Basic Types and Variables


It's a Value-Based Proposition

We saw literals yesterday. In the statement:

System.out.println("Hello, World!");
"Hello, World!" is a String literal. It's a String because it's a sequence of characters surrounded by quotation marks. It's a literal because it always has that value.

Let's Not Be Literal

In contrast, we have variables. In Java, a variable's type is defined, but its value can vary (thus the name).

Instead of:

System.out.println("Hello, World!");
I could have written…

String message = "Hello, World!";

Variables are variable

Variables store a value, but allow us to change the value that is stored.

String message = "I am Sam";
System.out.println(message); /* prints "I am Sam" */

message = "I am Spartacus";
System.out.println(message); /* prints "I am Spartacus" */

Reusing Variables

Notice that in the previous example, when we first used our message variable, we specified its type:

String message = "I am Sam";

When we reassigned its value, we didn't specify a type:

message = "I am Spartacus";

That's because we had already declared the variable. We declare a variable only once.

Defining Variables

When we do this:

String message = "I am Sam";
We are really combining these two things:

String message;
message = "I am Sam";

Declaring vs Initializing a Variable

We declare a variable by giving it a type and a name. That's what we did here:

String message;

The variable's type is String. Its name is message.

Initializing a variable

When we did this, we assigned a value of "I am Sam" to the variable. Initializing is only different than assigning a value in that we haven't assigned a value yet:

String message;
message = "I am Sam";

Variable Naming Conventions

We will talk about naming conventions quite a bit. They're important, since they reduce the cognitive load of people that need to look at your code. (This person might be you.)

Apart from constants (more on that later), we use camelCase to name variables. The first letter should be lowercase, and the first letter of each additional word in a variable's name should be uppercase:


String myVariable = "my variable's value"; // Do this!

String myvariable = "my variable's value"; // Not this.

String MyVariable = "my variable's value"; // Not this, either.

Basic Data Types

Java is not a pure object-oriented language. That is to say that it allows for primitive types as well as objects. For now, recognize that primitive types are declared in lowercase. Real objects will have their types capitalized.


A boolean variable holds either the value true or false.

boolean writingCodeIsFun = true;
boolean rootCanalsAreFun = false; // unless you're a dentist?

Integer Primitives

There are four sizes of integer (whole number) types: byte, short, int, and long. They vary in their maximum and minimum values. A byte will hold a number that can be stored within one byte (8 bits). short supports a smaller range of values than int supports. int supports a smaller range of values than long supports. We use ints (short for "integer") for most practical purposes. We often see longs for things like database record ids since we may have a lot of records in a database.

All of the following are valid:

byte answerByte = 42;
short answerShort = 42;
int answerInt = 42;
long answerLong = 42;

Floating Point Primitives

Floating point (numbers with decimal fractions) types are float and double. double is more precise than float.

Let's try it. (Note that we append 'f' to the value for the float variable):

public class FloatingPointDemo {
    public static void main(String[] args) {
        double doubleValue = 2.16440330489723961032;

        float floatValue = 2.16440330489723961032f;

The values assigned to each variable are the same. Try it. What do you see?

Computers aren't as good at math as you thought, eh?

Character primitives

The char type holds individual characters. We define char literals by using single apostrophes.

char myChar = 'a';

String objects

Strings are proper objects. We'll talk more about them later. We've seen them. We denote their values with quotation marks:

String myDeclaration = "I can code";