Saturday, June 15, 2024

Does Java go by reference or go by worth?

Many programming languages permit passing objects by reference or by worth. In Java, we are able to solely go object parameters by worth. This imposes limits and likewise raises questions. For example, if the parameter worth is modified within the methodology, what occurs to the worth following methodology execution? You may additionally marvel how Java manages object values within the reminiscence heap. This text helps you resolve these and different widespread questions on object references in Java.

Passing object references in Java

On this article you may be taught the distinction between passing by reference and passing by worth in Java and go Java object references:

  • ‘Go by reference’ and ‘go by worth’ outlined
  • Java object references are handed by worth
  • Passing primitive varieties in Java
  • Passing immutable object references in Java
  • Passing mutable object references in Java
  • What to keep away from when passing object references
  • What to recollect about passing object references

‘Go by reference’ and ‘go by worth’ outlined

Go by reference means we go the situation in reminiscence the place the variable’s worth is saved and go by worth means we go a replica of the variable’s precise worth. It’s kind of extra difficult than that, after all, however this definition is an efficient start line.

  • Passing by worth means we go a replica of the worth.
  • Passing by reference means we go the true reference to the variable in reminiscence.

Java object references are handed by worth

All object references in Java are handed by worth. Because of this a replica of the worth will likely be handed to a technique. The tough half is that passing a replica of the worth modifications the true worth of the item. This instance ought to aid you perceive why:

public class ObjectReferenceExample {

	public static void principal(String... doYourBest) {
    	    Simpson simpson = new Simpson();

	static void transformIntoHomer(Simpson simpson) {
    	    simpson.identify = "Homer";


class Simpson {
	String identify;

What do you suppose the simpson.identify will likely be after the transformIntoHomer methodology is executed?

On this case, it will likely be Homer! The reason being that Java object variables are merely references that time to actual objects within the reminiscence heap. Due to this fact, although Java passes parameters to strategies by worth, if the variable factors to an object reference, the true object will even be modified.

When you’re nonetheless undecided how this works, contemplate the next diagram:

Flow diagram of object references in Java Rafael Del Nero

Passing primitive varieties in Java

Like object varieties, primitive varieties are additionally handed by worth. Are you able to guess what is going to occur to the primitive varieties within the following code instance?

public class PrimitiveByValueExample {

	public static void principal(String... primitiveByValue) {
    	    int homerAge = 30;

	static void changeHomerAge(int homerAge) {
    	    homerAge = 35;

When you decided that the worth would change to 30, you’re right. It’s 30 as a result of (once more) Java passes object parameters by worth. The quantity 30 is only a copy of the worth, not the true worth. Primitive varieties are allotted within the stack reminiscence, so solely the native worth will likely be modified. On this case, there is no such thing as a object reference.

Passing immutable object references in Java

What if we did the identical check with an immutable String object? Discover what occurs once we change the worth of a String:

public class StringValueChange {

	public static void principal(String... doYourBest) {
    	    String identify = "";

	static void changeToHomer(String identify) {
    	    identify = "Homer";

What do you suppose the output will likely be? When you guessed “” then congratulations! That occurs as a result of a String object is immutable, which signifies that the fields contained in the String are remaining and may’t be modified.

Making the String class immutable provides us higher management over one in every of Java’s most used objects. If the worth of a String could possibly be modified, it could create many bugs. Be aware, additionally, that we aren’t altering an attribute of the String class; as a substitute, we’re merely assigning a brand new String worth to it. On this case, the “Homer” worth will likely be handed to identify within the changeToHomer methodology. The String “Homer” will likely be eligible to be rubbish collected as quickly because the changeToHomer methodology completes execution. Though the item can’t be modified, the native variable will likely be.

Passing mutable object references in Java

Not like String, most objects within the JDK are mutable, just like the StringBuilder class. The instance under is just like the earlier one, however options StringBuilder quite than String:

 static class MutableObjectReference {
    public static void principal(String... mutableObjectExample) {
      StringBuilder identify = new StringBuilder("Homer ");

    static void addSureName(StringBuilder identify) {

Are you able to guess the output for this instance? On this case, as a result of we’re working with a mutable object, the output will likely be “Homer Simpson.” You may anticipate the identical conduct from every other mutable object in Java.

Abstract of what you have discovered

You’ve discovered that Java objects are handed by worth, which means that a replica of the worth is handed. Simply keep in mind that the copied worth factors to a actual object within the Java reminiscence heap. Additionally, keep in mind that passing by worth modifications the worth of the true object.

What to keep away from when passing Java object references

  • Do not attempt to change an immutable worth by reference.
  • Do not attempt to change a primitive variable by reference.
  • Do not anticipate the true object will not change if you change a mutable object parameter in a technique (it should change).

What to recollect about passing Java object references

  • Java all the time passes parameter variables by worth.
  • Object variables in Java all the time level to the true object within the reminiscence heap.
  • A mutable object’s worth may be modified when it’s handed to a technique.
  • An immutable object’s worth can’t be modified, even whether it is handed a brand new worth.

Check what you have discovered about object references

Now, let’s check what you’ve discovered about object references. Within the code instance under, you see the immutable String and the mutable StringBuilder class. Every is being handed as a parameter to a technique. Figuring out that Java solely passes by worth, what do you consider would be the output as soon as the primary methodology from this class is executed?

public class DragonWarriorReferenceChallenger {

  public static void principal(String... doYourBest) {
    StringBuilder warriorProfession = new StringBuilder("Dragon ");
    String warriorWeapon = "Sword ";
    changeWarriorClass(warriorProfession, warriorWeapon);

    System.out.println("Warrior=" + warriorProfession + " Weapon=" + warriorWeapon);

  static void changeWarriorClass(StringBuilder warriorProfession, String weapon) {
    weapon = "Dragon " + weapon;

    weapon = null;
    warriorProfession = null;


Listed here are the choices, test the top of the article for the reply.

A: Warrior=null Weapon=null
B: Warrior=Dragon Weapon=Dragon
C: Warrior=Dragon Knight Weapon=Dragon Sword
D: Warrior=Dragon Knight Weapon=Sword

Fixing the problem

The primary parameter within the above instance is the warriorProfession variable, which is a mutable object. The second parameter, weapon, is an immutable String:

 static void changeWarriorClass(StringBuilder warriorProfession, String weapon) {

On the first line of this methodology, we append the Knight worth to the warriorProfession variable. Do not forget that warriorProfession is a mutable object; subsequently the true object will likely be modified, and the worth from it will likely be “Dragon Knight.”


Within the second instruction, the immutable native String variable will likely be modified to “Dragon Sword.” The true object won’t ever be modified, nevertheless, since String is immutable and its attributes are remaining:

weapon = "Dragon " + weapon;

Lastly, we go null to the variables right here, however to not the objects. The objects will stay the identical so long as they’re nonetheless accessible externally—on this case by means of the primary methodology. And, though the native variables will likely be null, nothing will occur to the objects:

weapon = null;
warriorProfession = null;

From this we are able to conclude that the ultimate values from our mutable StringBuilder and immutable String will likely be:

System.out.println("Warrior=" + warriorProfession + " Weapon=" + warriorWeapon);

The one worth that modified within the changeWarriorClass methodology was warriorProfession, as a result of it’s a mutable StringBuilder object. Be aware that warriorWeapon didn’t change as a result of it’s an immutable String object.

The right output from our Challenger code could be:

D: Warrior=Dragon Knight Weapon=Sword.

Video problem! Debugging object references in Java

Debugging is likely one of the best methods to completely soak up programming ideas whereas additionally bettering your code. On this video, you’ll be able to comply with alongside whereas I debug and clarify object references in Java.

Study extra about Java

Copyright © 2024 IDG Communications, Inc.

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