Methods, arguments and return values

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and
return values

Up
until now, the term
function
has been used to describe a named subroutine. The term that is more commonly
used in Java is
method,
as in “a way to do something.” If you want, you can continue
thinking in terms of functions. It’s really only a syntactic difference,
but from now on “method” will be used in this book rather than
“function.”

Methods
in Java determine the messages an object can receive. In this section you will
learn how simple it is to define a method.

The
fundamental parts of a method are the name, the arguments, the return type, and
the body. Here is the basic form:

returnType
methodName( /* argument list */ ) {


/* Method body */

}

The
return type is the type of the value that pops out of the method after you call
it. The method name, as you might imagine, identifies the method. The argument
list gives the types and names for the information you want to pass into the
method.

Methods
in Java can be created only as part of a class. A method can be called only for
an object,
[13]
and that object must be able to perform that method call. If you try to call
the wrong method for an object, you’ll get an error message at compile
time. You call a method for an object by naming the object followed by a period
(dot), followed by the name of the method and its argument list, like this:
objectName.methodName(arg1,
arg2, arg3)
.
For example, suppose you have a method
f( )
that takes no arguments and returns a value of type
int.
Then, if you have an object called
a
for which
f( )
can be called, you can say this:

int
x = a.f();

The
type of the return value must be compatible with the type of
x.

This
act of calling a method is commonly referred to as
sending
a message to an object
.
In the above example, the message is
f( )
and the object is
a.
Object-oriented programming is often summarized as simply “sending
messages to objects.”

The
argument list

Consider
a method that takes a string as its argument. Here is the definition, which
must be placed within a class definition for it to compile:

int
storage(String s) {


return s.length() * 2;

}

This
method tells you how many bytes are required to hold the information in a
particular
String.
(Each
char
in
a
String
is
16 bits, or two bytes, long, to support Unicode characters.) The argument is of
type
String
and is called
s.
Once
s
is passed into the method, you can treat it just like any other object. (You
can send messages to it.) Here, the
length( )
method is called, which is one of the methods for
Strings;
it returns the number of characters in a string.

You
can also see the use of the
return
keyword, which does two things. First, it means “leave the method,
I’m done.” Second, if the method produces a value, that value is
placed right after the
return
statement. In this case, the return value is produced by evaluating the
expression
s.length( )
* 2
.

You
can return any type you want, but if you don’t want to return anything at
all, you do so by indicating that the method returns
void.
Here are some examples:

boolean flag() { return true; }
float naturalLogBase() { return 2.718; }
void nothing() { return; }
void nothing2() {}

When
the return type is
void,
then the
return
keyword is used only to exit the method, and is therefore unnecessary when you
reach the end of the method. You can return from a method at any point, but if
you’ve given a non-
void
return
type then the compiler will ensure that you return the appropriate type of
value regardless of where you return.

At
this point, it can look like a program is just a bunch of objects with methods
that take other objects as arguments and send messages to those other objects.
That is indeed much of what goes on, but in the following chapter you’ll
learn how to do the detailed low-level work by making decisions within a
method. For this chapter, sending messages will suffice.


[13]
static
methods, which you’ll learn about soon, can be called
for
the class
,
without an object.

[14]
With the usual exception of the aforementioned “special” data types
boolean,
char
,
byte,
short,
int,
long,
float,

and
double.
In general, though, you pass objects, which really means you pass handles to
objects.

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