As you learned in the previous lesson, an object stores its state in fields.
int cadence = 0;
int speed = 0;
int gear = 1;
The What Is an Object? discussion introduced you to fields, but you probably have still a few questions, such as: What are the rules and conventions for naming a field? Besides int, what other data types are there? Do fields have to be initialized when they are declared? Are fields assigned a default value if they are not explicitly initialized? We’ll explore the answers to such questions in this lesson, but before we do, there are a few technical distinctions you must first become aware of. In the Java programming language, the terms “field” and “variable” are both used; this is a common source of confusion among new developers, since both often seem to refer to the same thing.
The Java programming language defines the following kinds of variables:
- Instance Variables (Non-Static Fields) Technically speaking, objects store their individual states in “non-static fields”, that is, fields declared without the static keyword. Non-static fields are also known as instance variables because their values are unique to each instance of a class (to each object, in other words); the currentSpeed of one bicycle is independent from the currentSpeed of another.
- Class Variables (Static Fields) A class variable is any field declared with the static modifier; this tells the compiler that there is exactly one copy of this variable in existence, regardless of how many times the class has been instantiated. A field defining the number of gears for a particular kind of bicycle could be marked as static since conceptually the same number of gears will apply to all instances. The code static int numGears = 6; would create such a static field. Additionally, the keyword final could be added to indicate that the number of gears will never change.
- Local Variables Similar to how an object stores its state in fields, a method will often store its temporary state in local variables. The syntax for declaring a local variable is similar to declaring a field (for example, int count = 0;). There is no special keyword designating a variable as local; that determination comes entirely from the location in which the variable is declared — which is between the opening and closing braces of a method. As such, local variables are only visible to the methods in which they are declared; they are not accessible from the rest of the class.
- Parameters You’ve already seen examples of parameters, both in the Bicycle class and in the main method of the “Hello World!” application. Recall that the signature for the main method is public static void main(String args). Here, the args variable is the parameter to this method. The important thing to remember is that parameters are always classified as “variables” not “fields”. This applies to other parameter-accepting constructs as well (such as constructors and exception handlers) that you’ll learn about later in the tutorial.
Having said that, the remainder of this tutorial uses the following general guidelines when discussing fields and variables. If we are talking about “fields in general” (excluding local variables and parameters), we may simply say “fields”. If the discussion applies to “all of the above”, we may simply say “variables”. If the context calls for a distinction, we will use specific terms (static field, local variables, etc.) as appropriate. You may also occasionally see the term “member” used as well. A type’s fields, methods, and nested types are collectively called its members.