Java is Pass-by-Value, Dammit! Java is Pass-by-Value, Dammit!

I’m a compiler guy at heart. The terms “pass-by-value” semantics and “pass-by-reference” semantics have very precise definitions, and they’re often horribly abused when folks talk about Java. I want to correct that… The following is how I’d describe these

The actual parameter (or argument expression) is fully evaluated and the resulting value is copied into a location being used to hold the formal parameter’s value during method/function execution. That location is typically a chunk of memory on the runtime stack for the application (which is how Java handles it), but other languages could choose parameter storage differently.

The formal parameter merely acts as an alias for the actual parameter. Anytime the method/function uses the formal parameter (for reading or writing), it is actually using the actual parameter.

Java is strictly pass-by-value, exactly as in C. Read the Java Language Specification (JLS). It’s spelled out, and it’s correct.

In Java,

Dog d;

is exactly like C++’s

Dog *d;

And using


is exactly like C++’s


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