Methods: Communicating with Objects

We communicate with objects using methods. Methods are executable code within each object, for which an interface has been established. Sometimes the interface is only for the object itself. Other times it is an interface accessible by other objects. This chapter discusses that topic in detail.

3.8 From the Java Library java.lang.Object

The most general class in Java’s class hierarchy is the java.lang.Object class. It is the superclass of all classes that occur in Java programs. By default, it is the direct superclass of any class that does not explicitly specify a pedigree in its class definition.

All subclasses of Object inherit the public and protected methods contained in Object, so all such methods can be thought of as belonging to the subclasses. This means that all classes inherit the methods of the Object class, because every class is a subclass of it. In this section, let’s look briefly at how we can use an inherited method and also at how we can override it–that is, redefine the method–if it doesn’t exactly suit our purposes.

One of the most useful methods in the Object class is the toString() method:

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The toString() method returns a String representation of its object. For example, o1.toString() will return a String that in some sense describes o1.

Because OneRowNim is a subclass of Object, it inherits the toString() method. To illustrate the default behavior of toString(), let’s use it with a OneRowNim instance:

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This code segment creates two OneRowNim instances, one named g1 and the other named g2. The inherited toString() method is then invoked on each OneRowNim instance, which produces the following output:

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What this experiment shows is that the default definition of toString() returns some kind of internal representation of its object. It looks as if it returns the name of the object’s class concatenated with its memory address. This may be useful for some applications. But for most objects we will want to override the default definition to make the toString() method return a string that is more appropriate for OneRowNim.

What String should the g1.toString() method return? Let’s have it return a String that reports the OneRowNim instances’s current state, which are the values stored in the two instance variables. To override a method, you simply define a method with the same signature in the subclass. If you call toString() with an instance of the subclass, its version of the method will be used. In this way, the subclass method overrides the superclass version. Thus, OneRowNim.toString() will have the following signature:

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Let us describe the state of a oneRowNim instance very briefly in the string returned by the toString() method:

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If we add the toString() method to the OneRowNim class and then run the program shown in Figure 3.18, we get the following output:

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Figure 3.18: An application to test the overridden toString() method.

While this new method may not play an important role in the OneRowNim class, it does provide a very brief, understandable description of the state of the object. This is the reason that the toString() method was included in the Object class.