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1. Overview

In this quick tutorial, we’ll look at two basic building blocks of the Java programming language – classes and objects. They're basic concepts of Object Oriented Programming (OOP), which we use to model real-life entities.

In OOP, classes are blueprints or templates for objects. We use them to describe types of entities.

On the other hand, objects are living entities, created from classes. They contain certain states within their fields and present certain behaviors with their methods.

2. Classes

Simply put, a class represent a definition or a type of object. In Java, classes can contain fields, constructors, and methods.

Let's see an example using a simple Java class representing a Car:

class Car {

    // fields
    String type;
    String model;
    String color;
    int speed;

    // constructor
    Car(String type, String model, String color) {
        this.type = type;
        this.model = model;
        this.color = color;
    }
    
    // methods
    int increaseSpeed(int increment) {
        this.speed = this.speed + increment;
        return this.speed;
    }
    
    // ...
}

This Java class represents a car in general. We can create any type of car from this class. We use fields to hold the state and a constructor to create objects from this class.

Every Java class has an empty constructor by default. We use it if we don't provide a specific implementation as we did above. Here's how the default constructor would look for our Car class:

Car(){}

This constructor simply initializes all fields of the object with their default values. Strings are initialized to null and integers to zero.

Now, our class has a specific constructor because we want our objects to have their fields defined when we create them:

Car(String type, String model) {
    // ...
}

To sum up, we wrote a class that defines a car. Its properties are described by fields, which contain the state of objects of the class, and its behavior is described using methods.

3. Objects

While classes are translated during compile time, objects are created from classes at runtime.

Objects of a class are called instances, and we create and initialize them with constructors:

Car focus = new Car("Ford", "Focus", "red");
Car auris = new Car("Toyota", "Auris", "blue");
Car golf = new Car("Volkswagen", "Golf", "green");

Now, we've created different Car objects, all from a single class. This is the point of it all, to define the blueprint in one place, and then, to reuse it many times in many places.

So far, we have three Car objects, and they're all parked since their speed is zero. We can change this by invoking our increaseSpeed method:

focus.increaseSpeed(10);
auris.increaseSpeed(20);
golf.increaseSpeed(30);

Now, we've changed the state of our cars – they're all moving at different speeds.

Furthermore, we can and should define access control to our class, its constructors, fields, and methods. We can do so by using access modifiers, as we'll see in the next section.

4. Access Modifiers

In the previous examples, we omitted access modifiers to simplify the code. By doing so, we actually used a default package-private modifier. That modifier allows access to the class from any other class in the same package.

Usually, we'd use a public modifier for constructors to allow access from all other objects:

public Car(String type, String model, String color) {
    // ...
}

Every field and method in our class should've also defined access control by a specific modifier. Classes usually have public modifiers, but we tend to keep our fields private.

Fields hold the state of our object, therefore we want to control access to that state. We can keep some of them private, and others public. We achieve this with specific methods called getters and setters.

Let's have a look at our class with fully-specified access control:

public class Car {
    private String type;
    // ...

    public Car(String type, String model, String color) {
       // ...
    }

    public String getColor() {
        return color;
    }

    public void setColor(String color) {
        this.color = color;
    }

    public int getSpeed() {
        return speed;
    }

    // ...
}

Our class is marked public, which means we can use it in any package. Also, the constructor is public, which means we can create an object from this class inside any other object.

Our fields are marked private, which means they're not accessible from our object directly, but we provide access to them through getters and setters.

The type and model fields do not have getters and setters, because they hold internal data of our objects. We can define them only through the constructor during initialization.

Furthermore, the color can be accessed and changed, whereas speed can only be accessed, but not changed. We enforced speed adjustments through specialized public methods increaseSpeed() and decreaseSpeed().

In other words, we use access control to encapsulate the state of the object.

5. Conclusion

In this article, we went through two basic elements of the Java language, classes, and objects, and showed how and why they are used. We also introduced the basics of access control and demonstrated its usage.

To learn other concepts of Java language, we suggest reading about inheritance, the super keyword, and abstract classes as a next step.

The complete source code for the example is available over on GitHub.

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