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Chapter: Java The Complete Reference : The Java Language : Inheritance

Using Abstract Classes - Java

There are situations in which you will want to define a superclass that declares the structure of a given abstraction without providing a complete implementation of every method.

Using Abstract Classes


There are situations in which you will want to define a superclass that declares the structure of a given abstraction without providing a complete implementation of every method. That is, sometimes you will want to create a superclass that only defines a generalized form that will be shared by all of its subclasses, leaving it to each subclass to fill in the details. Such a class determines the nature of the methods that the subclasses must implement. One way this situation can occur is when a superclass is unable to create a meaningful implementation for a method. This is the case with the class Figure used in the preceding example. The definition of area( ) is simply a placeholder. It will not compute and display the area of any type of object.


As you will see as you create your own class libraries, it is not uncommon for a method to have no meaningful definition in the context of its superclass. You can handle this situation two ways. One way, as shown in the previous example, is to simply have it report a warning message. While this approach can be useful in certain situations—such as debugging—it is not usually appropriate. You may have methods that must be overridden by the subclass in order for the subclass to have any meaning. Consider the class Triangle. It has no meaning if area( ) is not defined. In this case, you want some way to ensure that a subclass does, indeed, override all necessary methods. Java’s solution to this problem is the abstract method.



You can require that certain methods be overridden by subclasses by specifying the abstract type modifier. These methods are sometimes referred to as subclasser responsibility because they have no implementation specified in the superclass. Thus, a subclass must override them—it cannot simply use the version defined in the superclass. To declare an abstract method, use this general form:


abstract type name(parameter-list);


As you can see, no method body is present.


Any class that contains one or more abstract methods must also be declared abstract. To declare a class abstract, you simply use the abstract keyword in front of the class keyword at the beginning of the class declaration. There can be no objects of an abstract class. That is, an abstract class cannot be directly instantiated with the new operator. Such objects would be useless, because an abstract class is not fully defined. Also, you cannot declare abstract constructors, or abstract static methods. Any subclass of an abstract class must either implement all of the abstract methods in the superclass, or be declared abstract itself.

Here is a simple example of a class with an abstract method, followed by a class which implements that method:


// A Simple demonstration of abstract. 

abstract class A {


abstract void callme();


// concrete methods are still allowed in abstract 

classes void callmetoo() {


System.out.println("This is a concrete method.");






class B extends A { void callme() {


System.out.println("B's implementation of callme.");






class AbstractDemo {


public static void main(String args[]) { B b = new B();










Notice that no objects of class A are declared in the program. As mentioned, it is not possible to instantiate an abstract class. One other point: class A implements a concrete method called callmetoo( ). This is perfectly acceptable. Abstract classes can include as much implementation as they see fit.


Although abstract classes cannot be used to instantiate objects, they can be used to create object references, because Java’s approach to run-time polymorphism is implemented through the use of superclass references. Thus, it must be possible to create a reference to an abstract class so that it can be used to point to a subclass object. You will see this feature put to use in the next example.

Using an abstract class, you can improve the Figure class shown earlier. Since there is no meaningful concept of area for an undefined two-dimensional figure, the following version of the program declares area( ) as abstract inside Figure. This, of course, means that all classes derived from Figure must override area( ).


// Using abstract methods and classes. 

abstract class Figure {


double dim1; double dim2;


Figure(double a, double b) { dim1 = a;


dim2 = b;




// area is now an abstract method abstract 

double area();




class Rectangle extends Figure { Rectangle(double a, double b) {

super(a, b);




// override area for rectangle 

double area() {


System.out.println("Inside Area for Rectangle."); return dim1 * dim2;






class Triangle extends Figure { Triangle(double a, double b) {

super(a, b);




// override area for right triangle 

double area() {


System.out.println("Inside Area for Triangle."); return dim1 * dim2 / 2;






class AbstractAreas {


public static void main(String args[]) {


// Figure f = new Figure(10, 10); // illegal now 

Rectangle r = new Rectangle(9, 5);


Triangle t = new Triangle(10, 8);


Figure figref; // this is OK, no object is created


figref = r;


System.out.println("Area is " + figref.area());

figref = t;

System.out.println("Area is " + figref.area());






As the comment inside main( ) indicates, it is no longer possible to declare objects of type Figure, since it is now abstract. And, all subclasses of Figure must override area( ). To prove this to yourself, try creating a subclass that does not override area( ). You will receive a compile-time error.

Although it is not possible to create an object of type Figure, you can create a reference variable of type Figure. The variable figref is declared as a reference to Figure, which means that it can be used to refer to an object of any class derived from Figure. As explained, it is through superclass reference variables that overridden methods are resolved at run time.

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