Core Java


Autoboxing is clear for all Java developers since Java 1.5 Well, I may be too optimistic. At least all developers are supposed to be ok with autoboxing. After all there is a good tutorial about it on the page of ORACLE.

Autoboxing is the phenomena when the Java compiler automatically generates code creating an object from a primitive type when it is needed. For example you can write:

Integer a = 42;

and it will automatically generate JVM code that puts the value int 42 into an Integer object. This is so nice of the compiler to do it for us that after a while we, programmers just tend to forget about the complexity behind it and from time to time we run against the wall.

For example we have double.class and Double.class. Both of them are objects (as being a class and each class itself is an object in permgen or just on the heap in post-permgen version of JVM). Both of these objects are of type Class. What is more: since Java 1.5 both of them are of type Class<Double>.

If two objects have the same type, they also have to be assignment compatible aren’t they. Seems to be an obvious statement. If you have object O a and object O b then you can assign a = b.

Looking at the code, however we may realize being oblivious instead of obvious:

public class TypeFun {
    public static void main(String[] args) {
        // public static final Class<Double>   TYPE = (Class<Double>)Class.getPrimitiveClass("double");
        System.out.println("Double.TYPE == double.class: " + (Double.TYPE == double.class));
        System.out.println("Double.TYPE == Double.class: " + (Double.TYPE == Double.class));
        System.out.println("double.class.isAssignableFrom(Double.class): " + (double.class.isAssignableFrom(Double.class)));
        System.out.println("Double.class.isAssignableFrom(double.class): " + (Double.class.isAssignableFrom(double.class)));


Double.TYPE == double.class: true
Double.TYPE == Double.class: false
double.class.isAssignableFrom(Double.class): false
Double.class.isAssignableFrom(double.class): false

This means that the primitive pair of Double is double.class (not surprising). Even though one can not be assigned from the other. We can look at the source at least of the one of the them. The source of the class Double is in the RT.jar and it is open source. There you can see that:

public static final Class<Double>	TYPE = (Class<Double>) Class.getPrimitiveClass("double");

Why does it use that weird Class.getPrimitiveClass("double") instead of double.class? That is the primitive pair of the type Double.

The answer is not trivial and you can dig deep into the details of Java and JVM. Since double is not a class, there is nothing like double.class in reality. You can still use this literal in the Java source code though and this is where the Java language, compiler and the run-time has some strong bondage. The compiler knows that the class Double defines a field named TYPE denoting the primitive type of it. Whenever the compiler sees double.class in the source code it generates JVM code Double.TYPE (give it a try and then use javap to decode the generated code!). For this very reason the developer of the RT could not write:

public static final Class<Double>	TYPE = double.class;

into the source of the class Double. It would compile to the code equivalent:

public static final Class<Double>	TYPE = TYPE;

How is autoboxing going on then? The source:

Double b = (double)1.0;


0: dconst_1      
         1: invokestatic  #2                  // Method java/lang/Double.valueOf:(D)Ljava/lang/Double;
         4: astore_1

however if we replace the two ‘d’ letters:

double b = (Double)1.0;

then we get:

0: dconst_1      
         1: invokestatic  #2                  // Method java/lang/Double.valueOf:(D)Ljava/lang/Double;
         4: invokevirtual #3                  // Method java/lang/Double.doubleValue:()D
         7: dstore_1

which ineed explains a lot of things. The instances of the class double.class the class Double.class are not assign compatible. Autoboxing solves this. Java 4 was a long time ago and we, luckily forgot it.

Your homework: reread what happens related to autoboxing when you have overloaded methods that have arguments of the “class” type and the corresponding primitive type.

Reference: Autoboxing from our JCG partner Peter Verhas at the Java Deep blog.
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