03: Q16 – Q17 Java Polymorphism vs Overriding vs Overloading

Polymorphism is the ability of a class instance to behave as if it were an instance of another class in its inheritance tree, most often one of its ancestor classes. Overriding is the means by which you achieve polymorphism. Java Polymorphism vs Overriding vs Overloading explained in detail to handle drill down Java OOP interview questions with ease when quizzed further.

Q16. Can you describe “method overloading” versus “method overriding”? Does it happen at compile time or runtime?
A16. Method overloading: Overloading deals with multiple methods in the same class with the same name but different method signatures. Both the below methods have the same method names but different method signatures, which mean the methods are overloaded.

This happens at compile-time. This is also called compile-time polymorphism because the compiler must decide how to select which method to run based on the data types of the arguments. If the compiler were to compile the statement:

it could see that the argument was a string literal, and generate byte code that called method #1.

Overloading lets you define the same operation in different ways for different data within the same class.

Method overriding: Overriding deals with two methods, one in the parent class and the other one in the child class and has the same name and signatures. Both the below methods have the same method names and the signatures but the method in the subclass “B” overrides the method in the superclass “A”.

This happens at runtime. This is also called runtime polymorphism because the compiler does not and cannot know which method to call. Instead, the JVM must make the determination while the code is running.

The method compute(..) in subclass “B” overrides the method compute(..) in super class “A”. If the compiler has to compile the following method,

The compiler would not know whether the input argument ‘reference’ is of type “A” or type “B”. This must be determined during runtime whether to call method #3 or method #4 depending on what type of object (i.e. instance of Class A or instance of Class B) is assigned to input variable “reference”.

Overriding lets you define the same operation in different ways for different object types. This is known as polymorphism. Which method is invoked depends on the type of object stored “A” or “B”, and NOT on the reference type which is “A” for both.

Q17. What is the difference among Overriding, Hiding, and Overloading in Java? How does overriding give polymorphism?
A17. Overriding, Hiding, Overloading and Obscuring are important core Java concepts and you will be quizzed on job interviews or written tests.

Q. What is overriding?

An instance method overrides all accessible instance methods with the same signature in super classes. If overriding were not possible, you can’t have the OO concept known as polymorphism. Let’s explain this with a simple example.

Q. Can you tell what will be the output of the following code snippet?

Test polymorphism:

A. The output will be

Derived 1
Derived 2

What is happening here?

1. Method overriding (i.e. polymorphic behavior) is occurring at run time to determine stored object type.
2. Even though the variable “b” is of type Base, which f( ) method gets called depends on what type of object is stored in that variable.

//1 the stored object is of type DerivedOne, hence prints “Derived 1”.
//2 the stored object is of type DerivedTwo, hence prints “Derived 2”.
//3 the stored object is of type Base, hence prints “Base”

This is polymorphism. Poly in greek means many and Morph means change. So polymorphism is the ability (in programming) to present the same interface for differing underlying forms (data types).

Q. What is hiding or shadowing?

The polymorphism and overriding are applicable only to non-static methods (i.e. instance methods). If you try to override a static method, it is known as hiding. For example,

Test hiding:

Why prints “Base” in both cases? Because, it only looks at what type the variable “b” is? in both cases of type Base. It does not care what type of object is stored. Same behavior for variables, and this is known as “Shadowing”. So, the overriding static methods and instance variables are “shadowed“, whereas the overriding instance methods gives polymorphic behavior.

prints 5. So, hiding and shadowing are Bad Practices, and should be avoided.

Q. What is method overloading? Unlike, overriding and hiding that happen when you have an inheritance hierarchy like Parent, Child classes, Overloading happens within the same class.

Methods in a class overload one another if they have the same name and different signatures. Unlike overriding, overloading happens at compile time. It knows at compile time based on the method arguments you pass.


Q. What is obscuring? A variable obscures a type with the same name if both are in scope. Say, your instance and local variables have the same name.

Test obscuring:

So, overriding and overloading are good, but avoid method hiding (i.e. having same name static methods in parent/child classes), variable shadowing (i.e. having similar variable names in parent/child classes), and variable obscuring (i.e. having same variable name for instance, static, and local variables).

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