Chapter: Java The Complete Reference - The Java Language - A Closer Look at Methods and Classes

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A Closer Look at Argument Passing

In general, there are two ways that a computer language can pass an argument to a subroutine.

A Closer Look at Argument Passing

 

In general, there are two ways that a computer language can pass an argument to a subroutine. The first way is call-by-value. This approach copies the value of an argument into the formal parameter of the subroutine. Therefore, changes made to the parameter of the subroutine have no effect on the argument. The second way an argument can be passed is call-by-reference. In this approach, a reference to an argument (not the value of the argument) is passed to the parameter. Inside the subroutine, this reference is used to access the actual argument specified in the call. This means that changes made to the parameter will affect the argument used to call the subroutine. As you will see, although Java uses call-by-value

to pass all arguments, the precise effect differs between whether a primitive type or a reference type is passed.

When you pass a primitive type to a method, it is passed by value. Thus, a copy of the argument is made, and what occurs to the parameter that receives the argument has no effect outside the method. For example, consider the following program:

 

// Primitive types are passed by value. 


class Test {

 

void meth(int i, int j) { i *= 2;

 

j /= 2;

 

}

 

}

class CallByValue {

 

public static void main(String args[]) { Test ob = new Test();

 

int a = 15, b = 20;

 

System.out.println("a and b before call: " + a + " " + b);

 

ob.meth(a, b);

 

System.out.println("a and b after call: " + a + " " + b);

 

}

 

}

The output from this program is shown here:

 

a and b before call: 15 20 a and b after call: 15 20

 

As you can see, the operations that occur inside meth( ) have no effect on the values of a and b used in the call; their values here did not change to 30 and 10.

When you pass an object to a method, the situation changes dramatically, because objects are passed by what is effectively call-by-reference. Keep in mind that when you create a variable of a class type, you are only creating a reference to an object. Thus, when you pass this reference to a method, the parameter that receives it will refer to the same object as that referred to by the argument. This effectively means that objects act as if they are passed to methods by use of call-by-reference. Changes to the object inside the method do affect the object used as an argument. For example, consider the following program:

 

// Objects are passed through their references.

 

class Test { int a, b;

 

Test(int i, int j) { a = i;

 

b = j;

 

}

 

// pass an object 


void meth(Test o) {

 

o.a *= 2; o.b /= 2;

 

}

 

}

 

class PassObjRef {

 

public static void main(String args[]) { Test ob = new Test(15, 20);

System.out.println("ob.a and ob.b before call: " + ob.a + " " + ob.b);

 

ob.meth(ob);

 

System.out.println("ob.a and ob.b after call: " + ob.a + " " + ob.b);

 

}

 

}

 

This program generates the following output:

 

ob.a and ob.b before call: 15 20 

ob.a and ob.b after call: 30 10

 

As you can see, in this case, the actions inside meth( ) have affected the object used as an argument.


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