Java Basics

These notes present the basics of Java in outline form. They only discuss the ways in which Java differs from C++. If something is not discussed, such as for loops, if-then-else statements, or constructors, it is because they are identical in both C++ and Java.

  1. Writing and executing your first Java program
    1. Here's a very simple Java program:
      class HelloWorld {
          public HelloWorld() {
              System.out.println("Hello World");
          static public void main(String args[]) {
              new HelloWorld();
    2. You compile this program at the command line as follows:
      1. The compiler creates a .class file for HelloWorld that contains bytecodes.
      2. bytecodes are the assembly language for Java's virtual machine
    3. You execute this program at the command line as follows:
      java HelloWorld
      1. The java command invokes the java virtual machine (VM)
      2. HelloWorld tells the virtual machine that it can find a main method in the HelloWorld class and that it should start executing this method.
      3. You do not include the .class suffix. The java VM automatically appends this suffix to the filename.
    4. Notes about main
      1. main must go inside a class
      2. main is declared as a static, public function that returns void.
      3. main takes a single array of strings as an argument. The command line arguments are placed in this array.

        1. Unlike C++, the first command line argument is at index 0. Java assumes that you know which class you're in and hence does not need to put that information at index 0 like C++ does.
        2. Later in these notes you will see that it is possible to query an array for its length
    5. Notes about the style of this program
      1. Note that the work of this program is done in the constructor for HelloWorld, rather than main. Although it is possible to put the code in main, it is not advisable to do so because you run into difficulties with calling functions. For example, suppose you want to write the following C++ program in Java:
        	   int sum(int x, int y) { return x + y; }
        	   int multiply(int x, int y) { return x * y; }
        	   int main(int argc, char *argv[]) {
        In Java, a comparable program should be written as:
        	   class Arithmetic {
        	     public Arithmetic() {
        	     int sum(int x, int y) { return x + y; }
        	     int multiply(int x, int y) { return x * y; }
        	     public static void main(String args[]) {
        	       new Arithmetic();
        A lot of novice Java programmers think this code is too complicated and try to write it more simply as:
        	   class Arithmetic {
        	     int sum(...)
        	     int multiply(...)
        	     public static void main(String args[]) {
        The java compiler will complain about this code though because sum and multiply have not been declared static as well. If you call a function from a static function, then the called function must also be declared static. The reason is that non-static functions expect a pointer to an object to be passed to them via the this variable. However, static functions like main don't have objects associated with them and hence cannot pass a reference to an object to a non-static function. Trying to keep track of all the function calls made from a static function becomes tiresome, and hence it is best to simply move the code that typically appears in main to a constructor instead, and then invoke that code by having main create a single instance of the class.

  2. Scope rules
    1. A variable may be declared within
      1. a class
      2. a method
      3. a block
      4. a statement
    2. A variable may not be declared anywhere outside a class (i.e., there are no global variables in Java)
    3. A variable that is declared within a block cannot have the same name as a variable in an enclosing block or method. This rule is different from C/C++ where a variable may have any name when it is declared within a block.

      1. Example: The following code will cause the Java compiler to generate an error message because j is declared both in the body of the method and in the body of the for loop:
        	 int countPositive(int [] a) {
        	     int count = 0;
        	     int i, j;
        	     for (i = 0; i < a.length; i++) {
        	         int j = a[i];
        		 if (j > 0) count++;
                     j = a.length - count;
        	     System.out.println("number of negatives = " + j);
        	     return count;
      2. It is okay to have two identical variable declarations in the same block, as long as they are not nested. For example, the following code is valid:
                  int countPositive(...) {
                     for (int i = 0; i < 10; i++) {
                     for (int i = 20; i > 10; i--) {
    4. Once a variable goes out of scope it is undefined. Hence if I had only declared j in the block which is inside the for loop in the above code (and also not declared it outside the block), j would not be accessible outside the block.

  3. Java's built-in types
    1. boolean -- true/false
    2. char -- character
    3. byte -- 8 bit integer
    4. short -- 16 bit integer
    5. int -- 32 bit integer
    6. long -- 64 bit integer
    7. float -- 32 bit floating point number
    8. double -- 64 bit floating point number
  4. Type conversions and type comparisons
    1. Java automatically performs a type conversion if the conversion does not entail a loss of precision. For example, Java will convert an int to a double:
      	int a;
      	double b;
      	b = a; // okay because there is no loss of precision
    2. Java will generate an error message if the type conversion would entail a loss of precision:
      	a = b; // not okay because the fractional portion will be lost when
      	       // b's value is assigned to a
      1. In C++ such a conversion will only generate a warning message
    3. The programmer may explicitly downcast (also called narrowing) one type to a less precise type, in which case Java will perform a pre-defined narrowing operation:
      	a = (int) b; // okay. Java will truncate the fractional part of b's
      	             // value and assign it to a
    4. The instanceof operator allows you to test whether an object is of a specified class or array type. The operator returns true if the comparison type is either the object's type or a superclass of the object's type. For example, if Stack is a subclass of LinkedList, then if b is a Stack, then:
      	 b instanceof Stack
      	 b instanceof LinkedList
      	 b instanceof Object
      are all true. A way of seeing why this makes sense, is that you typically ask if an object is an instance of something because you want to either cast to that type, or because you want to use a certain method. It is always safe to lose "precision" by casting to a superclass object, which is a less precise object.
  5. The String class--String is a Java-provided class
    1. Strings are immutable--once they are created, their contents cannot be changed
             Example:  String a = "Hello";
                       a = a + " World";
      In this example, the concatenation operation creates a completely new string to hold "Hello World" and then makes a point to the new string. The old string object remains unaltered with its contents still being "Hello". Since no other variables point to it, it is eventually garbage collected.
    2. Strings should be compared using either a string's equals or compareTo method.
      1. a.equals(b): returns true/false depending on whether the two strings match
      2. a.compareTo(b) returns a negative number, 0, or a positive number depending on whether a < b, a = b, or a > b.
      3. Example:
                       String token;
                       String day = "Wednesday";
        	       if (token.equals("+")) ...
        	       else if (token.equals(day)) ...
    3. Use a StringBuilder or StringBuffer object if you want to modify/edit a string

      1. StringBuilder is designed to be used with single threaded applications and is faster than StringBuffer
      2. StringBuffer works with multiple threaded applications.
      3. The two classes are interchangeable, in the sense that they support the same interface
  6. Enumerated Types: Java 1.5 introduced a sophisticated mechanism for enumerated types. Follow the link to read Sun's documentation. Some salient features of Java's enumerated types are that:
    1. An enumerated type is actually a class and each enumerated constant is an object.
      1. Because enumerated types are classes, they can be declared independently of any class, and placed in their own .java file
    2. An enumerated type may associate values with each enumerated constant using a constructor and then declaring accessor methods that allow a user to query for these values.
      1. See the planets example in the Java documentation for a detailed example.
      2. As another example of associating values with enumerated constants, you might want to associated point sizes with enumerated constants for font sizes. For example, small might be a 9 point font, medium a 12 point font, large a 24 point font, and so on.
  7. Arrays: They are objects, not primitive types
    1. Must be explicitly allocated using the new operator
    2. The declaration uses empty brackets since the size of the array is not known until it is allocated.
      1. The brackets can be either after the type name or after the variable name
        	e.g., int a [];
        	      int [] b;
        	      int c [] = new int[6];
        	      int [] d = new int[10];
      2. You can also provide a set of items to initialize an array, in which case new is not required:
        	   String weekdays [] = {"Monday", "Tuesday", "Wednesday",
        	                         "Thursday", "Friday"};
    3. The length field returns the number of elements
              e.g., System.out.println(c.length) will print 6
    4. Multi-dimensional arrays are arrays of arrays
              e.g., int a [][] = new int[4][5];
      	      int b [][] = new int[4][];
      	          b[0] = new int[5];
      		  b[1] = new int[4];
    5. For Each: Java 1.5 introduces a nifty construct for iterating through a collection of objects, such as an array:
      	e.g., int[] arrayOfInts = { 32, 87, 3, 589, 12, 1076, 2000, 8, 622 };
      	      int sum = 0;
                    for (int element : arrayOfInts) {
      	      	sum += element;
      You must declare element in the for statement. If you try to declare element outside the for statement, you will get a compiler error message.
  8. Classes
    1. There is a special Java class called Object that is the root of the Java class hierarchy. All classes ultimately have Object as their superclass. If an object is declared without a superclass, then Object is its direct superclass.
      1. Having a unifying object at the top of the class hierarchy allows Java to define generic collection classes, such as lists, trees, and hash tables, that can contain any collection of objects, since ultimately all objects are of type Object. For example:
        class List {
            public void insertAfter(Object referenceObj, Object objToInsert);
            public Object getHead();
            public Object getTail();
    2. Variables whose types are classes cannot be allocated on the stack. In other words, Java does not allow value objects. All objects are allocated from the heap by calling new.
      1. Java does not have a concept of pointers. When you create an object and assign the result to a variable, Java does indeed assign a pointer to the object to the variable, but you do not have access to the pointer like you do in C++ (e.g., in C++ you can increment or decrement a pointer).
      2. All member accesses are performed via the dot (.) operator
      3. When an assignment statement such as a = b is executed, a is made to point to the same object to which b points. If a modifies a member of this object, then b will also appear to change. For example:
        	   Stack a;
        	   Stack b = new Stack();
        	   a = b;
        	   a.push(5); // b's stack now contains both 3 and 5
        1. this treatment is different than in C++ where a would receive a copy of b's object because a and b would both be value objects. In C++, a's stack would contain 3 and 5 after the push operation but b's stack would only contain 3.
      4. The == operator compares pointers, not the contents of two objects. We say that the == operator performs a shallow comparison, rather than a deep comparison. This comparision of pointers is why you need to use a string's equals method to compare the values of two strings.
      5. All objects have a equals method that you can use to compare two objects.
        1. It returns true/false depending on whether or not they are equal.
        2. The Java built-in classes, such as arrays and strings, pre-define this method.
        3. You must provide your own declaration for it in your user-defined classes, or else the default implementation will use pointer comparison (==) to determine if the two objects are equal.
    3. Declaration of instance variables in a class: Unlike C++, you may assign a default value to a variable when it is declared. Java will assign this value to the variable before the object's constructor is called.
      	Example: class Stack {
      	            int size = 10;
      		    int top = 0;
      1. To accomplish the same type of initialization in C++ you would have to ensure that every constructor explicitly performed this initialization or called a method that performed this initialization.
      2. Since the initializer code is run each time an instance is created, the initialization code may involve function calls, but it may not depend on values that are passed into the constructor, since the initialization statements are executed before the constructor is executed.
    4. Initialization blocks: You can use an unnamed block, called an initialization block, to perform initialization actions on a class's members, before the constructor is called.
      1. If you create an initialization block, then it will also be called when an object is first created
      2. The code in the initialization block is executed after the default values are assigned to variables but before the constructor is called. It is helpful when something more complicated than a single line initialization has to be performed, such as the assigning of computed values to array elements.
      3. Example:
                           class RandomValues {
        	   		int randomNums[] = new int[10];
        			// Initialization block
        			  for(int i=0; i<randomNums.length; i++)
        			    randomNums[i] = (int)(100.0*Math.random());
      4. Initialization blocks are in effect copied into each constructor for that class. Hence it provides a way for constructors to share a generic piece of code. In C++ you would accomplish the same sharing by placing the generic code in the 0-argument constructor and then making each constructor explicitly call the 0-argument constructor. This approach has two drawbacks. First, you might not want to provide a public 0-argument constructor (so then you have to go to the trouble of protecting the 0-argument constructor). Second, you have to remember to call the 0-argument constructor in each constructor. That may not be hard to remember to do when the class is first created, but a maintainer of the class might not know that fact and inadvertently add a new constructor that does not call the 0-argument constructor and hence does not perform some important initialization.
    5. Static keyword: declares a variable to be a class member.
      1. A static variable is essentially a global variable for that class and all instances of that class share its value.
      2. There is only one copy of the variable and it is stored with the class rather than with an instance
        	   Example:  static String color = "red";
      3. static blocks: static blocks are similar to initialization blocks but are proceeded by the keyword static
        1. they are called when the class is first loaded and can be used to initialize static members
        2. this treatment differs from C++ in which a static member must be declared and initialized in a .cpp file as well as being declared in a .h file.
    6. Access protections: Java provides public, protected, private, and package level protection
      1. protected/private/package level protection will be discussed further when we get to packages
      2. default access protection is package level protection, which will be discussed in a later set of notes. When you're only dealing with a single class, as we will be for the first few lectures, then package level protection mimics private protection in C++.
      3. public makes a member world readable. Unlike in C++, you must preface each member you want to make public with the public keyword. For example:
        class Point {
            public double x;
            public double y;
    7. Finalize method: replaces C++'s destructor and is only needed to release non-Java resources, such as a file handle
      1. signature: void finalize() {...}
      2. is called by the garbage collector when the object is finally destroyed
      3. cannot count on when it will be called because you cannot count on when the object will be garbage collected
        1. if you need to ensure that a final set of actions is performed on an object, create your own method and then call it when you are ready to release the object
        2. do not call finalize yourself since it will also get called by the garbage collector. Doing so may cause your program to try to release the same set of resources twice, and the second time you won't own them anymore. Trying to release resources you don't own could create unpredictable results.
    8. Nested classes: Classes can be nested inside a Java class just as in C++
      1. A nested class has access to all the members and methods of its enclosing class
      2. An instance of a nested class is associated with the instance of the class which creates it. A nested class cannot be created independently of its outer class
        	    e.g., class foo {
        		    public class goo { ... }
        a = new will fail because a goo can only be created by an instance of a foo
      3. The compiled class name for the inner class will be OuterClassName$InnerClassName.class. For example, goo will be compiled to foo$goo.class.
    9. final keyword: Java's way of creating a constant
      1. Example
        final double SALES_TAX = 0.05;
      2. Memory for the final keyword is shared by all instances so you do not have to declare them static.
      3. If you want the constant to be accessible outside the class, you must declare it both public and static.
  9. Parameter passing
    1. Java uses pass-by-value, not pass-by-reference
    2. Can return objects since they're allocated off the heap
    3. Passing a reference to an object allows the method to modify the contents of the object. This may seem like a contradiction to the pass-by-value dictum but if you think about it, it makes sense. The reference value (i.e., pointer value) gets copied, and hence the parameter has a pointer to the same object as the argument
    4. C++ uses both pass-by-value and pass-by-reference
      1. Place an ampersand (&) after the type in a parameter declaration to make the parameter a reference parameter:
        		void swap(int &a, int &b) {
        		    int temp = a;
        		    a = b;
        		    b = temp;
        		actual call: swap(x, y);
      2. When C++ sees a reference parameter, it passes a pointer to the argument rather than a copy of the argument to the method.
        1. When you assign a value to a reference parameter, the value is assigned to the argument's memory location, thus modifying the original argument
        2. When you access a reference parameter on the right side of an assignment statement, C++ return's the current value at the argument's memory location
        3. Reference parameters were introduced into C++ to reduce the need to explicitly pass addresses of arguments to methods and to explicitly dereference parameters in methods. Compare how swap must be implement and called using the pass-by-value method as compared to the pass-by-reference method:
          		void swap(*int a, int *b) {
          		    int temp = *a;
          		    *a = *b;
          		    *b = temp;
          		actual call: swap(&x, &y)
          As you can see, there are many more opportunities to introduce an error when you have to explicitly take the address of arguments and dereference parameters.
        4. Unfortunately, in practice reference parameters are confusing to use and the designers of Java decided to do away with them. Note however that because of the way Java copies reference values to parameters, Java really is doing a form of pass-by-reference for objects.