Operators in Java

Operators are used to combine values. As you will see in the following sec­tions, Java has a rich set of arithmetic and logical operators and mathematical functions.

1. Arithmetic Operators

The usual arithmetic operators +, -, *, / are used in Java for addition, subtrac­tion, multiplication, and division. The / operator denotes integer division if both arguments are integers, and floating-point division otherwise. Integer remainder (sometimes called modulus) is denoted by %. For example, 15 / 2 is 7, 15 % 2 is 1, and 15.0 / 2 is 7.5.

Note that integer division by 0 raises an exception, whereas floating-point division by 0 yields an infinite or NaN result.

NOTE: One of the stated goals of the Java programming language is portability. A computation should yield the same results no matter which virtual machine executes it. For arithmetic computations with floating-point numbers, it is sur­prisingly difficult to achieve this portability. The double type uses 64 bits to store a numeric value, but some processors use 80-bit floating-point registers. These registers yield added precision in intermediate steps of a computation. For example, consider the following computation:

double w = x * y / z;

Many Intel processors compute x * y, leave the result in an 80-bit register, then divide by z, and finally truncate the result back to 64 bits. That can yield a more accurate result, and it can avoid exponent overflow. But the result may be dif­ferent from a computation that uses 64 bits throughout. For that reason, the initial specification of the Java virtual machine mandated that all intermediate computations must be truncated. The numeric community hated it. Not only can the truncated computations cause overflow, they are actually slower than the more precise computations because the truncation operations take time. For that reason, the Java programming language was updated to recognize the conflicting demands for optimum performance and perfect reproducibility. By default, virtual machine designers are now permitted to use extended precision for intermediate computations. However, methods tagged with the strictfp keyword must use strict floating-point operations that yield reproducible results.

For example, you can tag main as

public static strictfp void main(String[] args)

Then all instructions inside the main method will use strict floating-point compu­tations. If you tag a class as strictfp, then all of its methods must use strict floating-point computations.

The gory details are very much tied to the behavior of the Intel processors. In the default mode, intermediate results are allowed to use an extended exponent, but not an extended mantissa. (The Intel chips support truncation of the man­tissa without loss of performance.) Therefore, the only difference between the default and strict modes is that strict computations may overflow when default computations don’t.

If your eyes glazed over when reading this note, don’t worry. Floating-point overflow isn’t a problem that one encounters for most common programs. We don’t use the strictfp keyword in this book.

2. Mathematical Functions and Constants

The Math class contains an assortment of mathematical functions that you may occasionally need, depending on the kind of programming that you do.

To take the square root of a number, use the sqrt method:

double x = 4;

double y = Math.sqrt(x);

System.out.println(y); // prints 2.0

The Java programming language has no operator for raising a quantity to a power: You must use the pow method in the Math class. The statement

double y = Math.pow(x, a);

sets y to be x raised to the power a (xa). The pow method’s parameters are both of type double, and it returns a double as well.

The floorMod method aims to solve a long-standing problem with integer re­mainders. Consider the expression n % 2. Everyone knows that this is 0 if n is even and 1 if n is odd. Except, of course, when n is odd and negative. Then it is -1. Why? When the first computers were built, someone had to make rules for how integer division and remainder should work for negative operands. Mathematicians had known the optimal (or “Euclidean”) rule for a few hundred years: always leave the remainder ≥ 0. But, rather than open a math textbook, those pioneers came up with rules that seemed reasonable but are actually inconvenient.

Consider this problem. You compute the position of the hour hand of a clock. An adjustment is applied, and you want to normalize to a number between 0 and 11. That is easy: (position + adjustment) % 12. But what if the adjustment is negative? Then you might get a negative number. So you have to introduce a branch, or use ((position + adjustment) % 12 + 12) % 12. Either way, it is a hassle.

The floorMod method makes it easier: floorMod(position + adjustment, 12) always yields a value between 0 and 11. (Unfortunately, floorMod gives negative results for negative divisors, but that situation doesn’t often occur in practice.)

The Math class supplies the usual trigonometric functions:






and the exponential function with its inverse, the natural logarithm, as well as the decimal logarithm:




Finally, two constants denote the closest possible approximations to the mathematical constants n and e:



3. Conversions between Numeric Types

It is often necessary to convert from one numeric type to another. Figure 3.1 shows the legal conversions.

The six solid arrows in Figure 3.1 denote conversions without information loss. The three dotted arrows denote conversions that may lose precision. For example, a large integer such as 123456789 has more digits than the float type can represent. When the integer is converted to a float, the resulting value has the correct magnitude but loses some precision.

int n = 123456789;

float f = n; // f is 1.23456792E8

When two values are combined with a binary operator (such as n + f where n is an integer and f is a floating-point value), both operands are converted to a common type before the operation is carried out.

  • If either of the operands is of type double, the other one will be converted to a double.
  • Otherwise, if either of the operands is of type float, the other one will be converted to a float.
  • Otherwise, if either of the operands is of type long, the other one will be converted to a long.
  • Otherwise, both operands will be converted to an int.

4. Casts

In the preceding section, you saw that int values are automatically converted to double values when necessary. On the other hand, there are obviously times when you want to consider a double as an integer. Numeric conversions are possible in Java, but of course information may be lost. Conversions in which loss of information is possible are done by means of casts. The syntax for casting is to give the target type in parentheses, followed by the variable name. For example:

double x = 9.997;

int nx = (int) x;

Now, the variable nx has the value 9 because casting a floating-point value to an integer discards the fractional part.

If you want to round a floating-point number to the nearest integer (which in most cases is a more useful operation), use the Math.round method:

double x = 9.997;

int nx = (int) Math.round(x);

Now the variable nx has the value 10. You still need to use the cast (int) when you call round. The reason is that the return value of the round method is a long, and a long can only be assigned to an int with an explicit cast because there is the possibility of information loss.

5. Combining Assignment with Operators

There is a convenient shortcut for using binary operators in an assignment. For example,

x += 4;

is equivalent to

x = x + 4;

(In general, place the operator to the left of the = sign, such as *= or %=.)

6. Increment and Decrement Operators

Programmers, of course, know that one of the most common operations with a numeric variable is to add or subtract 1. Java, following in the footsteps of C and C++, has both increment and decrement operators: n++ adds 1 to the current value of the variable n, and n– subtracts 1 from it. For example, the code

int n = 12;


changes n to 13. Since these operators change the value of a variable, they cannot be applied to numbers themselves. For example, 4++ is not a legal statement.

There are two forms of these operators; you’ve just seen the postfix form of the operator that is placed after the operand. There is also a prefix form, ++n. Both change the value of the variable by 1. The difference between the two appears only when they are used inside expressions. The prefix form does the addition first; the postfix form evaluates to the old value of the variable.

int m = 7;

int n = 7;

int a = 2 * ++m; // now a is 16, m is 8

int b = 2 * n++; // now b is 14, n is 8

We recommend against using ++ inside expressions because this often leads to confusing code and annoying bugs.

7. Relational and boolean Operators

Java has the full complement of relational operators. To test for equality, use a double equal sign, ==. For example, the value of

3 == 7

is false.

Use a != for inequality. For example, the value of

3 != 7

is true.

Finally, you have the usual < (less than), > (greater than), <= (less than or equal), and >= (greater than or equal) operators.

Java, following C++, uses && for the logical “and” operator and || for the logical “or” operator. As you can easily remember from the != operator, the exclama­tion point ! is the logical negation operator. The && and || operators are evaluated in “short circuit” fashion: The second argument is not evaluated if the first argument already determines the value. If you combine two expressions with the && operator,

expression1 && expression2

and the truth value of the first expression has been determined to be false, then it is impossible for the result to be true. Thus, the value for the second expression is not calculated. This behavior can be exploited to avoid errors. For example, in the expression

x != 0 && 1 / x > x + y // no division by 0

the second part is never evaluated if x equals zero. Thus, 1 / x is not computed if x is zero, and no divide-by-zero error can occur.

Similarly, the value of expression1 || expression2 is automatically true if the first expression is true, without evaluating the second expression.

Finally, Java supports the ternary ?: operator that is occasionally useful. The expression

condition ? expression1 : expression2

evaluates to the first expression if the condition is true, to the second expression otherwise. For example,

x < y ? x : y

gives the smaller of x and y.

8. Bitwise Operators

For any of the integer types, you have operators that can work directly with the bits that make up the integers. This means that you can use masking techniques to get at individual bits in a number. The bitwise operators are

& (“and”) | (“or”) * (“xor”) ~ (“not”)

These operators work on bit patterns. For example, if n is an integer variable, then

int fourthBitFromRight = (n & 0b1000) / 0b1000;

gives you a 1 if the fourth bit from the right in the binary representation of n is 1, and 0 otherwise. Using & with the appropriate power of 2 lets you mask out all but a single bit.

NOTE: When applied to boolean values, the & and | operators yield a boolean value. These operators are similar to the && and || operators, except that the & and | operators are not evaluated in “short circuit” fashion—that is, both arguments are evaluated before the result is computed.

There are also >> and << operators which shift a bit pattern right or left. These operators are convenient when you need to build up bit patterns to do bit masking:

int fourthBitFromRight = (n & (1 << 3)) >> 3;

Finally, a >>> operator fills the top bits with zero, unlike >> which extends the sign bit into the top bits. There is no <<< operator.

9. Parentheses and Operator Hierarchy

Table 3.4 shows the precedence of operators. If no parentheses are used, operations are performed in the hierarchical order indicated. Operators on the same level are processed from left to right, except for those that are right- associative, as indicated in the table. For example, && has a higher precedence than ||, so the expression

a && b || c


(a && b) || c

Since += associates right to left, the expression

a += b += c


a += (b += c)

That is, the value of b += c (which is the value of b after the addition) is added to a.

Source: Horstmann Cay S. (2019), Core Java. Volume I – Fundamentals, Pearson; 11th edition.

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