Overriding vs. overloading

Thursday Mar 1st 2001
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Let’s take a different look at the first example in this chapter. In the following program, the interface of the method play( ) is changed in the process of overriding it, which means that you haven’t overridden the method, but instead overloaded it. The compiler allows you to overload methods so it gives no complaint. But the behavior is probably not what you want. Here’s the example:

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Let’s take a different look at the first example in this chapter. In the following program, the interface of the method play( ) is changed in the process of overriding it, which means that you haven’t overridden the method, but instead overloaded it. The compiler allows you to overload methods so it gives no complaint. But the behavior is probably not what you want. Here’s the example:

//: WindError.java 
// Accidentally changing the interface
 
class NoteX {
  public static final int
    MIDDLE_C = 0, C_SHARP = 1, C_FLAT = 2;
}
 
class InstrumentX {
  public void play(int NoteX) {
    System.out.println("InstrumentX.play()");
  }
}
 
class WindX extends InstrumentX {
  // OOPS! Changes the method interface:
  public void play(NoteX n) {
    System.out.println("WindX.play(NoteX n)");
  }
}
 
public class WindError {
  public static void tune(InstrumentX i) {
    // ...
    i.play(NoteX.MIDDLE_C);
  }
  public static void main(String[] args) {
    WindX flute = new WindX();
    tune(flute); // Not the desired behavior!
  }
} ///:~ 

There’s another confusing aspect thrown in here. In InstrumentX, the play( ) method takes an int that has the identifier NoteX. That is, even though NoteX is a class name, it can also be used as an identifier without complaint. But in WindX, play( ) takes a NoteX handle that has an identifier n. (Although you could even say play(NoteX NoteX) without an error.) Thus it appears that the programmer intended to override play( ) but mistyped the method a bit. The compiler, however, assumed that an overload and not an override was intended. Note that if you follow the standard Java naming convention, the argument identifier would be noteX, which would distinguish it from the class name.

In tune, the InstrumentX i is sent the play( ) message, with one of NoteX’s members ( MIDDLE_C) as an argument. Since NoteX contains int definitions, this means that the int version of the now-overloaded play( ) method is called, and since that has not been overridden the base-class version is used.

The output is:

InstrumentX.play()

This certainly doesn’t appear to be a polymorphic method call. Once you understand what’s happening, you can fix the problem fairly easily, but imagine how difficult it might be to find the bug if it’s buried in a program of significant size.

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