Thinking in Java - 4th Edition
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Thinking in Java - 4th Edition

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path that allows you to use your existing code base, rather
than trying to recode your programs in a new language.

When faced with this bewildering array of solutions to the client-side programming problem,
the best plan of attack is a cost-benefit analysis. Consider the constraints of your problem
and what would be the shortest path to your solution. Since client-side programming is still
programming, it’s always a good idea to take the fastest development approach for your
particular situation. This is an aggressive stance to prepare for inevitable encounters with the
problems of program development.

Server-side programming

This whole discussion has ignored the issue of server-side programming, which is arguably
where Java has had its greatest success. What happens when you make a request of a server?
Most of the time the request is simply “Send me this file.” Your browser then interprets the
file in some appropriate fashion: as an HTML page, a graphic image, a Java applet, a script
program, etc.

A more complicated request to a server generally involves a database transaction. A common
scenario involves a request for a complex database search, which the server then formats into
an HTML page and sends to you as the result. (Of course, if the client has more intelligence
via Java or a scripting language, the raw data can be sent and formatted at the client end,
which will be faster and less load on the server.) Or you might want to register your name in a
database when you join a group or place an order, which will involve changes to that
database. These database requests must be processed via some code on the server side, which
is generally referred to as server-side programming. Traditionally, server-side programming
has been performed using Perl, Python, C++, or some other language to create CGI
programs, but more sophisticated systems have since appeared. These include Java-based
Web servers that allow you to perform all your server-side programming in Java by writing
what are called servlets. Servlets and their offspring, JSPs, are two of the most compelling
reasons that companies that develop Web sites are moving to Java, especially because they
eliminate the problems of dealing with differently abled browsers. Server-side programming
topics are covered in Thinking in Enterprise Java at

Despite all this talk about Java on the Internet, it is a general-purpose programming
language that can solve the kinds of problems that you can solve with other languages. Here,
Java’s strength is not only in its portability, but also its programmability, its robustness, its
large, standard library and the numerous third-party libraries that are available and that
continue to be developed.

You know what a procedural program looks like: data definitions and function calls. To find
the meaning of such a program, you must work at it, looking through the function calls and
low-level concepts to create a model in your mind. This is the reason we need intermediate
representations when designing procedural programs—by themselves, these programs tend
to be confusing because the terms of expression are oriented more toward the computer than
to the problem you’re solving.

Because OOP adds many new concepts on top of what you find in a procedural language,
your natural assumption may be that the resulting Java program will be far more

38 Thinking in Java Bruce Eckel

Introduction to Objects 39 

complicated than the equivalent procedural program. Here, you’ll be pleasantly surprised: A
well-written Java program is generally far simpler and much easier to understand than a
procedural program. What you’ll see are the definitions of the objects that represent concepts
in your problem space (rather than the issues of the computer representation) and messages
sent to those objects to represent the activities in that space. One of the delights of object-
oriented programming is that, with a well-designed program, it’s easy to understand the code
by reading it. Usually, there’s a lot less code as well, because many of your problems will be
solved by reusing existing library code.

OOP and Java may not be for everyone. It’s important to evaluate your own needs and decide
whether Java will optimally satisfy those needs, or if you might be better off with another
programming system (including the one you’re currently using). If you know that your needs
will be very specialized for the foreseeable future and if you have specific constraints that
may not be satisfied by Java, then you owe it to yourself to investigate the alternatives (in
particular, I recommend looking at Python; see If you still choose Java as
your language, you’ll at least understand what the options were and have a clear vision of
why you took that direction.

Is an Object

“If we spoke a different language, we would perceive a somewhat
different world.”

Ludwig Wittgenstein (1889-1951)
Although it is based on C++, Java is more of a “pure” object-oriented
Both C++ and Java are hybrid languages, but in Java the designers felt that the hybridization
was not as important as it was in C++. A hybrid language allows multiple programming
styles; the reason C++ is hybrid is to support backward compatibility with the C language.
Because C++ is a superset of the C language, it includes many of that language’s undesirable
features, which can make some aspects of C++ overly complicated.
The Java language assumes that you want to do only object-oriented programming. This
means that before you can begin you must shift your mindset into an object-oriented world
(unless it’s already there). The benefit of this initial effort is the ability to program in a
language that is simpler to learn and to use than many other OOP languages. In this chapter
you’ll see the basic components of a Java program and learn that (almost) everything in Java
is an object.

You manipulate objects
with references

Each programming language has its own means of manipulating elements in memory.
Sometimes the programmer must be constantly aware of what type of manipulation is going
on. Are you manipulating the element directly, or are you dealing with some kind of indirect
representation (a pointer in C or C++) that must be treated with a special syntax?

All this is simplified in Java. You treat everything as an object, using a single consistent
syntax. Although you treat everything as an object, the identifier you manipulate is actually a
“reference” to an object.1 You might imagine a television (the object) and a remote control
(the reference). As long as you’re holding this reference, you have a connection to the
television, but when someone says, “Change the channel” or “Lower the volume,” what you’re
manipulating is the reference, which in turn modifies the object. If you want to move around


1 This can be a flashpoint. There are those who say, “Clearly, it’s a pointer,” but this presumes an underlying
implementation. Also, Java references are much more akin to C++ references than to pointers in their syntax. In the 1st
edition of this book, I chose to invent a new term, “handle,” because C++ references and Java references have some
important differences. I was coming out of C++ and did not want to confuse the C++ programmers whom I assumed
would be the largest audience for Java. In the 2nd edition, I decided that “reference” was the more commonly used term,
and that anyone changing from C++ would have a lot more to cope with than the terminology of references, so they might
as well jump in with both feet. However, there are people who disagree even with the term “reference.” I read in one book
where it was “completely wrong to say that Java supports pass by reference,” because Java object identifiers (according to
that author) are actually