Home > Articles > Programming > Java

Working with Interfaces and Inner Classes in Java

  • Print
  • + Share This
This chapter shows you several advanced techniques that are commonly used. Despite their less obvious nature, you will need to master them to complete your Java tool chest.
This chapter is from the book

You have now seen all the basic tools for object-oriented programming in Java. This chapter shows you several advanced techniques that are commonly used. Despite their less obvious nature, you will need to master them to complete your Java tool chest.

The first technique, called interfaces, is a way of describing what classes should do, without specifying how they should do it. A class can implement one or more interfaces. You can then use objects of these implementing classes whenever conformance to the interface is required. After we cover interfaces, we take up cloning an object (or deep copying, as it is sometimes called). A clone of an object is a new object that has the same state as the original. In particular, you can modify the clone without affecting the original.

Next, we move on to the mechanism of inner classes. Inner classes are technically somewhat complex—they are defined inside other classes, and their methods can access the fields of the surrounding class. Inner classes are useful when you design collections of cooperating classes. In particular, inner classes enable you to write concise, professional looking code to handle GUI events.

This chapter concludes with a discussion of proxies, objects that implement arbitrary interfaces. A proxy is a very specialized construct that is useful for building system-level tools. You can safely skip that section on first reading.

6.1. Interfaces

In the Java programming language, an interface is not a class but a set of requirements for the classes that want to conform to the interface.

Typically, the supplier of some service states: “If your class conforms to a particular interface, then I’ll perform the service.” Let’s look at a concrete example. The sort method of the Arrays class promises to sort an array of objects, but under one condition: The objects must belong to classes that implement the Comparable interface.

Here is what the Comparable interface looks like:

public interface Comparable
{
   int compareTo(Object other);
}

This means that any class that implements the Comparable interface is required to have a compareTo method, and the method must take an Object parameter and return an integer.

All methods of an interface are automatically public. For that reason, it is not necessary to supply the keyword public when declaring a method in an interface.

Of course, there is an additional requirement that the interface cannot spell out: When calling x.compareTo(y), the compareTo method must actually be able to compare the two objects and return an indication whether x or y is larger. The method is supposed to return a negative number if x is smaller than y, zero if they are equal, and a positive number otherwise.

This particular interface has a single method. Some interfaces have multiple methods. As you will see later, interfaces can also define constants. What is more important, however, is what interfaces cannot supply. Interfaces never have instance fields, and the methods are never implemented in the interface. Supplying instance fields and method implementations is the job of the classes that implement the interface. You can think of an interface as being similar to an abstract class with no instance fields. However, there are some differences between these two concepts—we look at them later in some detail.

Now suppose we want to use the sort method of the Arrays class to sort an array of Employee objects. Then the Employee class must implement the Comparable interface.

To make a class implement an interface, you carry out two steps:

  1. You declare that your class intends to implement the given interface.
  2. You supply definitions for all methods in the interface.

To declare that a class implements an interface, use the implements keyword:

class Employee implements Comparable

Of course, now the Employee class needs to supply the compareTo method. Let’s suppose that we want to compare employees by their salary. Here is an implementation of the compareTo method:

public int compareTo(Object otherObject)
{
   Employee other = (Employee) otherObject;
    return Double.compare(salary, other.salary);
}

Here, we use the static Double.compare method that returns a negative if the first argument is less than the second argument, 0 if they are equal, and a positive value otherwise.

As of Java SE 5.0, we can do a little better. We’ll implement the Comparable<Employee> interface type instead.

class Employee implements Comparable<Employee>
{
   public int compareTo(Employee other)
   {
      return Double.compare(salary, other.salary);
   }
   . . .
}

Note that the unsightly cast of the Object parameter has gone away.

Now you saw what a class must do to avail itself of the sorting service—it must implement a compareTo method. That’s eminently reasonable. There needs to be some way for the sort method to compare objects. But why can’t the Employee class simply provide a compareTo method without implementing the Comparable interface?

The reason for interfaces is that the Java programming language is strongly typed. When making a method call, the compiler needs to be able to check that the method actually exists. Somewhere in the sort method will be statements like this:

if (a[i].compareTo(a[j]) > 0)
{
   // rearrange a[i] and a[j]
   . . .
}

The compiler must know that a[i] actually has a compareTo method. If a is an array of Comparable objects, then the existence of the method is assured because every class that implements the Comparable interface must supply the method.

Listing 6.1 presents the full code for sorting an array of instances of the class Employee (Listing 6.2). for sorting an employee array.

Listing 6.1. interfaces/EmployeeSortTest.java

 1  package interfaces;
 2
 3  import java.util.*;
 4
 5  /**
 6   * This program demonstrates the use of the Comparable interface.
 7   * @version 1.30 2004-02-27
 8   * @author Cay Horstmann
 9   */
10  public class EmployeeSortTest
11  {
12     public static void main(String[] args)
13     {
14        Employee[] staff = new Employee[3];
15
16        staff[0] = new Employee("Harry Hacker", 35000);
17        staff[1] = new Employee("Carl Cracker", 75000);
18        staff[2] = new Employee("Tony Tester", 38000);
19
20        Arrays.sort(staff);
21
22        // print out information about all Employee objects
23        for (Employee e : staff)
24           System.out.println("name=" + e.getName() + ",salary=" + e.getSalary());
25     }
26  }

Listing 6.2. interfaces/Employee.java

 1  package interfaces;
 2
 3  public class Employee implements Comparable<Employee>
 4  {
 5     private String name;
 6     private double salary;
 7
 8     public Employee(String n, double s)
 9     {
10        name = n;
11        salary = s;
12     }
13
14     public String getName()
15     {
16        return name;
17     }
18
19     public double getSalary()
20     {
21        return salary;
22     }
23
24     public void raiseSalary(double byPercent)
25     {
26        double raise = salary * byPercent / 100;
27        salary += raise;
28     }
29
30     /**
31      * Compares employees by salary
32      * @param other another Employee object
33      * @return a negative value if this employee has a lower salary than
34      * otherObject, 0 if the salaries are the same, a positive value otherwise
35      */
36     public int compareTo(Employee other)
37     {
38        return Double.compare(salary, other.salary);
39     }
40  }

6.1.1. Properties of Interfaces

Interfaces are not classes. In particular, you can never use the new operator to instantiate an interface:

x = new Comparable(. . .); // ERROR

However, even though you can’t construct interface objects, you can still declare interface variables.

Comparable x; // OK

An interface variable must refer to an object of a class that implements the interface:

x = new Employee(. . .); // OK provided Employee implements Comparable

Next, just as you use instanceof to check whether an object is of a specific class, you can use instanceof to check whether an object implements an interface:

if (anObject instanceof Comparable) { . . . }

Just as you can build hierarchies of classes, you can extend interfaces. This allows for multiple chains of interfaces that go from a greater degree of generality to a greater degree of specialization. For example, suppose you had an interface called Moveable.

public interface Moveable
{
   void move(double x, double y);
}

Then, you could imagine an interface called Powered that extends it:

public interface Powered extends Moveable
{
   double milesPerGallon();
}

Although you cannot put instance fields or static methods in an interface, you can supply constants in them. For example:

public interface Powered extends Moveable
{
   double milesPerGallon();
   double SPEED_LIMIT = 95; // a public static final constant
}

Just as methods in an interface are automatically public, fields are always public static final.

Some interfaces define just constants and no methods. For example, the standard library contains an interface SwingConstants that defines constants NORTH, SOUTH, HORIZONTAL, and so on. Any class that chooses to implement the SwingConstants interface automatically inherits these constants. Its methods can simply refer to NORTH rather than the more cumbersome SwingConstants.NORTH. However, this use of interfaces seems rather degenerate, and we do not recommend it.

While each class can have only one superclass, classes can implement multiple interfaces. This gives you the maximum amount of flexibility in defining a class’s behavior. For example, the Java programming language has an important interface built into it, called Cloneable. (We will discuss this interface in detail in the next section.) If your class implements Cloneable, the clone method in the Object class will make an exact copy of your class’s objects. Suppose, therefore, you want cloneability and comparability. Then you simply implement both interfaces.

class Employee implements Cloneable, Comparable

Use commas to separate the interfaces that describe the characteristics that you want to supply.

6.1.2. Interfaces and Abstract Classes

If you read the section about abstract classes in Chapter 5, you may wonder why the designers of the Java programming language bothered with introducing the concept of interfaces. Why can’t Comparable simply be an abstract class:

abstract class Comparable // why not?
{
   public abstract int compareTo(Object other);
}

The Employee class would then simply extend this abstract class and supply the compareTo method:

class Employee extends Comparable // why not?
{
   public int compareTo(Object other) { . . . }
}

There is, unfortunately, a major problem with using an abstract base class to express a generic property. A class can only extend a single class. Suppose that the Employee class already extends a different class, say, Person. Then it can’t extend a second class.

class Employee extends Person, Comparable // ERROR

But each class can implement as many interfaces as it likes:

class Employee extends Person implements Comparable // OK

Other programming languages, in particular C++, allow a class to have more than one superclass. This feature is called multiple inheritance. The designers of Java chose not to support multiple inheritance, because it makes the language either very complex (as in C++) or less efficient (as in Eiffel).

Instead, interfaces afford most of the benefits of multiple inheritance while avoiding the complexities and inefficiencies.

  • + Share This
  • 🔖 Save To Your Account

InformIT Promotional Mailings & Special Offers

I would like to receive exclusive offers and hear about products from InformIT and its family of brands. I can unsubscribe at any time.

Overview


Pearson Education, Inc., 221 River Street, Hoboken, New Jersey 07030, (Pearson) presents this site to provide information about products and services that can be purchased through this site.

This privacy notice provides an overview of our commitment to privacy and describes how we collect, protect, use and share personal information collected through this site. Please note that other Pearson websites and online products and services have their own separate privacy policies.

Collection and Use of Information


To conduct business and deliver products and services, Pearson collects and uses personal information in several ways in connection with this site, including:

Questions and Inquiries

For inquiries and questions, we collect the inquiry or question, together with name, contact details (email address, phone number and mailing address) and any other additional information voluntarily submitted to us through a Contact Us form or an email. We use this information to address the inquiry and respond to the question.

Online Store

For orders and purchases placed through our online store on this site, we collect order details, name, institution name and address (if applicable), email address, phone number, shipping and billing addresses, credit/debit card information, shipping options and any instructions. We use this information to complete transactions, fulfill orders, communicate with individuals placing orders or visiting the online store, and for related purposes.

Surveys

Pearson may offer opportunities to provide feedback or participate in surveys, including surveys evaluating Pearson products, services or sites. Participation is voluntary. Pearson collects information requested in the survey questions and uses the information to evaluate, support, maintain and improve products, services or sites, develop new products and services, conduct educational research and for other purposes specified in the survey.

Contests and Drawings

Occasionally, we may sponsor a contest or drawing. Participation is optional. Pearson collects name, contact information and other information specified on the entry form for the contest or drawing to conduct the contest or drawing. Pearson may collect additional personal information from the winners of a contest or drawing in order to award the prize and for tax reporting purposes, as required by law.

Newsletters

If you have elected to receive email newsletters or promotional mailings and special offers but want to unsubscribe, simply email information@informit.com.

Service Announcements

On rare occasions it is necessary to send out a strictly service related announcement. For instance, if our service is temporarily suspended for maintenance we might send users an email. Generally, users may not opt-out of these communications, though they can deactivate their account information. However, these communications are not promotional in nature.

Customer Service

We communicate with users on a regular basis to provide requested services and in regard to issues relating to their account we reply via email or phone in accordance with the users' wishes when a user submits their information through our Contact Us form.

Other Collection and Use of Information


Application and System Logs

Pearson automatically collects log data to help ensure the delivery, availability and security of this site. Log data may include technical information about how a user or visitor connected to this site, such as browser type, type of computer/device, operating system, internet service provider and IP address. We use this information for support purposes and to monitor the health of the site, identify problems, improve service, detect unauthorized access and fraudulent activity, prevent and respond to security incidents and appropriately scale computing resources.

Web Analytics

Pearson may use third party web trend analytical services, including Google Analytics, to collect visitor information, such as IP addresses, browser types, referring pages, pages visited and time spent on a particular site. While these analytical services collect and report information on an anonymous basis, they may use cookies to gather web trend information. The information gathered may enable Pearson (but not the third party web trend services) to link information with application and system log data. Pearson uses this information for system administration and to identify problems, improve service, detect unauthorized access and fraudulent activity, prevent and respond to security incidents, appropriately scale computing resources and otherwise support and deliver this site and its services.

Cookies and Related Technologies

This site uses cookies and similar technologies to personalize content, measure traffic patterns, control security, track use and access of information on this site, and provide interest-based messages and advertising. Users can manage and block the use of cookies through their browser. Disabling or blocking certain cookies may limit the functionality of this site.

Do Not Track

This site currently does not respond to Do Not Track signals.

Security


Pearson uses appropriate physical, administrative and technical security measures to protect personal information from unauthorized access, use and disclosure.

Children


This site is not directed to children under the age of 13.

Marketing


Pearson may send or direct marketing communications to users, provided that

  • Pearson will not use personal information collected or processed as a K-12 school service provider for the purpose of directed or targeted advertising.
  • Such marketing is consistent with applicable law and Pearson's legal obligations.
  • Pearson will not knowingly direct or send marketing communications to an individual who has expressed a preference not to receive marketing.
  • Where required by applicable law, express or implied consent to marketing exists and has not been withdrawn.

Pearson may provide personal information to a third party service provider on a restricted basis to provide marketing solely on behalf of Pearson or an affiliate or customer for whom Pearson is a service provider. Marketing preferences may be changed at any time.

Correcting/Updating Personal Information


If a user's personally identifiable information changes (such as your postal address or email address), we provide a way to correct or update that user's personal data provided to us. This can be done on the Account page. If a user no longer desires our service and desires to delete his or her account, please contact us at customer-service@informit.com and we will process the deletion of a user's account.

Choice/Opt-out


Users can always make an informed choice as to whether they should proceed with certain services offered by InformIT. If you choose to remove yourself from our mailing list(s) simply visit the following page and uncheck any communication you no longer want to receive: www.informit.com/u.aspx.

Sale of Personal Information


Pearson does not rent or sell personal information in exchange for any payment of money.

While Pearson does not sell personal information, as defined in Nevada law, Nevada residents may email a request for no sale of their personal information to NevadaDesignatedRequest@pearson.com.

Supplemental Privacy Statement for California Residents


California residents should read our Supplemental privacy statement for California residents in conjunction with this Privacy Notice. The Supplemental privacy statement for California residents explains Pearson's commitment to comply with California law and applies to personal information of California residents collected in connection with this site and the Services.

Sharing and Disclosure


Pearson may disclose personal information, as follows:

  • As required by law.
  • With the consent of the individual (or their parent, if the individual is a minor)
  • In response to a subpoena, court order or legal process, to the extent permitted or required by law
  • To protect the security and safety of individuals, data, assets and systems, consistent with applicable law
  • In connection the sale, joint venture or other transfer of some or all of its company or assets, subject to the provisions of this Privacy Notice
  • To investigate or address actual or suspected fraud or other illegal activities
  • To exercise its legal rights, including enforcement of the Terms of Use for this site or another contract
  • To affiliated Pearson companies and other companies and organizations who perform work for Pearson and are obligated to protect the privacy of personal information consistent with this Privacy Notice
  • To a school, organization, company or government agency, where Pearson collects or processes the personal information in a school setting or on behalf of such organization, company or government agency.

Links


This web site contains links to other sites. Please be aware that we are not responsible for the privacy practices of such other sites. We encourage our users to be aware when they leave our site and to read the privacy statements of each and every web site that collects Personal Information. This privacy statement applies solely to information collected by this web site.

Requests and Contact


Please contact us about this Privacy Notice or if you have any requests or questions relating to the privacy of your personal information.

Changes to this Privacy Notice


We may revise this Privacy Notice through an updated posting. We will identify the effective date of the revision in the posting. Often, updates are made to provide greater clarity or to comply with changes in regulatory requirements. If the updates involve material changes to the collection, protection, use or disclosure of Personal Information, Pearson will provide notice of the change through a conspicuous notice on this site or other appropriate way. Continued use of the site after the effective date of a posted revision evidences acceptance. Please contact us if you have questions or concerns about the Privacy Notice or any objection to any revisions.

Last Update: November 17, 2020