progressive_overload progressive_overload - 5 months ago 11x
Java Question

Why does the Java API use int instead of short or byte?

Why does the Java API use

or even
would be sufficient?

Example: The
field in class

If the difference is too minimal, then why do those datatypes (short, int) exist at all?


Some of the reasons have already been pointed out. For example, the fact that "...(Almost) All operations on byte, short will promote these primitives to int". However, the obvious next question would be: WHY are these types promoted to int?

So to go one level deeper: The answer may simply be related to the Java Virtual Machine Instruction Set. As summarized in the Table in the Java Virtual Machine Specification, all integral arithmetic operations, like adding, dividing and others, are only available for the type int and the type long, and not for the smaller types.

(An aside: The smaller types (byte and short) are basically only intended for arrays. An array like new byte[1000] will take 1000 bytes, and an array like new int[1000] will take 4000 bytes)

Now, of course, one could say that "...the obvious next question would be: WHY are these instructions only offered for int (and long)?".

One reason is mentioned in the JVM Spec mentioned above:

If each typed instruction supported all of the Java Virtual Machine's run-time data types, there would be more instructions than could be represented in a byte

Additionally, the Java Virtual Machine can be considered as an abstraction of a real processor. And introducing dedicated Arithmetic Logic Unit for smaller types would not be worth the effort: It would need additional transistors, but it still could only execute one addition in one clock cycle. The dominant architecture when the JVM was designed was 32bits, just right for a 32bit int. (The operations that involve a 64bit long value are implemented as a special case).

(Note: The last paragraph is a bit oversimplified, considering possible vectorization etc., but should give the basic idea without diving too deep into processor design topics)

EDIT: A short addendum, focussing on the example from the question, but in an more general sense: One could also ask whether it would not be beneficial to store fields using the smaller types. For example, one might think that memory could be saved by storing Calendar.DAY_OF_WEEK as a byte. But here, the Java Class File Format comes into play: All the Fields in a Class File occupy at least one "slot", which has the size of one int (32 bits). (The "wide" fields, double and long, occupy two slots). So explicitly declaring a field as short or byte would not save any memory either.