Object Class

java.lang.Object is the ancestor of all objects; it's the primordial class from which all other classes are ultimately derived. Methods defined in Object are, therefore, very important because they appear in every instance of every class, throughout all of Java. At last count, there were nine public methods and two protected methods in Object. Five of these are versions of wait( ) and notify( ) that are used to synchronize threads on object instances, as we'll discuss in . The remaining four methods are used for basic comparison, conversion, and administration. Every object has a toString( ) method that can be called when it's to be represented as a text value. PrintStream objects use toString( ) to print data, as discussed in . toString( ) is also used implicitly when an object is referenced in a string concatenation. Here are some examples:

 MyObj myObject = new MyObj( );
 Answer theAnswer = new Answer( );
 System.out.println( myObject );
 String s = "The answer is: " + theAnswer ;


To be friendly, a new kind of object can override toString( ) and implement its own version that provides appropriate information about itself. This is particularly helpful in debugging, where it is common to print the value of an object to see what is going on. Two other methods, equals( ) and hashCode( ), may also require specialization when you create a new class.

Equality and Equivalence

equals( ) determines whether two objects are equivalent. Precisely what that means for a particular class is something that you'll have to decide for yourself. Two String objects, for example, are considered equivalent if they hold precisely the same characters in the same sequence:

 String userName = "Joe";
 ...
 if ( userName.equals( suspectName ) )
 arrest( userName );


Using equals( ) is not the same as:

 if ( userName == suspectName ) // Wrong!


This statement tests whether the two reference variables, userName and suspectName, refer to the same object. It is a test for identity, not equality. Two variables that are identical (point to the same object) will necessarily be equal, but the converse is not always true. A class should override the equals( ) method if it needs to implement its own notion of equality. If you have no need to compare objects of a particular class, you don't necessarily need to override equals( ). Watch out for accidentally overloading equals( ) if you mean to override it. With overloading, the method signatures differ; with overriding, they must be the same. The equals( ) method signature specifies an Object argument so that an object can be compared to any other kind of object, not only those of its own class type. You'll probably want to consider only objects of the same type for equivalence. But in order to override (not overload) equals( ), the method must specify its argument to be an Object. Here's an example of correctly overriding an equals( ) method in class Shoes with an equals( ) method in subclass Sneakers. Using its own method, a Sneakers object can compare itself with any other object:

 class Sneakers extends Shoes {
 public boolean equals( Object arg ) {
 if ( (arg != null) && (arg instanceof Sneakers) ) {
 // compare arg with this object to check equivalence
 // If comparison is okay...
 return true;
 }
 return false;
 }
 ...
 }


If we specified public boolean equals(Sneakers arg) ... in the Sneakers class, we'd overload the equals( ) method instead of overriding it. If the other object happens to be assigned to a non-Sneakers variable, the method signature won't match. The result: superclass Shoes's implementation of equals( ) is called, which may or may not be what you intended.

Hashcodes

The hashCode( ) method returns an integer that is a hashcode for the object. A hashcode is like a signature or checksum for an object; it's a random-looking identifying number that is usually generated from the contents of the object. The hashcode should always be different for instances of the class that contain different data, but should be the same for instances that compare "equal" with the equals( ) method. Hashcodes are used in the process of storing objects in a Hashtable or a similar kind of collection. A random distribution of the hashcode values helps the Hashtable optimize its storage of objects by serving as an identifier for distributing them into storage evenly and quickly locating them later. The default implementation of hashCode( ) in Object does not really implement this scheme. Instead it assigns each object instance a unique number. If you don't override this method when you create a subclass, each instance of your class will have a unique hashcode. This is sufficient for some objects. However, if your classes have a notion of equivalent objects (if you have overridden equals( )) and you want equal objects to serve as equivalent keys in a Hashtable, you should override hashCode( ) so that your equivalent objects generate the same hashcode value. We'll return to the topic of hashcodes in more detail in when we discuss the Hashtable and HashMap classes.

Cloning Objects

Objects can use the clone( ) method of the Object class to make copies of themselves. A copied object is a new object instance, separate from the original. It may or may not contain exactly the same state (the same instance variable values) as the original; that is controlled by the object being copied. Just as important, the decision as to whether the object allows itself to be cloned at all is up to the object. The Java Object class provides the mechanism to make a simple copy of an object including all of its statea bitwise copy. But by default, this capability is turned off. (We'll show why in a moment.) To make itself cloneable, an object must implement the java.lang.Cloneable interface. This is a flag interface indicating to Java that the object wants to cooperate in being cloned (the interface does not actually contain any methods). If the object isn't cloneable, the clone( ) method throws a CloneNotSupportedException. clone( ) is a protected method, so by default it can be called only by an object on itself, an object in the same package, or another object of the same type or a subtype. If we want to make an object cloneable by everyone, we have to override its clone( ) method and make it public. Here is a simple, cloneable classSheep:

 import java.util.HashMap;
 public class Sheep implements Cloneable {
 HashMap flock = new HashMap( );
 public Object clone( ) {
 try {
 return super.clone( );
 } catch (CloneNotSupportedException e ) {
 throw new Error("This should never happen!");
 }
 }
 }


Sheep has one instance variable, a HashMap called flock (which the sheep uses to keep track of its fellow sheep). Our class implements the Cloneable interface, indicating that it is okay to copy Sheep, and it has overridden the clone( ) method to make it public. Our clone( ) simply returns the object created by the superclass's clone( ) methoda copy of our Sheep. Unfortunately, the compiler is not smart enough to figure out that the object we're cloning will never throw the CloneNotSupportedException, so we have to guard against it anyway. Our sheep is now cloneable. We can make copies like so:

 Sheep one = new Sheep( );
 Sheep anotherOne = (Sheep)one.clone( );


The cast is necessary here because the return type of clone( ) is Object. In Java 5.0, we could change the return type of the clone( ) method in the subclass and move the cast into the clone( ) method itself, to make things a little easier on the users of the class:

 public Sheep clone( ) {
 try {
 return (Sheep)super.clone( );
 } catch (CloneNotSupportedException e ) {
 throw new Error("This should never happen!");
 }
 }
 // usage
 Sheep one = new Sheep( );
 Sheep anotherOne = one.clone( );


In either case, we now have two sheep instead of one. A properly implemented equals( ) method would tell us that the sheep are equivalent, but == tells us that they are, in fact, two distinct instances of Sheep. Java has made a shallow copy of our Sheep. What's so shallow about it? Java has simply copied the values of our variables. That means that the flock instance variable in each of our Sheep still holds the same informationthat is, both sheep have a reference to the same HashMap. The situation looks like that shown in Screenshot-1.

Screenshot-1. Shallow copy of an object
Java ScreenShot

This may or may not be what you intended. If we instead want our Sheep to have separate copies of its full state (or something in between), we can take control ourselves. In the following example, DeepSheep, we implement a deep copy, duplicating our own flock variable:

 public class DeepSheep implements Cloneable {
 HashMap flock = new HashMap( );
 public DeepSheep clone( ) {
 try {
 DeepSheep copy = (DeepSheep)super.clone( );
 copy.flock = (HashMap)flock.clone( );
 return copy;
 } catch (CloneNotSupportedException e ) {
 throw new Error("This should never happen!");
 }
 }
 }


Our clone( ) method now clones the HashMap as well. Now, when a DeepSheep is cloned, the situation looks more like that shown in Screenshot-2. Each DeepSheep now has its own full copy of the map. You can see now why objects are not cloneable by default. It would make no sense to assume that all objects can be sensibly duplicated with a shallow copy. Likewise, it makes no sense to assume that a deep copy is necessary, or even correct. In this case, we probably don't need a deep copy; the flock contains the same members no matter which sheep you're looking at,

Screenshot-2. Deep copy of an object
Java ScreenShot

so there's no need to copy the HashMap. But the decision depends on the object itself and its requirements. The last method of Object we need to discuss is getClass( ). This method returns a reference to the Class object that produced the Object instance. We'll talk about it next.

Java ScreenShot
Comments