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The Secret Classes or How I Stopped Counting and Loved the Enumerator

, 17 May 2011
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A look at how to use the enum in Java.

Introduction

This article will examine some of the uses that the enum type can be put to. I don't know about you, but I like using enumerators. The perceived usage of the enum type is that they provide a list of possible values and are required for the switch statement. That's it, right? Big wrong.

The enum type is a class. By remembering this, the extensibility of an enum is great. It can be used for a whole lot more than simply representing the fixed values for an attribute.

It's Objects All the Way Down

I'll start with a simple premise. An enum type defines a class that has a fixed number of instances. Like any class, there can be member variables and methods giving the whole Java world in a simple structure. Let's look at a simple example:

public enum Season
{
   SUMMER,
   WINTER,
   AUTUMN,
   SPRING
}

Here is a class, called Season, that has four fixed instances. It's important to remember this, as the fact that you have four objects is what gives the enum its simple structure and its amazing power. Power it is sworn to use for good.

A common use of enums is in switch statements such as this:

String getForcast(Season season)
{
  switch (season)
  {
     case SUMMER:
     {
        return "Sun, sun, sun";
     }
     case AUTUMN:
     {
        return "Cold and blustery";
     }
     case WINTER:
     {
        return "Snow and ice";
     }
     case SPRING:
     {
        return "Overcast with showers";
     }
  }
  return null;
}

"Hang on! The elements of the enumerator are all objects so can't they just have a method to return the forecast?" I hear you cry. Good spot. That is exactly the way to go. A member variable, a method, and a simple constructor, and off you go:

public enum Season {
   SUMMER("Summer", "Sun, sun, sun"),
   WINTER("Winter", "Snow and ice"),
   AUTUMN("Autumn", "Cold and blustery"),
   SPRING("Spring", "Overcast with showers");

   private final String seasonName;
   private final String forcast;
   private Season(String seasonName, String forcast)
   {
      this.seasonName = seasonName;
      this.forcast = forcast;
      System.out.println("Creating " + this);
   }
   String getForcast()
   {
      return this.forcast;
   }

   public String toString()
   {
      return seasonName + "{" + forcast + '}';
   }
}

I've included a friendly string description and overridden the method toString().

Now, instead of having to write a method outside of Season that takes a value as an argument, the values can be invoked directly to get the value:

String forcast = Season.WINTER.getForcast();

The Immutible Likeness of Being [An Enumeration]

If you're observant, the member variables are both marked final. This is not mandated but, and it's a big Jo-Lo one, it is definitely encouraged.

So each enumeration is an object and it can have variables, methods, the whole low-flying acrobatics team. These are not just objects, their special status means they must be treated as immutable objects. They're not quite immutable but it is a good perspective to take.

By being an enum, there is no need for the hashCode() and equals() methods. Each instance is unique and its equality is fixed. Because of this nature, it is recommended that you don't change their states.

You Want Functionality With That?

I've shown above the way that enum objects can have properties and methods. Sometimes the behaviour of an action must differ depending on the value of the enum. This can be achieved with an abstract method that is overridden by each enum or by having a functional class provide the behaviour.

The abstract method first:

public enum Season
{

   SUMMER("Summer", "Sun, sun, sun")
   {
      boolean willItRain()
      {
         return false;
      }
   },
   //...
   SPRING("Spring", "Overcast with showers")
   {
      boolean willItRain()
      {
         return true;
      }
   };

   //...

   abstract boolean willItRain();
}

This works but it isn't that extensible, and the enumeration class soon becomes clogged if you have just a few of the overrides. It is time to delegate the work to a functional class; enter the enumeration factory method.

We first move all the forecasting out of the enum class. We have a base, SeasonFunctions, that is abstract, and then four lovely children that can implement the functionality anyway they see fit:

abstract class SeasonFunctions {
   private final String seasonName;
   private final String forcast;

   SeasonFunctions(String seasonName,
         String forcast)
   {
      this.seasonName = seasonName;
      this.forcast = forcast;
      System.out.println("Creating " + this);
   }
   abstract boolean willItRain();
   abstract int dayTimeHigh();
   abstract int nightTimeLow();

      String getForcast()
   {
      return this.forcast;
   }

   public String toString()
   {
      return "SeasonFunctions{" + this.getSeasonName()  + "}";
   }

   String getSeasonString()
   {
      return this.getSeasonName() + "{" + this.getForcast() + '}';
   }

   private String getSeasonName()
   {
      return this.seasonName;
   }
}

History

Initial submission - more to come.

License

This article, along with any associated source code and files, is licensed under The Code Project Open License (CPOL)

About the Author

Nagy Vilmos
President Belligerent Bad Tempered Old Fools Club
United Kingdom United Kingdom
Do not tell anyone I am not Hungarian. It's a huge secret.
I have worked across too many platforms over the years - COBOL, Pascal, C, C++, VB3-6, C# and java are some of them - and now I just write pretty front ends for users with less wit than a gumby.
 
If I had a pound for everything I've learned over the years, I'd have £12,879.73
 
Semper ebrius, quantum variat.
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Comments and Discussions

 
GeneralMy vote of 5 PinmemberMarco Bertschi4-Mar-13 4:53 
GeneralMy vote of 5 PinmemberPhat (Phillip) H. VU3-Jan-13 17:13 
GeneralMy vote of 5 PinmemberEnrique Albert17-Dec-12 10:07 
GeneralRe: My vote of 5 PinmemberNagy Vilmos17-Dec-12 22:02 
GeneralI think you mean Enumeration PinmemberPIEBALDconsult6-Jul-12 5:42 
GeneralMy vote of 5 PinmemberaprNgp22-Dec-11 18:53 
GeneralMy vote of 5 PinmemberGuyThiebaut12-Oct-11 11:03 
GeneralJust a thought PinmemberBalboos17-May-11 4:23 
GeneralRe: Just a thought PinmemberNagy Vilmos17-May-11 21:59 
AnswerRe: Just a thought PinmemberBalboos18-May-11 1:29 
GeneralRe: Just a thought PinmemberNagy Vilmos24-May-11 5:11 
GeneralRe: Just a thought - Java enum instances have an order number Pinmembervulcan_29-Aug-11 22:52 
GeneralRe: Just a thought - Java enum instances have an order number PinmemberaprNgp22-Dec-11 18:59 
GeneralRe: Just a thought - Java enum instances have an order number PinmemberNagy Vilmos16-Jan-12 23:00 
Generalnice PinmemberCIDev17-May-11 3:04 
GeneralMy vote of 5 PinmemberRhuros17-May-11 2:29 
GeneralMy vote of 5 PinmemberChris Meech17-May-11 2:18 
GeneralMy vote of 5 PinmvpLuc Pattyn17-May-11 2:14 
GeneralMy vote of 5 PinmemberTorstenH.17-May-11 2:08 
GeneralMy Enum Tip PinmemberDaveAuld17-May-11 2:01 
Generalcan we write classes in an enum ? PinmemberDevUK17-May-11 2:00 
GeneralRe: can we write classes in an enum ? PinmemberNagy Vilmos17-May-11 2:22 

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