Time estimate: 45 min.

5.2. Writing Constructors

In Unit 2, we learned how to create objects by calling constructors. To review, a call to a constructor consists of the word new followed by the name of the class being constructed, and then an argument list in parentheses. For example, here is how we create World, Turtle, and Person objects.

// To create a new object, write:
// ClassName variableName = new ConstructorName(arguments);
World world = new World();
Turtle t = new Turtle(world);
Person p = new Person("Pat", "pat@gmail.com", "123-456-7890");

Now it’s time to learn to write our own constructors.

5.2.1. Constructor Signature

In the source code for a class, constructors are usually written after the instance variables and before any methods.

The signature of a constructor is similar to the signature of a method except there is no return type, not even void, and instead of a method name, the name of the constructor is the same as the name of the class. The constructors you write will almost always be marked public. Like methods, constructors also have a parameter list specified in parenthesis that declare the variables that will be used to hold the arguments passed when the constructor is called.

public class ClassName
    /* Instance variable declarations go here, before constructors */

    /* Constructor - same name as Class, no return type */
    public ClassName()
        /* Implementation not shown */

    /* Method definitions go here, after constructors */


Constructors must have the same name as the class! Constructors have no return type!

5.2.2. The Job of a Constructor

The job of a constructor is to set the initial values for the object’s instance variables to useful values. But what does “useful” mean? Sometimes we describe the values of all an object’s instance variables at a given time as the object’s state. And we say an object is in a valid state when all its instance variables have values that let us use the object by invoking its public methods. So another way to describe the job of a constructor is to set the object’s instance values so it’s in a valid state and ready to be used.

Classes can have zero or more constructors but they should all produce an object in a valid state.

The easiest way to write a constructor is to not write one. If you do not write a constructor your class will automatically get what is called the default no-argument constructor. This constructor will initialize all your instance variables to the default value for their type: 0 for int and double, false for boolean, and null for all reference types. If those default values are sufficient to put your object into a valid state you may not need to write a constructor at all.

Usually, however, if you are writing a class that has instance variables, you need to initialize your instance values to some other values. In that case you probably need to write a constructor that takes arguments and uses them to initialize your instance variables.

For example, consider the constructor from the Person class from the last section.

public Person(String initName, String initEmail, String initPhone)
    name = initName;
    email = initEmail;
    phoneNumber = initPhone;

This constructor ensures that all three of the instance variables (name, email, and phoneNumber) in Person are initialized to the values provided by whatever code called the constructor. For example, in the constructor call new Person("Pat", "pat@gmail.com", "123-456-7890"), the argument “Pat” is passed into the parameter variable initName, which the constructor then assigns to the instance variable name.

One important note: if you do write a constructor, Java will not generate the default constructor for you. This is a good thing because it lets you make sure that instances of your class are always properly initialized. With this constructor in place, for instance, there’s no way to construct a Person object without providing the three required String values.

Sometimes you will want to write more than one constructor so there are different ways of making an instance of your class. One reason to do that is to make it convenient to create instances from different kinds of arguments. This is called overloading and we discussed it in Chapter 2 from the perspective of calling constructors.

For instance, suppose we were writing a program that had another class AddressBookEntry which had getters for name, email, and phone number. In that program it might be useful to write another Person constructor like this:

public Person(AddressBookEntry address) {
    name = address.getName();
    email = address.getEmail();
    phoneNumber = address.getPhoneNumber();

Sometimes you might still even want to provide a no-argument constructor. If there’s a valid object that you can create without any arguments, you could write a no-argument constructor for Person like:

public Person()
    name = "Anonymous";
    email = "unknown";
    phoneNumber = "unknown";

It’s up to you to decide if this is actually a useful value to have or if it would be better to force the users of the Person class to choose the values themselves.

exercise Check Your Understanding

coding exercise Coding Exercise

The following class defines a Fraction with the instance variables numerator and denominator. It uses 2 constructors. Note that the no-argument constructor sets the default instance variable values to 1 rather than 0 since a fraction with 0 in the denominator is not valid. Try to guess what it will print before you run it. Hint! Remember to start with the main method! You can also view it in the Java visualizer by clicking on the Show CodeLens button below.

coding exercise Coding Exercise

The following class defines a Car with the instance variables model and year, for example a Honda 2010 car. However, some of the code is missing. First, fill in the code to create a Car constructor. Then, fill in the code to call the constructor in the main method to create 2 Car objects. The first car should be a 2023 Ford and the second car should be a 2010 Honda. Run your program and make sure it works and prints out the information for both cars.

5.2.3. Advanced AP Topic: Reference parameters

When you pass object references as parameters to constructors or methods, those references refer to the same objects as the references in the caller. If the objects are immutable, like String objects it doesn’t matter at all. On the other hand, if the objects are mutable, meaning their instance variables can change after they are constructed, then storing the passed-in reference in an instance variable in your object can lead to surprising results: if some other code changes the object it will change for you too. If that’s not what you want, sometimes it makes sense to copy the object passed to the constructor and store the copy in the instance variable instead. How to make the copy will depend on the class of the object but often you can just construct a new object of the appropriate class using values from the original object as shown below.

public class Person
    private String name;
    private Address addr; // Assumes an Address class is already defined

    // constructor: initialize instance variable and call Address constructor to
    // make a copy
    public Person(String initName, Address initAddr)
        name = initName;
        addr =
                new Address(

5.2.4. groupwork Programming Challenge : Student Class

We encourage you to work in pairs for this challenge to create a Student class with constructors.

  1. First, brainstorm in pairs to do the Object-Oriented Design for a Student class. What data should we store about Students? Come up with at least 4 different instance variables. What are the data types for the instance variables?

  2. Write a Student class below that has your 4 instance variables and write a constructor that has 4 parameters to set all of the instance variables.

  3. Add a print() method that uses System.out.println to print out all the instance variables.

  4. Add a main method that constructs at least 2 Student objects using the constructor with different values and then calls their print() methods.

Create a class Student with 4 instance variables, a constructor, and a print method. Write a main method that creates 2 Student objects with the constructor and calls their print() method.

5.2.5. groupwork Design a Class for your Community

In the last lesson, you came up with a class of your own choice relevant to you or your community. In this lesson, you will add a constructor to this class.

  1. Consult your completed worksheet or your code in Lesson 5.1 Community Challenge for the class name and its 3 instance variables that you created. Copy them into the active code exercise below.

  2. Add a constructor with 3 parameters to set all of the instance variables to the given parameters.

  3. Write a print() method that uses System.out.println to print out all the instance variables.

  4. Write a main method that constructs at least 2 objects of your class using the constructor and then calls their print() methods.

Copy your class with its 3 instance variables from Lesson 5.1 Community Challenge. Add a constructor with 3 parameters to set all of the instance variables to the given parameters. Write a print() method that uses System.out.println to print out all the instance variables. Write a main method that constructs at least 2 objects of your class using the constructors and then calls their print() methods.

5.2.6. Summary

  • Constructors are used to set the initial state of an object, which includes initial values for all instance variables.

  • When no constructor is written, Java provides a no-argument default constructor, and the instance variables are set to their default values (0 for int and double, null for objects like String).

  • Constructor parameters are local variables to the constructor and provide data to initialize instance variables.

5.2.7. AP Practice

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