Examining Enums
Trail: The Reflection API
Lesson: Arrays and Enumerated Types
Section: Enumerated Types

Examining Enums

Reflection provides three enum-specific APIs:

Indicates whether this class represents an enum type
Retrieves the list of enum constants defined by the enum in the order they're declared
Indicates whether this field represents an element of an enumerated type

Sometimes it is necessary to dynamically retrieve the list of enum constants; in non-reflective code this is accomplished by invoking the implicitly declared static method values() on the enum. If an instance of an enum type is not available the only way to get a list of the possible values is to invoke Class.getEnumConstants() since it is impossible to instantiate an enum type.

Given a fully qualified name, the EnumConstants example shows how to retrieve an ordered list of constants in an enum using Class.getEnumConstants().

import java.util.Arrays;
import static java.lang.System.out;


public class EnumConstants {
    public static void main(String... args) {
	try {
	    Class<?> c = (args.length == 0 ? Eon.class : Class.forName(args[0]));
	    out.format("Enum name:  %s%nEnum constants:  %s%n",
		       c.getName(), Arrays.asList(c.getEnumConstants()));
	    if (c == Eon.class)
		out.format("  Eon.values():  %s%n",

        // production code should handle this exception more gracefully
	} catch (ClassNotFoundException x) {

Samples of the output follows. User input is in italics.

$ java EnumConstants java.lang.annotation.RetentionPolicy
Enum name:  java.lang.annotation.RetentionPolicy
Enum constants:  [SOURCE, CLASS, RUNTIME]
$ java EnumConstants java.util.concurrent.TimeUnit
Enum name:  java.util.concurrent.TimeUnit
                  MILLISECONDS, SECONDS, 
                  MINUTES, HOURS, DAYS]

This example also shows that value returned by Class.getEnumConstants() is identical to the value returned by invoking values() on an enum type.

$ java EnumConstants
Enum name:  Eon
Enum constants:  [HADEAN, ARCHAEAN, 
Eon.values():  [HADEAN, ARCHAEAN, 

Since enums are classes, other information may be obtained using the same Reflection APIs described in the Fields, Methods, and Constructors sections of this trail. The EnumSpy code illustrates how to use these APIs to get additional information about the enum's declaration. The example uses Class.isEnum() to restrict the set of classes examined. It also uses Field.isEnumConstant() to distinguish enum constants from other fields in the enum declaration (not all fields are enum constants).

import java.lang.reflect.Constructor;
import java.lang.reflect.Field;
import java.lang.reflect.Method;
import java.lang.reflect.Member;
import java.util.List;
import java.util.ArrayList;
import static java.lang.System.out;

public class EnumSpy {
    private static final String fmt = "  %11s:  %s %s%n";

    public static void main(String... args) {
	try {
	    Class<?> c = Class.forName(args[0]);
	    if (!c.isEnum()) {
		out.format("%s is not an enum type%n", c);
	    out.format("Class:  %s%n", c);

	    Field[] flds = c.getDeclaredFields();
	    List<Field> cst = new ArrayList<Field>();  // enum constants
	    List<Field> mbr = new ArrayList<Field>();  // member fields
	    for (Field f : flds) {
		if (f.isEnumConstant())
	    if (!cst.isEmpty())
		print(cst, "Constant");
	    if (!mbr.isEmpty())
		print(mbr, "Field");

	    Constructor[] ctors = c.getDeclaredConstructors();
	    for (Constructor ctor : ctors) {
		out.format(fmt, "Constructor", ctor.toGenericString(),

	    Method[] mths = c.getDeclaredMethods();
	    for (Method m : mths) {
		out.format(fmt, "Method", m.toGenericString(),

        // production code should handle this exception more gracefully
	} catch (ClassNotFoundException x) {

    private static void print(List<Field> lst, String s) {
	for (Field f : lst) {
 	    out.format(fmt, s, f.toGenericString(), synthetic(f));

    private static String synthetic(Member m) {
	return (m.isSynthetic() ? "[ synthetic ]" : "");
$ java EnumSpy java.lang.annotation.RetentionPolicy
Class:  class java.lang.annotation.RetentionPolicy
     Constant:  public static final java.lang.annotation.RetentionPolicy
     Constant:  public static final java.lang.annotation.RetentionPolicy
     Constant:  public static final java.lang.annotation.RetentionPolicy 
        Field:  private static final java.lang.annotation.RetentionPolicy[] 
                  java.lang.annotation.RetentionPolicy. [ synthetic ]
  Constructor:  private java.lang.annotation.RetentionPolicy() 
       Method:  public static java.lang.annotation.RetentionPolicy[]
       Method:  public static java.lang.annotation.RetentionPolicy

The output shows that declaration of java.lang.annotation.RetentionPolicy only contains the three enum constants. The enum constants are exposed as public static final fields. The field, constructor, and methods are compiler generated. The $VALUES field is related to the implementation of the values() method.

Note: For various reasons, including support for evolution of the enum type, the declaration order of enum constants is important. Class.getFields() and Class.getDeclaredFields() do not make any guarantee that the order of the returned values matches the order in the declaring source code. If ordering is required by an application, use Class.getEnumConstants().

The output for java.util.concurrent.TimeUnit shows that much more complicated enums are possible. This class includes several methods as well as additional fields declared static final which are not enum constants.

$ java EnumSpy java.util.concurrent.TimeUnit
Class:  class java.util.concurrent.TimeUnit
     Constant:  public static final java.util.concurrent.TimeUnit
     Constant:  public static final java.util.concurrent.TimeUnit
     Constant:  public static final java.util.concurrent.TimeUnit
     Constant:  public static final java.util.concurrent.TimeUnit
     Constant:  public static final java.util.concurrent.TimeUnit
     Constant:  public static final java.util.concurrent.TimeUnit
     Constant:  public static final java.util.concurrent.TimeUnit
        Field:  static final long java.util.concurrent.TimeUnit.C0
        Field:  static final long java.util.concurrent.TimeUnit.C1
        Field:  static final long java.util.concurrent.TimeUnit.C2
        Field:  static final long java.util.concurrent.TimeUnit.C3
        Field:  static final long java.util.concurrent.TimeUnit.C4
        Field:  static final long java.util.concurrent.TimeUnit.C5
        Field:  static final long java.util.concurrent.TimeUnit.C6
        Field:  static final long java.util.concurrent.TimeUnit.MAX
        Field:  private static final java.util.concurrent.TimeUnit[] 
                  java.util.concurrent.TimeUnit. [ synthetic ]
  Constructor:  private java.util.concurrent.TimeUnit()
  Constructor:  java.util.concurrent.TimeUnit
                  [ synthetic ]
       Method:  public static java.util.concurrent.TimeUnit
       Method:  public static java.util.concurrent.TimeUnit[] 
       Method:  public void java.util.concurrent.TimeUnit.sleep(long) 
                  throws java.lang.InterruptedException
       Method:  public long java.util.concurrent.TimeUnit.toNanos(long)
       Method:  public long java.util.concurrent.TimeUnit.convert
       Method:  abstract int java.util.concurrent.TimeUnit.excessNanos
       Method:  public void java.util.concurrent.TimeUnit.timedJoin
                  (java.lang.Thread,long) throws java.lang.InterruptedException
       Method:  public void java.util.concurrent.TimeUnit.timedWait
                  (java.lang.Object,long) throws java.lang.InterruptedException
       Method:  public long java.util.concurrent.TimeUnit.toDays(long)
       Method:  public long java.util.concurrent.TimeUnit.toHours(long)
       Method:  public long java.util.concurrent.TimeUnit.toMicros(long)
       Method:  public long java.util.concurrent.TimeUnit.toMillis(long)
       Method:  public long java.util.concurrent.TimeUnit.toMinutes(long)
       Method:  public long java.util.concurrent.TimeUnit.toSeconds(long)
       Method:  static long java.util.concurrent.TimeUnit.x(long,long,long)

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