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3: Controlling Program Flow

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3: Controlling Program Flow

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Thinking in Java, 3rd ed. Revision 4.0

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3: Controlling Program Flow

Like a sentient creature, a program must manipulate its world and make choices during execution.

In Java you manipulate data using operators, and you make choices with execution control statements. Java was inherited from C++, so most of these statements and operators will be familiar to C and C++ programmers. Java has also added some improvements and simplifications. Feedback

If you find yourself floundering a bit in this chapter, make sure you go through the multimedia CD ROM bound into this book: Foundations for Java. It contains audio lectures, slides, exercises, and solutions specifically designed to bring you up to speed with the fundamentals necessary to learn Java. Feedback

Using Java operators

An operator takes one or more arguments and produces a new value. The arguments are in a different form than ordinary method calls, but the effect is the same. Addition (+), subtraction and unary minus (-), multiplication (*), division (/), and assignment (=) all work much the same in any programming language. Feedback

All operators produce a value from their operands. In addition, an operator can change the value of an operand. This is called a side effect. The most common use for operators that modify their operands is to generate the side effect, but you should keep in mind that the value produced is available for your use, just as in operators without side effects. Feedback

Almost all operators work only with primitives. The exceptions are ‘=’, ‘==’ and ‘!=’, which work with all objects (and are a point of confusion for objects). In addition, the String class supports ‘+’ and ‘+=’. Feedback


Operator precedence defines how an expression evaluates when several operators are present. Java has specific rules that determine the order of evaluation. The easiest one to remember is that multiplication and division happen before addition and subtraction. Programmers often forget the other precedence rules, so you should use parentheses to make the order of evaluation explicit. For example: Feedback

a = x + y - 2/2 + z;

has a very different meaning from the same statement with a particular grouping of parentheses: Feedback

a = x + (y - 2)/(2 + z);


Assignment is performed with the operator =. It means “take the value of the right-hand side (often called the rvalue) and copy it into the left-hand side (often called the lvalue).” An rvalue is any constant, variable, or expression that can produce a value, but an lvalue must be a distinct, named variable. (That is, there must be a physical space to store the value.) For instance, you can assign a constant value to a variable:

a = 4;

but you cannot assign anything to constant value—it cannot be an lvalue. (You can’t say 4 = a;.) Feedback

Assignment of primitives is quite straightforward. Since the primitive holds the actual value and not a reference to an object, when you assign primitives, you copy the contents from one place to another. For example, if you say a = b for primitives, then the contents of b are copied into a. If you then go on to modify a, b is naturally unaffected by this modification. As a programmer, this is what you’ve come to expect for most situations. Feedback

When you assign objects, however, things change. Whenever you manipulate an object, what you’re manipulating is the reference, so when you assign “from one object to another,” you’re actually copying a reference from one place to another. This means that if you say c = d for objects, you end up with both c and d pointing to the object that, originally, only d pointed to. Here’s an example that demonstrates this behavior: Feedback

//: c03:Assignment.java
// Assignment with objects is a bit tricky.
import com.bruceeckel.simpletest.*;

class Number {
  int i;

public class Assignment {
  static Test monitor = new Test();
  public static void main(String[] args) {
    Number n1 = new Number();
    Number n2 = new Number();
    n1.i = 9;
    n2.i = 47;
    System.out.println("1: n1.i: " + n1.i +
      ", n2.i: " + n2.i);
    n1 = n2;
    System.out.println("2: n1.i: " + n1.i +
      ", n2.i: " + n2.i);
    n1.i = 27;
    System.out.println("3: n1.i: " + n1.i +
      ", n2.i: " + n2.i);
    monitor.expect(new String[] {
      "1: n1.i: 9, n2.i: 47",
      "2: n1.i: 47, n2.i: 47",
      "3: n1.i: 27, n2.i: 27"
} ///:~

First, notice that something new has been added. The line:

import com.bruceeckel.simpletest.*;

[ Return to Thinking in Java 2, 3rd edition ]

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Identifiers and primitive data types
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Variables, constants, and literals
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switch statements
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Class methods and how they are called
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An introduction to objects and object references
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The Java Lesson 20:
Initializing and processing arrays of objects
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Menus and submenus
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The WindowListener interface and the WindowAdapter class
Java Lesson 39:
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Java Lesson 40:
An introduction to the Java Collections API
Java Lesson 41:
Exception handling with try, catch, and finally blocks
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