Java – Why do this() and super() have to be the first statement in a constructor

constructorjava

Java requires that if you call this() or super() in a constructor, it must be the first statement. Why?

For example:

public class MyClass {
    public MyClass(int x) {}
}

public class MySubClass extends MyClass {
    public MySubClass(int a, int b) {
        int c = a + b;
        super(c);  // COMPILE ERROR
    }
}

The Sun compiler says "call to super must be first statement in constructor". The Eclipse compiler says "Constructor call must be the first statement in a constructor".

However, you can get around this by re-arranging the code a little bit:

public class MySubClass extends MyClass {
    public MySubClass(int a, int b) {
        super(a + b);  // OK
    }
}

Here is another example:

public class MyClass {
    public MyClass(List list) {}
}

public class MySubClassA extends MyClass {
    public MySubClassA(Object item) {
        // Create a list that contains the item, and pass the list to super
        List list = new ArrayList();
        list.add(item);
        super(list);  // COMPILE ERROR
    }
}

public class MySubClassB extends MyClass {
    public MySubClassB(Object item) {
        // Create a list that contains the item, and pass the list to super
        super(Arrays.asList(new Object[] { item }));  // OK
    }
}

So, it is not stopping you from executing logic before the call to super. It is just stopping you from executing logic that you can't fit into a single expression.

There are similar rules for calling this(). The compiler says "call to this must be first statement in constructor".

Why does the compiler have these restrictions? Can you give a code example where, if the compiler did not have this restriction, something bad would happen?

Best Solution

The parent class' constructor needs to be called before the subclass' constructor. This will ensure that if you call any methods on the parent class in your constructor, the parent class has already been set up correctly.

What you are trying to do, pass args to the super constructor is perfectly legal, you just need to construct those args inline as you are doing, or pass them in to your constructor and then pass them to super:

public MySubClassB extends MyClass {
        public MySubClassB(Object[] myArray) {
                super(myArray);
        }
}

If the compiler did not enforce this you could do this:

public MySubClassB extends MyClass {
        public MySubClassB(Object[] myArray) {
                someMethodOnSuper(); //ERROR super not yet constructed
                super(myArray);
        }
}

In cases where a parent class has a default constructor the call to super is inserted for you automatically by the compiler. Since every class in Java inherits from Object, objects constructor must be called somehow and it must be executed first. The automatic insertion of super() by the compiler allows this. Enforcing super to appear first, enforces that constructor bodies are executed in the correct order which would be: Object -> Parent -> Child -> ChildOfChild -> SoOnSoForth