Object as a Superclass
Trail: Learning the Java Language
Lesson: Interfaces and Inheritance
Section: Inheritance

Object as a Superclass

The Object class, in the java.lang package, sits at the top of the class hierarchy tree. Every class is a descendant, direct or indirect, of the Object class. Every class you use or write inherits the instance methods of Object. You need not use any of these methods, but, if you choose to do so, you may need to override them with code that is specific to your class. The methods inherited from Object that are discussed in this section are:

The notify, notifyAll, and wait methods of Object all play a part in synchronizing the activities of independently running threads in a program, which is discussed in a later lesson and won't be covered here. There are five of these methods:

Note: There are some subtle aspects to a number of these methods, especially the clone method.

The clone() Method

If a class, or one of its superclasses, implements the Cloneable interface, you can use the clone() method to create a copy from an existing object. To create a clone, you write:


Object's implementation of this method checks to see whether the object on which clone() was invoked implements the Cloneable interface. If the object does not, the method throws a CloneNotSupportedException exception. Exception handling will be covered in a later lesson. For the moment, you need to know that clone() must be declared as

protected Object clone() throws CloneNotSupportedException


public Object clone() throws CloneNotSupportedException

if you are going to write a clone() method to override the one in Object.

If the object on which clone() was invoked does implement the Cloneable interface, Object's implementation of the clone() method creates an object of the same class as the original object and initializes the new object's member variables to have the same values as the original object's corresponding member variables.

The simplest way to make your class cloneable is to add implements Cloneable to your class's declaration. then your objects can invoke the clone() method.

For some classes, the default behavior of Object's clone() method works just fine. If, however, an object contains a reference to an external object, say ObjExternal, you may need to override clone() to get correct behavior. Otherwise, a change in ObjExternal made by one object will be visible in its clone also. This means that the original object and its clone are not independent—to decouple them, you must override clone() so that it clones the object and ObjExternal. Then the original object references ObjExternal and the clone references a clone of ObjExternal, so that the object and its clone are truly independent.

The equals() Method

The equals() method compares two objects for equality and returns true if they are equal. The equals() method provided in the Object class uses the identity operator (==) to determine whether two objects are equal. For primitive data types, this gives the correct result. For objects, however, it does not. The equals() method provided by Object tests whether the object references are equal—that is, if the objects compared are the exact same object.

To test whether two objects are equal in the sense of equivalency (containing the same information), you must override the equals() method. Here is an example of a Book class that overrides equals():

public class Book {
    public boolean equals(Object obj) {
        if (obj instanceof Book)
            return ISBN.equals((Book)obj.getISBN()); 
            return false;

Consider this code that tests two instances of the Book class for equality:

// Swing Tutorial, 2nd edition
Book firstBook  = new Book("0201914670");
Book secondBook = new Book("0201914670");
if (firstBook.equals(secondBook)) {
    System.out.println("objects are equal");
} else {
    System.out.println("objects are not equal");

This program displays objects are equal even though firstBook and secondBook reference two distinct objects. They are considered equal because the objects compared contain the same ISBN number.

You should always override the equals() method if the identity operator is not appropriate for your class.

Note: If you override equals(), you must override hashCode() as well.

The finalize() Method

The Object class provides a callback method, finalize(), that may be invoked on an object when it becomes garbage. Object's implementation of finalize() does nothing—you can override finalize() to do cleanup, such as freeing resources.

The finalize() method may be called automatically by the system, but when it is called, or even if it is called, is uncertain. Therefore, you should not rely on this method to do your cleanup for you. For example, if you don't close file descriptors in your code after performing I/O and you expect finalize() to close them for you, you may run out of file descriptors.

The getClass() Method

You cannot override getClass.

The getClass() method returns a Class object, which has methods you can use to get information about the class, such as its name (getSimpleName()), its superclass (getSuperclass()), and the interfaces it implements (getInterfaces()). For example, the following method gets and displays the class name of an object:

void printClassName(Object obj) {
    System.out.println("The object's" + " class is " +

The Class class, in the java.lang package, has a large number of methods (more than 50). For example, you can test to see if the class is an annotation (isAnnotation()), an interface (isInterface()), or an enumeration (isEnum()). You can see what the object's fields are (getFields()) or what its methods are (getMethods()), and so on.

The hashCode() Method

The value returned by hashCode() is the object's hash code, which is the object's memory address in hexadecimal.

By definition, if two objects are equal, their hash code must also be equal. If you override the equals() method, you change the way two objects are equated and Object's implementation of hashCode() is no longer valid. Therefore, if you override the equals() method, you must also override the hashCode() method as well.

The toString() Method

You should always consider overriding the toString() method in your classes.

The Object's toString() method returns a String representation of the object, which is very useful for debugging. The String representation for an object depends entirely on the object, which is why you need to override toString() in your classes.

You can use toString() along with System.out.println() to display a text representation of an object, such as an instance of Book:


which would, for a properly overridden toString() method, print something useful, like this:

ISBN: 0201914670; The Swing Tutorial; A Guide to Constructing GUIs, 2nd Edition

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