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3.3: Class Variables

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  • So far we have seen local variables, which are declared inside a method, and instance variables, which are declared in a class definition, usually before the method definitions.

    Local variables are created when a method is invoked, and their space is reclaimed when the method ends. Instance variables are created when you construct an object and reclaimed when the object is garbage-collected.

    Now it’s time to learn about class variables. Like instance variables, class variables are defined in a class definition, before the method definitions. But they are identified by the keyword static. They are created when the program begins (or when the class is used for the first time) and survive until the program ends. Class variables are shared across all instances of the class.

    public class Card {
        public static final String[] RANKS = {
            null, "Ace", "2", "3", "4", "5", "6", "7",
            "8", "9", "10", "Jack", "Queen", "King"};
        public static final String[] SUITS = {
            "Clubs", "Diamonds", "Hearts", "Spades"};
        // instance variables and constructors go here
        public String toString() {
            return RANKS[this.rank] + " of " + SUITS[this.suit];

    Class variables are often used to store constant values that are needed in several places. In that case, they should also be defined as final. Note that whether a variable is static or final involves two separate considerations: static means the variable is shared, and final means the variable is constant.

    Naming static final variables with capital letters is a common convention that makes it easier to recognize their role in the class. Inside toString we can refer to SUITS and RANKS as if they were local variables, but we can tell that they are class variables.

    One advantage of defining SUITS and RANKS as class variables is that they don’t need to be created (and garbage-collected) every time toString is called. They may also be needed in other methods and classes, so it’s helpful to make them available everywhere. Since the array variables are final, and the strings they reference are immutable, there is no danger in making them public.