Polymorphism in Java

By | March 30, 2014

This article contains…

  • What is Polymorphism ?
  • Reference variable types and Object
  • Example of Polymorphism
  • Runtime and Compiletime Polymorphism
  • Example of both
  • SCJP exam objective 5.2

What is Polymorphism ?

A java object that passes more than one IS-A test considered as polymorphic.

So, all the objects in except type Object are polymorphic as they passes IS-A test for own type and Object type. ( Detailed reading : Inheritance, IS-A and Has-A )

You are accessing a object stored in Heap by reference variable. A reference variable type of class can reference object of any subtype of that class. For example,

class Animal {
   public void name() {
      System.out.println("This is Animal");

   public void parentMethod() {
      System.out.println("This is method in Animal class.");

interface Running {
   public void run();

class Horse extends Animal implements Running {

   public void run() {
      System.out.println("Horse is running.");

   public void name() {
      System.out.println("This is Horse.");

Reference variable types and Object :

In above code, Horse passes the IS-A test for Animal class, Running interface, Object class and Horse class. So it can be treated as polymorphic depending upon the reference type declared,

i.e. For Horse class, following declarations are valid.

  • Horse horse = new Horse();    // Since it is Horse itself.
  • Animal animal = horse;             // Since Horse extends Animal.
  • Running running = horse;        // Since Horse implements Running.
  • Object obj = horse;                      // All java class is subclass of Object.

Now about method invocation, since java compiler invokes method depending upon the reference type of declared object. name() method can be invoked by horse and animal reference, since it is declared in Animal class and Overridden in Horse class. same for run() method, that is implemented in Horse class and declared in Running interface.

If you will try to invoke run() method from animal reference, compiler show you an ugly face saying that “The method run() is undefined for type Animal…” since run() method is unknown for Animal class.

class TestInvocation {
   public void invoke() {
      Horse horse = new Horse(); // since it is Horse itself.
      Animal animal = new Horse(); // since Horse extends Animal.
      Running running = new Horse(); // since Horse implements Running.
      Object obj = new Horse(); // All java class is subclass of Object.

      // Invoking name() method.

      // Invoking run() method.

      // Invoking parentMethod()

All above discussion was about compiler, what about runtime behavior of polymorphic instance. When we invoke name() method Animal reference, JVM finds the actual object type at runtime. Since name() method is overridden in Horse class, the JVM will invoke name() method of Horse class. So, method invocation is resolved at runtime. Note that this polymorphic method invocation is applicable only for instance methods. NOT static methods, NOT variables.

One thing to keep in mind…

Polymorphic method invocations apply only to instance methods. You can always refer to an object with a more general reference variable type ( a superclass or interface ), but at runtime, the ONLY things that are dynamically selected based on the actual object (rather than the reference type) are instance methods Not static methods. Not variables. Only overridden instance methods are dynamically invoked based on thereal object’s type.

This can be referred as Runtime and Compile time Polymorphism.

The example above we have seen is Runtime Polymorphism as the method invocation resolved at Runtime depending upon type of Object stored in Heap.

Runtime Polymorphism :

JVM will resolve that which method() to invoke by type of object stored in heap at runtime. Invoking Overridden method is example of Runtime polymorphism.

class Parent {
   public void method() {
      System.out.println("This is parent class method.");

class Child extends Parent {
   public void method() {
      System.out.println("This is chile class method.");

class Test {
   public void invoke() {
      // Object of Parent class with Parent reference type.
      Parent parent1 = new Parent();
      // Object of Child class with Parent referece type.
      Parent parent2 = new Child();

      // This will invoke method() of Parent class.
      // This will invoke method() of Child class.

Compiletime Polymorphism :

Invocation of Overloaded method is example of Compiletime polymorphism. Flow of execution will be decided at compilation of java program.

class CompiletimeDemo {
   public void method() {
      System.out.println("Method with no parameter.");

   public void method(String name) {
      System.out.println("Method with single parameter.");

   public void method(String... name) {
      System.out.println("Method with dynamic parameter");

   public void invoke() {
      CompiletimeDemo compile = new CompiletimeDemo();
      compile.method("First Name");
      compile.method("First name","Last name");

In above example, Invocation of method() will be decided at compile time. More on method overriding and method overloading will be described in next article. Stay updated with Java by Examples.

You can always clone the executable code of article posted on Java By Examples from github.com
Repository URL : https://github.com/ksarsecha/java8_in.git


4 thoughts on “Polymorphism in Java

  1. Priya

    polymorphism is one of the pillors of java . It is very important in java. Many Thanks for sharing in detail.

  2. pranit

    Very informative and insightful article!
    Polymorphism is a very important concept in object oriented programming which enables to change the behavior of the applications in the run time based on the object on which the invocation happens. Thanks a lot for sharing with us!


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