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Thinking in Java
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Method overloading

One of the important features in any programming language is the use of names. When you create an object, you give a name to a region of storage. A method is a name for an action. By using names to describe your system, you create a program that is easier for people to understand and change. It’s a lot like writing prose—the goal is to communicate with your readers.

You refer to all objects and methods by using names. Well-chosen names make it easier for you and others to understand your code.

A problem arises when mapping the concept of nuance in human language onto a programming language. Often, the same word expresses a number of different meanings—it’s overloaded. This is useful, especially when it comes to trivial differences. You say “wash the shirt,” “wash the car,” and “wash the dog.” It would be silly to be forced to say, “shirtWash the shirt,” “carWash the car,” and “dogWash the dog” just so the listener doesn’t need to make any distinction about the action performed. Most human languages are redundant, so even if you miss a few words, you can still determine the meaning. We don’t need unique identifiers—we can deduce meaning from context.

Most programming languages (C in particular) require you to have a unique identifier for each function. So you could not have one function called print( ) for printing integers and another called print( ) for printing floats—each function requires a unique name.

In Java (and C++), another factor forces the overloading of method names: the constructor. Because the constructor’s name is predetermined by the name of the class, there can be only one constructor name. But what if you want to create an object in more than one way? For example, suppose you build a class that can initialize itself in a standard way or by reading information from a file. You need two constructors, one that takes no arguments (the default constructor,[19] also called the no-arg constructor), and one that takes a String as an argument, which is the name of the file from which to initialize the object. Both are constructors, so they must have the same name—the name of the class. Thus, method overloading is essential to allow the same method name to be used with different argument types. And although method overloading is a must for constructors, it’s a general convenience and can be used with any method.

Here’s an example that shows both overloaded constructors and overloaded ordinary methods:

// Demonstration of both constructor
// and ordinary method overloading.
import com.bruceeckel.simpletest.*;
import java.util.*;

class Tree {
  int height;
  Tree() {
    System.out.println("Planting a seedling");
    height = 0;
  Tree(int i) {
    System.out.println("Creating new Tree that is "
      + i + " feet tall");
    height = i;
  void info() {
    System.out.println("Tree is " + height + " feet tall");
  void info(String s) {
    System.out.println(s + ": Tree is "
      + height + " feet tall");

public class Overloading {
  static Test monitor = new Test();
  public static void main(String[] args) {
    for(int i = 0; i < 5; i++) {
      Tree t = new Tree(i);;"overloaded method");
    // Overloaded constructor:
    new Tree();
    monitor.expect(new String[] {
      "Creating new Tree that is 0 feet tall",
      "Tree is 0 feet tall",
      "overloaded method: Tree is 0 feet tall",
      "Creating new Tree that is 1 feet tall",
      "Tree is 1 feet tall",
      "overloaded method: Tree is 1 feet tall",
      "Creating new Tree that is 2 feet tall",
      "Tree is 2 feet tall",
      "overloaded method: Tree is 2 feet tall",
      "Creating new Tree that is 3 feet tall",
      "Tree is 3 feet tall",
      "overloaded method: Tree is 3 feet tall",
      "Creating new Tree that is 4 feet tall",
      "Tree is 4 feet tall",
      "overloaded method: Tree is 4 feet tall",
      "Planting a seedling"
} ///:~

A Tree object can be created either as a seedling, with no argument, or as a plant grown in a nursery, with an existing height. To support this, there is a default constructor, and one that takes the existing height.

You might also want to call the info( ) method in more than one way. For example, if you have an extra message you want printed, you can use info(String), and info( ) if you have nothing more to say. It would seem strange to give two separate names to what is obviously the same concept. Fortunately, method overloading allows you to use the same name for both.
Thinking in Java
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   Reproduced courtesy of Bruce Eckel, MindView, Inc. Design by Interspire