Monday, September 15, 2014

Type Casting in Java - Casting one Class to other class or interface

Type Casting in Java - Casting one Class to other class or interface

Type casting in Java is to cast one type, a class or interface, into another type i.e. another class or interface. Since Java is an Object oriented programming language and supports both Inheritance and Polymorphism, It’s easy that Super class reference variable is pointing to Sub Class object but catch here is that there is no way for Java compiler to know that a Super class variable is pointing to Sub Class object. Which means you can not call method which is declared on sub class. In order to do that, you first need to cast the Object back into its original type. This is called type-casting in Java. This will be more clear when we see an example of type casting in next section. Type casting comes with risk of ClassCastException in Java, which is quite common with method which accept Object type and later type cast into more specific type. we will see when ClassCastException comes during type casting and How to avoid it in coming section of  this article. Another worth noting point here is that from Java 5 onwards you can use Generics to write type-safe code to reduce amount of type casting in Java which also reduces risk of java.lang.ClassCastException at runtime. 

What is type casting in Java

From first paragraph, we pretty much know What is type casting in Java. Anyway, In simple words type casting is process of converting one type, which could be a class or interface to another, But as per rules of Java programming language only classes or interfaces (collectively known as Type) from same Type hierarchy can be cast or converted into each other. If you try to cast two object which doesn't share same type hierarchy, i.e. there is no parent child relationship between them, you will get compile time error. On the other hand if you type cast objects from same type hierarchy but the object which you are casting are not of the same type on which you are casting then it will throw ClassCastException in Java. Some people may ask why do you need type casting? well you need type casting to get access of fields and methods declared on target type or class. You can not access them with any other type. Let's see a simple example of type casting in Java with two classes Base and Derived which shares same type hierarchy.
Type casting example in Java
In this Example of type casting in Java we have two classes, Base and Derived. Derived class extends Base i.e. Base is a Super class and Derived is a Sub class. So there type hierarchy looks like following tree :
Now look at following code :
Base b = new Derived(); //reference variable of Base class points object of Derived class
Derived d = b; //compile time error, requires casting
Derived d = (
Derived) b; // type casting Base to Derived
Above code type casting object of Derived class into Base class and it will throw ClassCastExcepiton if b is not an object of Derived class. If Base and Derived class are not related to each other and doesn't part of same type hierarchy, cast will throw compile time error. for example you can not cast String and StringBuffer, as they are not from same type hierarchy.

Type-casting and ClassCastExcepiton in Java

As explained in last section type casting can result in ClassCastException in Java. If the object you are casting  is of different type. ClassCastException is quite common while using Java collection framework classes e.g. ArrayList, LinkedList or HashSet etc because they accept object of type java.lang.Object, which allows insertion of any object into collection. let's a real life example of ClassCastException in Java during type casting :
ArrayList names = new ArrayList();
names.add("abcd"); //adding String
names.add(1);   //adding Integer

String name = (String) names.get(0); //OK
name = (String) names.get(1); // throw ClassCastException because you can not convert Integer to String
In above example we have an ArrayList of String which stores names. But we also added an incorrect name which is Integer and when we retrieve Object from collection they are of type java.lang.Object which needs to be cast on respective for performing operation. This leads into java.lang.ClassCastException when we try to type cast second object, which is an Integer, into String. This problem can be avoided by using Generics in Java which we will see in next section.

Generics and Type Casting in Java

Generics was introduced in Java 5 along with another type-safe feature Enum, which ensures type safety of code during compile time, So rather you getting ClassCastException during runtime by type casting you get compile timer error why your code violate type safety. Use of Generics also removes casting from many places e.g. now while retrieving object from Collection you don't need to type cast into respective type. Here is the modified version of same code which is free of ClassCastException because use of Generics :
ArrayList<String> names = new ArrayList<String>(); //ArrayList of String only accept String
names.add(1);   //compile time error you can not add Integer into ArrayList of String

String name =  names.get(0); // no type casting requires
If you are new to Generics, those angle bracket denotes type. to learn more about Generics, See How Generics works in Java.