Wrapper classes

Each primitive type has a class dedicated to it. These classes are known as wrappers and they are immutable (just like strings). Wrapper classes can be used in different situations:

  • when a variable can be null (absence of a value);
  • when you need to store values in generic collections (will be considered in the next topics);
  • when you want to use special methods of these classes.

The following table lists all primitive types and the corresponding wrapper classes.

The table with primitive types and the corresponding wrappers

As you can see, Java provides eight wrapper classes: one for each primitive type. The third column shows the type of argument you need so that you can create an object of the corresponding wrapper class.

Boxing and unboxing

Boxing is the conversion of primitive types to objects of corresponding wrapper classes. Unboxing is the reverse process. The following code illustrates both processes:

int primitive = 100;
Integer reference = Integer.valueOf(primitive); // boxing
int anotherPrimitive = reference.intValue();    // unboxing

Autoboxing and auto-unboxing are automatic conversions performed by the Java compiler.

double primitiveDouble = 10.8;
Double wrapperDouble = primitiveDouble; // autoboxing
double anotherPrimitiveDouble = wrapperDouble; // auto-unboxing

You can mix both automatic and manual boxing/unboxing processes in your programs.

Autoboxing works only when the left and the right parts of an assignment have the same type. In other cases, you will get a compilation error.

Long n1 = 10L; // OK, assigning long to Long
Integer n2 = 10; // OK, assigning int to Integer 

Long n3 = 10; // WRONG, assigning int to Long
Integer n4 = 10L; // WRONG, assigning long to Integer

Constructing wrappers based on other types

The wrapper classes have constructors for creating objects from other types. For instance, an object of a wrapper class can be created from a string (except for the Character class).

Integer number = new Integer("10012"); // an Integer from "10012"
Float f = new Float("0.01");           // a Float from "0.01"
Long longNumber = new Long("100000000"); // a Long from "100000000"
Boolean boolVal = new Boolean("true");   // a Boolean from "true"

You can also create wrapper objects using special methods:

Long longVal = Long.parseLong("1000");      // a Long from "1000"
Long anotherLongVal = Long.valueOf("2000"); // a Long from "2000"

If the input string has an invalid argument (for instance, "1d0o3"), both of these methods throw the NumberFormatException.

Note, since Java 9, the constructors are deprecated. You should use the available special methods to create objects of the wrapper classes.

Comparing wrappers

Just like for any reference type, the operator == checks whether two wrapper objects are actually equal, i.e. if they refer to the same object in memory. The method equals , on the other hand, checks whether two wrapper objects are meaningfully equal, for example, it checks if two wrappers or strings have the same value.

Long i1 = Long.valueOf("2000");
Long i2 = Long.valueOf("2000");
System.out.println(i1 == i2);      // false
System.out.println(i1.equals(i2)); // true

Do not forget about this feature when working with wrappers. Even though they correspond to the primitive types, wrapper objects are reference types!

NPE when unboxing

There is one possible problem when unboxing. If the wrapper object is null, the unboxing throws NullPointerException.

Long longVal = null;
long primitiveLong = longVal; // It throws NPE

To fix it, we can add a conditional statement that produces a default value:

long unboxed = val != null ? val : 0; // No NPE here

This code does not throw an exception.

Another example is arithmetic operations on IntegerLongDouble and other numeric wrapper types. They may cause an NPE since there is auto-unboxing involved.

Integer n1 = 50;
Integer n2 = null;
Integer result = n1 / n2; // It throws NPE

Primitive types vs wrapper classes

In this topic, we’ve taken a look at wrapper classes for primitive data types. Wrapper classes allow us to represent primitive types as objects, that are reference data types.

Here are some important points to keep in mind:

  • processing values of primitive types is faster than processing wrapper objects;
  • wrappers can be used when you need null as a no-value indicator;
  • primitive types cannot be used in standard collections (like lists, sets, or others), but wrappers can.

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