type definitions

These elements can be interspersed with comments, of course, but they must appear in this order. This is all there is to a Java file. All Java statements (except the package and import directives, which are not true statements) must appear within methods, and all methods must appear within a type definition.

Java files have a couple of other important restrictions. First, each file can contain at most one top-level class that is declared public. A public class is one that is designed for use by other classes in other packages. A class can contain any number of nested or inner classes that are public. We’ll see more about the public modifier and nested classes in Chapter 3.

The second restriction concerns the filename of a Java file. If a Java file contains a public class, the name of the file must be the same as the name of the class, with the extension .java appended. Therefore, if Point is defined as a public class, its source code must appear in a file Regardless of whether your classes are public or not, it is good programming practice to define only one per file and to give the file the same name as the class.

When a Java file is compiled, each of the classes it defines is compiled into a separate class file that contains Java byte codes to be interpreted by the Java Virtual Machine. A class file has the same name as the class it defines, with the extension .class appended. Thus, if the file Point.javadefines a class named Point, a Java compiler compiles it to a file named Point.class. On most systems, class files are stored in directories that correspond to their package names. The class com.davidflanagan.examples.Point is thus defined by the class filecom/davidflanagan/examples/Point.class.

The Java interpreter knows where the class files for the standard system classes are located and can load them as needed. When the interpreter runs a program that wants to use a class named com.davidflanagan.examples.Point, it knows that the code for that class is located in a directory named com/davidflanagan/examples/ and, by default, it “looks” in the current directory for a subdirectory of that name. In order to tell the interpreter to look in locations other than the current directory, you must use the -classpath option when invoking the interpreter or set theCLASSPATH environment variable. For details, see the documentation for the Java interpreter, java, in Chapter 8.

Defining and Running Java Programs

A Java program consists of a set of interacting class definitions. But not every Java class or Java file defines a program. To create a program, you must define a class that has a special method with the following signature:

public static void main(String[] args)

This main() method is the main entry point for your program. It is where the Java interpreter starts running. This method is passed an array of strings and returns no value. When main() returns, the Java interpreter exits (unless main() has created separate threads, in which case the interpreter waits for all those threads to exit).

To run a Java program, you run the Java interpreter, java, specifying the fully qualified name of the class that contains the main() method. Note that you specify the name of the class, not the name of the class file that contains the class. Any additional arguments you specify on the command line are passed to the main() method as its String[] parameter. You may also need to specify the -classpath option (or -cp) to tell the interpreter where to look for the classes needed by the program. Consider the following command:

java -classpath /opt/Jude com.davidflanagan.jude.Jude datafile.jude

java is the command to run the Java interpreter. -classpath /usr/local/Jude tells the interpreter where to look for .class files. com.davidflanagan.jude.Jude is the name of the program to run (i.e., the name of the class that defines the main() method). Finally, datafile.jude is a string that is passed to that main() method as the single element of an array of String objects.

There is an easier way to run programs. If a program and all its auxiliary classes (except those that are part of the Java platform) have been properly bundled in a Java archive (JAR) file, you can run the program simply by specifying the name of the JAR file. In the next example, we show how to start up the Censum garbage collection log analyzer:

java -jar /usr/local/Censum/censum.jar

Some operating systems make JAR files automatically executable. On those systems, you can simply say:

% /usr/local/Censum/censum.jar

See Chapter 13 for more details on how to execute Java programs.


In this chapter, we’ve introduced the basic syntax of the Java language. Due to the interlocking nature of the syntax of programming languages, it is perfectly fine if you don’t feel at this point that you have completely grasped all of the syntax of the language. It is by practice that we acquire proficiency in any language, human or computer.

It is also worth observing that some parts of syntax are far more regularly used than others. For example, the strictfp and assert keywords are almost never used. Rather than trying to grasp every aspect of Java’s syntax, it is far better to begin to acquire facility in the core aspects of Java and then return to any details of syntax that may still be troubling you. With this in mind, let’s move to the next chapter and begin to discuss the classes and objects that are so central to Java and the basics of Java’s approach to object-oriented programming.

1 Technically, the minus sign is an operator that operates on the literal, but is not part of the literal itself.

2 Technically, they must all implement the AutoCloseable interface.

3 In the Java Language Specification, the term “signature” has a technical meaning that is slightly different than that used here. This book uses a less formal definition of method signature.

4 There is a terminology difficulty when discussing arrays. Unlike with classes and their instances, we use the term “array” for both the array type and the array instance. In practice, it is usually clear from context whether a type or a value is being discussed.