Trail: Learning the Java Language
Lesson: Language Basics
Section: Variables
Primitive Data Types
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Primitive Data Types

The Java programming language is statically-typed, which means that all variables must first be declared before they can be used. This involves stating the variable's type and name, as you've already seen:

int gear = 1;

Doing so tells your program that a field named "gear" exists, holds numerical data, and has an initial value of "1". A variable's data type determines the values it may contain, plus the operations that may be performed on it. In addition to int, the Java programming language supports seven other primitive data types. A primitive type is predefined by the language and is named by a reserved keyword. Primitive values do not share state with other primitive values. The eight primitive data types supported by the Java programming language are:

In addition to the eight primitive data types listed above, the Java programming language also provides special support for character strings via the java.lang.String class. Enclosing your character string within double quotes will automatically create a new String object; for example, String s = "this is a string";. String objects are immutable, which means that once created, their values cannot be changed. The String class is not technically a primitive data type, but considering the special support given to it by the language, you'll probably tend to think of it as such. You'll learn more about the String class in Simple Data Objects

Default Values

It's not always necessary to assign a value when a field is declared. Fields that are declared but not initialized will be set to a reasonable default by the compiler. Generally speaking, this default will be zero or null, depending on the data type. Relying on such default values, however, is generally considered bad programming style.

The following chart summarizes the default values for the above data types.

Data Type Default Value (for fields)
byte 0
short 0
int 0
long 0L
float 0.0f
double 0.0d
char '\u0000'
String (or any object)   null
boolean false

Local variables are slightly different; the compiler never assigns a default value to an uninitialized local variable. If you cannot initialize your local variable where it is declared, make sure to assign it a value before you attempt to use it. Accessing an uninitialized local variable will result in a compile-time error.


You may have noticed that the new keyword isn't used when initializing a variable of a primitive type. Primitive types are special data types built into the language; they are not objects created from a class. A literal is the source code representation of a fixed value; literals are represented directly in your code without requiring computation. As shown below, it's possible to assign a literal to a variable of a primitive type:

boolean result = true;
char capitalC = 'C';
byte b = 100;
short s = 10000;
int i = 100000;

Integer Literals

An integer literal is of type long if it ends with the letter L or l; otherwise it is of type int. It is recommended that you use the upper case letter L because the lower case letter l is hard to distinguish from the digit 1.

Values of the integral types byte, short, int, and long can be created from int literals. Values of type long that exceed the range of int can be created from long literals. Integer literals can be expressed by these number systems:

For general-purpose programming, the decimal system is likely to be the only number system you'll ever use. However, if you need to use another number system, the following example shows the correct syntax. The prefix 0x indicates hexadecimal and 0b indicates binary:

// The number 26, in decimal
int decVal = 26;
//  The number 26, in hexadecimal
int hexVal = 0x1a;
// The number 26, in binary
int binVal = 0b11010;

Floating-Point Literals

A floating-point literal is of type float if it ends with the letter F or f; otherwise its type is double and it can optionally end with the letter D or d.

The floating point types (float and double) can also be expressed using E or e (for scientific notation), F or f (32-bit float literal) and D or d (64-bit double literal; this is the default and by convention is omitted).

double d1 = 123.4;
// same value as d1, but in scientific notation
double d2 = 1.234e2;
float f1  = 123.4f;

Character and String Literals

Literals of types char and String may contain any Unicode (UTF-16) characters. If your editor and file system allow it, you can use such characters directly in your code. If not, you can use a "Unicode escape" such as '\u0108' (capital C with circumflex), or "S\u00ED Se\u00F1or" (Sí Señor in Spanish). Always use 'single quotes' for char literals and "double quotes" for String literals. Unicode escape sequences may be used elsewhere in a program (such as in field names, for example), not just in char or String literals.

The Java programming language also supports a few special escape sequences for char and String literals: \b (backspace), \t (tab), \n (line feed), \f (form feed), \r (carriage return), \" (double quote), \' (single quote), and \\ (backslash).

There's also a special null literal that can be used as a value for any reference type. null may be assigned to any variable, except variables of primitive types. There's little you can do with a null value beyond testing for its presence. Therefore, null is often used in programs as a marker to indicate that some object is unavailable.

Finally, there's also a special kind of literal called a class literal, formed by taking a type name and appending ".class"; for example, String.class. This refers to the object (of type Class) that represents the type itself.

Using Underscore Characters in Numeric Literals

In Java SE 7 and later, any number of underscore characters (_) can appear anywhere between digits in a numerical literal. This feature enables you, for example. to separate groups of digits in numeric literals, which can improve the readability of your code.

For instance, if your code contains numbers with many digits, you can use an underscore character to separate digits in groups of three, similar to how you would use a punctuation mark like a comma, or a space, as a separator.

The following example shows other ways you can use the underscore in numeric literals:

long creditCardNumber = 1234_5678_9012_3456L;
long socialSecurityNumber = 999_99_9999L;
float pi =  3.14_15F;
long hexBytes = 0xFF_EC_DE_5E;
long hexWords = 0xCAFE_BABE;
long maxLong = 0x7fff_ffff_ffff_ffffL;
byte nybbles = 0b0010_0101;
long bytes = 0b11010010_01101001_10010100_10010010;

You can place underscores only between digits; you cannot place underscores in the following places:

The following examples demonstrate valid and invalid underscore placements (which are highlighted) in numeric literals:

// Invalid: cannot put underscores
// adjacent to a decimal point
float pi1 = 3_.1415F;
// Invalid: cannot put underscores 
// adjacent to a decimal point
float pi2 = 3._1415F;
// Invalid: cannot put underscores 
// prior to an L suffix
long socialSecurityNumber1 = 999_99_9999_L;

// This is an identifier, not 
// a numeric literal
int x1 = _52;
// OK (decimal literal)
int x2 = 5_2;
// Invalid: cannot put underscores
// At the end of a literal
int x3 = 52_;
// OK (decimal literal)
int x4 = 5_______2;

// Invalid: cannot put underscores
// in the 0x radix prefix
int x5 = 0_x52;
// Invalid: cannot put underscores
// at the beginning of a number
int x6 = 0x_52;
// OK (hexadecimal literal)
int x7 = 0x5_2; 
// Invalid: cannot put underscores
// at the end of a number
int x8 = 0x52_;

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