OCP11 – Creating nested classes (II) – Declaring an Innner Class

An inner class, also called a member inner class, is a non‐ static type defined at the member level of a class (the same level as the methods, instance variables, and constructors). Inner classes have the following properties:

  • Can be declared public, protected, package‐private (default), or private
  • Can extend any class and implement interfaces
  • Can be marked abstract or final
  • Cannot declare static fields or methods, except for static final fields
  • Can access members of the outer class including private members. The last property is actually pretty cool. It means that the inner class can access variables in the outer class without doing anything special.

Example – Ready for a complicated way to print Hi three times?

1:  public class Outer {
2:     private String greeting = "Hi";
4:     protected class Inner {
5:        public int repeat = 3;
6:        public void go() {
7:           for (int i = 0; i < repeat; i++)
8:              System.out.println(greeting);
9:        }
10:    }
12:    public void callInner() {
13:       Inner inner = new Inner();
14:       inner.go();
15:    }
16:    public static void main(String[] args) {
17:       Outer outer = new Outer();
18:       outer.callInner();
19: } }

Line 8 shows that the inner class just refers to greeting as if it were available. It works even though the variable is private being on the same class.

Line 13 shows that an instance of the outer class can instantiate Inner normally. It works because callInner() is an instance method on Outer. Both Inner and callInner() are members of Outer.

Another way to instantiate Inner a little bit odd but it works like in line 13.

20:    public static void main(String[] args) {
21:       Outer outer = new Outer();
22:       Inner inner = outer.new Inner(); // create the inner class
23:       inner.go();
24:    }

Line 22. We need an instance of Outer to create Inner. We can’t just call new Inner because Java won’t know with which instance of Outer it is associated. Java solves thiss issue by calling new as if it were a method on the outer variable.

Inner classes can have the same variable name as outeer classes, making scope a little tricky. It exists a special way of calling this to say which variable you want to access. It would be seen in the exam but not in the real world.

Example – How to nest multiple classes and access a variable with the same name in each:

1:  public class A {
2:     private int x = 10;
3:     class B {
4:        private int x = 20;
5:        class C {
6:           private int x = 30;
7:           public void allTheX() {
8:              System.out.println(x);        // 30
9:              System.out.println(this.x);   // 30
10:             System.out.println(B.this.x); // 20
11:             System.out.println(A.this.x); // 10
12:    } } }
13:    public static void main(String[] args) {
14:       A a = new A();
15:       A.B b = a.new B();
16:       A.B.C c = b.new C();
17:       c.allTheX();
18: }}

This code contains two nested classes.
Line 8,9 are the type of code that we are used to seeing. They refer to instance variable on the current class – declared on line 6.
Line 10 uses this a special way. We an explcitly the instance variable which can be found on the B class – being a variable on line 4.
Line 11 does the same thing for class A, getting the variable from line 2.
Line 14 instantiates the outermost one.
Line 15 uses the awkward sytanx to instantiate a B. Notice the type is A.B. We could have written B as the type because that is avaialbel at the member level of B. Java knows where to look for it.
Line 16 We instantiate a C. The A.B.C type is necessary to specify. C is too deep for java to know where too look.
Line 17 calls a method in C.

Inner Classes require an Instance

  public class Fox {
       private class Den {}
       public void goHome() {
          new Den();
       public static void visitFriend() {
          new Den();  // DOES NOT COMPILE

    public class Squirrel {
       public void visitFox() {
          new Den();  // DOES NOT COMPILE

The first constructor call compiles because goHome() is an instance method, and therefore the call is associated with the this instance. The second call does not compile because it is called inside a static method. You can still call the constructor, but you have to explicitly give it a reference to a Fox instance.

The last constructor call does not compile for two reasons. Even though it is an instance method, it is not an instance method inside the Fox class. Adding a Fox reference would not fix the problem entirely though. Den is private and not accessible in the Squirrel class.