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The revision described in this post is 7e6a08eaf4272cb07138fb1ef9d5c2bb7d300df8.

Comparing objects in Java

Comparing objects is one of the most surprising part of the language for Java’s newcomers. Diving into the code directly without any theoretical background, one might find himself very confused by the results.

Moreover there are some traps that make the whole concept feel not deterministic. Let’s take a look at this example:

Integer a = 15;
Integer b = 15;
boolean areEqual = a == b;

There is an implicit boxing using Integer.valueOf(15) which returns cached Integer object. Because the reference is the same areEqual is true

After executing the code above, beginner Java programmer might think to himself - “Great, I can compare objects with ==

The next day he decides to change the values:

Integer a = 155;
Integer b = 155;
boolean areEqual = a == b;

and all of the sudden areEqual is false because 155 is above caching threshold.

Strings are also traps. If you create one by explicitly calling new you get a new reference. On the other hand if you assign variable to the string value ( “ “ notation) you get a pooled object.

The problem with this is that most of the times (I’d say 99%) we are interested in comparing relation between objects, not the reference value. I really wish == meant relational equality, and < , > , <= , >= called compareTo.

Instead of wishing let’s just implement it then!

Implementing bytecode generation for ConditionalExpression

In Creating JVM language [PART 10] - Conditional statements I introduced a way to compare primitive objects. The post describes how the compare operators are created. The only thing that needs to be changed is bytecode generation step.

Basically we need check if the value is primitive or reference. If the object is reference then the equals or compareTo method calls are generated:

public class ConditionalExpressionGenerator {
    //Constructor and fields

    public void generate(ConditionalExpression conditionalExpression) {
        Expression leftExpression = conditionalExpression.getLeftExpression();
        Expression rightExpression = conditionalExpression.getRightExpression();
        CompareSign compareSign = conditionalExpression.getCompareSign();
        if (conditionalExpression.isPrimitiveComparison()) {
            generatePrimitivesComparison(leftExpression, rightExpression, compareSign);
        } else {
            generateObjectsComparison(leftExpression, rightExpression, compareSign);
        Label endLabel = new Label();
        Label trueLabel = new Label();
        methodVisitor.visitJumpInsn(compareSign.getOpcode(), trueLabel);
        methodVisitor.visitJumpInsn(Opcodes.GOTO, endLabel);

    private void generateObjectsComparison(Expression leftExpression, Expression rightExpression, CompareSign compareSign) {
        Parameter parameter = new Parameter("o", new ClassType("java.lang.Object"), Optional.empty()); // #1 
        List<Parameter> parameters = Collections.singletonList(parameter);
        Argument argument = new Argument(rightExpression, Optional.empty());
        List<Argument> arguments = Collections.singletonList(argument);
        switch (compareSign) { // #2
            case EQUAL:
            case NOT_EQUAL:
                FunctionSignature equalsSignature = new FunctionSignature("equals", parameters, BultInType.BOOLEAN); // #3
                FunctionCall equalsCall = new FunctionCall(equalsSignature, arguments, leftExpression);
                equalsCall.accept(expressionGenerator); // #4
                methodVisitor.visitInsn(Opcodes.IXOR); // #5
            case LESS:
            case GREATER:
            case LESS_OR_EQUAL:
            case GRATER_OR_EQAL:
                FunctionSignature compareToSignature = new FunctionSignature("compareTo", parameters, BultInType.INT); // #6
                FunctionCall compareToCall = new FunctionCall(compareToSignature, arguments, leftExpression);

    private void generatePrimitivesComparison(Expression leftExpression, Expression rightExpression, CompareSign compareSign) {

There are few sections worth explanation:

Equals method is declared in Object class as follows:

public boolean equals(Object obj) {
        return (this == obj);

Therefore the parameter needs to be an java.lang.Object. The name is irrelavant (o seems fine). There is no default value (Optional.empty)

It’s mandatory to distinguish whether the equality (== or !=), or comparing (> < >= or <=) operators were used . We could use compareTo for equality operator too but not all Classes implement Comparable interface.

As pointed out before equals method is named “equals” has one parameter of type java.lang.Object and returns primitive boolean value.

Generate bytecode responsible for calling equals method. Take a look in CallExpressionGenerator class for more details on that.

The equals returns true (1) if the objects are equal or false (0) if the objects are different. The primitives equality is calculated the other way around. The values are subtracted from each other. If the result is 0 it means values are equal, otherwise they are not. To make things compatible, false needs to be swapped with true. To do that I used XOR (Exclusive or) logical instruction. The compareTo method on the other hand is very similar to primitive comparison. It return 0 if equal too, so there is no need to make any changes.

Creating call which represents compareTo call. compareTo was introduced before generics so it also takes java.lang.Object as a parameter, but returns int.


The following Enkel class:

EqualitySyntax {

 start {
    var a = new java.lang.Integer(455)
    var b = new java.lang.Integer(455)
    print a == b
    print a > b

decompiled into Java looks like this:

public class EqualitySyntax {
    public void start() {
        Integer var1 = new Integer(455);
        Integer var2 = new Integer(455);
        System.out.println(var1.compareTo(var2) > 0);

    public static void main(String[] var0) {
        (new EqualitySyntax()).start();

As you can see == was sucesfully mapped to equals and > was mapped into compareTo.

Jakub Dziworski

JVM Dev Blog