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Thinking in Java
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Upcasting

The most important aspect of inheritance is not that it provides methods for the new class. It’s the relationship expressed between the new class and the base class. This relationship can be summarized by saying, “The new class is a type of the existing class.”

This description is not just a fanciful way of explaining inheritance—it’s supported directly by the language. As an example, consider a base class called Instrument that represents musical instruments, and a derived class called Wind. Because inheritance means that all of the methods in the base class are also available in the derived class, any message you can send to the base class can also be sent to the derived class. If the Instrument class has a play( ) method, so will Wind instruments. This means we can accurately say that a Wind object is also a type of Instrument. The following example shows how the compiler supports this notion:

//: c06:Wind.java
// Inheritance & upcasting.
import java.util.*;

class Instrument {
  public void play() {}
  static void tune(Instrument i) {
    // ...
    i.play();
  }
}

// Wind objects are instruments
// because they have the same interface:
public class Wind extends Instrument {
  public static void main(String[] args) {
    Wind flute = new Wind();
    Instrument.tune(flute); // Upcasting
  }
} ///:~


What’s interesting in this example is the tune( ) method, which accepts an Instrument reference. However, in Wind.main( ) the tune( ) method is called by giving it a Wind reference. Given that Java is particular about type checking, it seems strange that a method that accepts one type will readily accept another type, until you realize that a Wind object is also an Instrument object, and there’s no method that tune( ) could call for an Instrument that isn’t also in Wind. Inside tune( ), the code works for Instrument and anything derived from Instrument, and the act of converting a Wind reference into an Instrument reference is called upcasting.
Thinking in Java
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   Reproduced courtesy of Bruce Eckel, MindView, Inc. Design by Interspire