Enumerations in Java ☕


An Enumeration is a list of closely related constants. You might use an enumeration for situations like:

  • cardinal directions - north, south, east, west
  • types of novels - mystery, classic, fantasy, romance, science-fiction.
  • flavours of ice cream - chocolate, vanilla, raspberry, maple.
  • suits for playing cards - spades, clubs, diamonds, hearts.
  • chess pieces - pawn, rook, knight, bishop, queen, king.
  • status flag - open, development, test, closed.
enum Direction {

We define an enumeration using the enum keyword, and make a list of constant values. We can then refer to a value by the “enum.value” such as Direction.NORTH.

Why should I use them?

It enables you to restrict the values that you can set for a variable. They are type-safe, so it increases compile-time checking and helps to avoid errors from passing in invalid values.

It serves as a clearer way to document what are the legal values for a type.

The Facts

  • enums are implicitly final subclasses of java.lang.Enum.
  • if an enum is a member of a class, it is implicitly static.
  • enums can contain constructors, methods, variables, and constant class bodies.
  • toString() may be overridden to provide any content, if desired.
  • for enum constants, equals() and == amount to the same thing, and can be used interchangeably.
  • enum constants are implicitly public static final
  • ordinal() returns the ordinal position of the enum, the same as an array position.
    Direction d1 = Direction.SOUTH;
    System.out.println(d1.ordinal());	//prints: 1 (it's the second constant defined)
  • valueOf() can be used to parse a String (case-sensitive) to an enum type.
    Direction d = Enum.valueOf(Direction.class, "NORTH");
    System.out.println(d); //prints: NORTH
  • the order of appearance of enum constants is called their “natural order”, and defines the order used by other items as well : compareTo(), iteration order of values , EnumSet, EnumSet.range.


Constructors for an enum type should be declared as private. The compiler allows constructors to be declared as public, but this can seem misleading, since new can never be used with enum types!

Here we pass a value to each constant to set the value for ounces for each CoffeeSize through the constructor.

enum CoffeeSize {

  private int ounces;

  CoffeeSize(int ounces) {
    this.ounces = ounces;

  public int getOunces(){
    return ounces;


  • An enum can be declared outside or inside a class; but NOT in a method.
  • the constants must be the first statement.
  • An enum that is NOT enclosed in a class can be declared with only the public or default modifier.
  • new can never be used with an enum.
  • A constant specific class body can redefine a method for that constant, it overrides the method defined in the enum.
  • If an enum is used in a case statement, they should NOT use the class prefix. Everywhere else they should have prefix (e.g. CoffeeSize.BIG), unless the enum is in the same class:
    CoffeeSize c = CoffeeSize.OVERWHELMING;
    switch (c){
    case CoffeeSize.BIG: //compiler error
      System.out.println("im big");
    case HUGE:
      System.out.println("im huge");
      System.out.println("im overwhelming");

Additional Reading

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