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Objects in Java
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5.3 Object Creation

Objects in Java are allocated from a system heap space, much like malloc'ed storage in C or C++. Unlike C or C++, however, we needn't manage that memory ourselves. Java takes care of memory allocation and deallocation for you. Java explicitly allocates storage for an object when you create it with the new keyword. More importantly, objects are removed by garbage collection when they're no longer referenced.

Constructors

You allocate an object by specifying the new operator with an object constructor. A constructor is a special method with the same name as its class and no return type. It's called when a new class instance is created, which gives the class an opportunity to set up the object for use. Constructors, like other methods, can accept arguments and can be overloaded (they are not, however, inherited like other methods; we'll discuss inheritance later).

class Date { 
    long time; 
 
    Date() { 
        time = currentTime(); 
    } 
 
    Date( String date ) { 
        time = parseDate( date ); 
    } 
    ... 
} 

In the above example, the class Date has two constructors. The first takes no arguments; it's known as the default constructor. Default constructors play a special role in that, if we don't define any constructors for a class, an empty default constructor is supplied for us. The default constructor is what gets called whenever you create an object by calling its constructor with no arguments. Here we have implemented the default constructor so that it sets the instance variable time by calling a hypothetical method: currentTime(), which resembles the functionality of the real java.util.Date class.

The second constructor takes a String argument. Presumably, this String contains a string representation of the time that can be parsed to set the time variable.

Given the constructors above, we create a Date object in the following ways:

Date now = new Date(); 
Date christmas = new Date("Dec 25, 1997"); 

In each case, Java chooses the appropriate constructor at compile-time based on the rules for overloaded method selection.

If we later remove all references to an allocated object, it'll be garbage collected, as we'll discuss shortly:

christmas = null;          // fair game for the garbage collector 

Setting the above reference to null means it's no longer pointing to the "Dec 25, 1997" object. Unless that object is referenced by another variable, it's now inaccessible and can be garbage collected. Actually, setting christmas to any other value would have the same results, but using the value null is a clear way to indicate that christmas no longer has a useful value.

A few more notes about constructors. Constructors can't be abstract, synchronized, or final. Constructors can, however, be declared with the visibility modifiers public, private, or protected, to control their accessibility. We'll talk in detail about visibility modifiers later in the chapter.

Working with Overloaded Constructors

A constructor can refer to another constructor in the same class or the immediate superclass using special forms of the this and super references. We'll discuss the first case here, and return to that of the superclass constructor again after we have talked more about subclassing and inheritance.

A constructor can invoke another, overloaded constructor in its class using the reference this() with appropriate arguments to select the desired constructor. If a constructor calls another constructor, it must do so as its first statement (we'll explain why in a bit):

class Car { 
    String model; 
    int doors; 
 
    Car( String m, int d ) { 
        model = m; 
        doors = d; 
        // other, complicated setup 
        ... 
    } 
 
    Car( String m ) { 
        this( m, 4 ); 
    } 
    ... 
} 

In the example above, the class Car has two overloaded constructors. The first, more explicit one, accepts arguments specifying the car's model and its number of doors and uses them to set up the object. We have also provided a simpler constructor that takes just the model as an argument and, in turn, calls the first constructor with a default value of four doors. The advantage of this approach is that you can have a single constructor do all the complicated setup work; other auxiliary constructors simply feed the appropriate arguments to that constructor.

The important point is the call to this(), which must appear as the first statement our second constructor. The syntax is restricted in this way because there's a need to identify a clear chain of command in the calling of constructors. At one end of the chain, Java invokes the constructor of the superclass (if we don't do it explicitly) to ensure that inherited members are initialized properly before we proceed. There's also a point in the chain, just after the constructor of the superclass is invoked, where the initializers of the current class's instance variables are evaluated. Before that point, we can't even reference the instance variables of our class. We'll explain this situation again in complete detail after we have talked about inheritance.

For now, all you need to know is that you can invoke a second constructor only as the first statement of another constructor. In addition, you can't do anything at that point other than pass along arguments of the current constructor. For example, the following is illegal and causes a compile-time error:

Car( String m ) { 
    int doors = determineDoors(); 
    this( m, doors );   // Error  
}                       // Constructor call must be first statement 

The simple model name constructor can't do any additional setup before calling the more explicit constructor. It can't even refer to an instance member for a constant value:

class Car {  
    ... 
    final int default_doors = 4; 
    ... 
 
    Car( String m ) { 
        this( m, default_doors ); // Error 
                                  // Referencing uninitialized variable 
    } 
    ... 
} 

The instance variable defaultDoors above is not initialized until a later point in the chain of constructor calls, so the compiler doesn't let us access it yet. Fortunately, we can solve this particular problem by making the identifier static as well:

class Car { 
    ... 
    static final int DEFAULT_DOORS = 4; 
    ... 
 
    Car( String m ) { 
        this( m, DEFAULT_DOORS );  // Okay now 
    } 
    ... 
} 

The static members of our class have been initialized for some time (since the class was first loaded), so it's safe to access them.

Static and Nonstatic Code Blocks

It's possible to declare a code block (some statements within curly braces) directly within the scope of a class. This code block doesn't belong to any method; instead, it's executed just once, at the time the object is constructed, or, in the case of a code block marked static, at the time the class is loaded.

Nonstatic code blocks can be thought of as just an extension of instance variable initialization. They are called at the time the instance variable's initializers are evaluated (after superclass construction), in the textual order in which they appear in the class source.

class MyClass {
    Properties myProps = new Properties();
    // set up myProps
    {
        myProps.put("foo", "bar);
        myProps.put("boo", "gee);
    }
    int a = 5;
    ...

You can use static code blocks to initialize static class members in this way. So the static members of a class can have complex initialization just like objects:

class ColorWheel { 
    static Hashtable colors = new Hashtable(); 
 
    // set up colors
    static { 
        colors.put("Red", Color.red ); 
        colors.put("Green", Color.green ); 
        colors.put("Blue", Color.blue ); 
        ... 
    } 
    ... 
} 

In the above example, the class ColorWheel provides a variable colors that maps the names of colors to Color objects in a Hashtable. The first time the class ColorWheel is referenced and loaded, the static components of ColorWheel are evaluated, in the order they appear in the source. In this case, the static code block simply adds elements to the colors Hashtable.


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