Trail: Learning the Java Language
Lesson: Interfaces and Inheritance
Section: Interfaces
Using an Interface as a Type
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Using an Interface as a Type

When you define a new interface, you are defining a new reference data type. You can use interface names anywhere you can use any other data type name. If you define a reference variable whose type is an interface, any object you assign to it must be an instance of a class that implements the interface.

As an example, here is a method for finding the largest object in a pair of objects, for any objects that are instantiated from a class that implements Relatable:

public Object findLargest(Object object1, Object object2) {
   Relatable obj1 = (Relatable)object1;
   Relatable obj2 = (Relatable)object2;
   if ((obj1).isLargerThan(obj2) > 0)
      return object1;
   else 
      return object2;
}

By casting object1 to a Relatable type, it can invoke the isLargerThan method.

If you make a point of implementing Relatable in a wide variety of classes, the objects instantiated from any of those classes can be compared with the findLargest() method—provided that both objects are of the same class. Similarly, they can all be compared with the following methods:

public Object findSmallest(Object object1, Object object2) {
   Relatable obj1 = (Relatable)object1;
   Relatable obj2 = (Relatable)object2;
   if ((obj1).isLargerThan(obj2) < 0)
      return object1;
   else 
      return object2;
}

public boolean isEqual(Object object1, Object object2) {
   Relatable obj1 = (Relatable)object1;
   Relatable obj2 = (Relatable)object2;
   if ( (obj1).isLargerThan(obj2) == 0)
      return true;
   else 
      return false;
}

These methods work for any "relatable" objects, no matter what their class inheritance is. When they implement Relatable, they can be of both their own class (or superclass) type and a Relatable type. This gives them some of the advantages of multiple inheritance, where they can have behavior from both a superclass and an interface.


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