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Lesson 16 - Interfaces in Kotlin

In the previous lesson, Diary with a database in Kotlin (finishing), we practiced working with the List collection and created an electronic diary in . In today's tutorial, we'll be getting back into some more theoretical matters. We're going to unveil yet another utility of the object-oriented programming world!

Interface

When one refers to an object's interface, they are referring to how an object is visible from the outside. We already know that an object contains methods that can be set as private or public. The object's interface consists of its public methods, which is the way we communicate with certain types of objects. We have already dealt with public methods in previous lessons, e.g. the ones we created for our arena warrior. The Warrior class we made had the following public methods:

  • attack(enemy: Warrior)
  • defend(hit: Int)
  • alive(): Boolean
  • setMessage(message: String)
  • getLastMessage(): String
  • healthBar(): String

If we store a Warrior class instance into a variable, we are able to call the attack() or defend() methods on it. Nothing new, right?

As a matter of fact, we are able to declare an interface separately, sort of like we do with classes, and we would then be able to use it as a data type.

We'll give it a go, but on a simpler class than the Warrior class we made. We'll start by creating a new project, naming it InterfaceSample, and adding a simple class. In my opinion, theoretical concepts should be explained using light examples, meaning not as serious. With that all being said, let's make a bird class! Our bird will be able to chirp, breathe and peck. Our Bird class will look something like this:

class Bird {

    fun chirp() {
        println("♫ ♫ ♫")
    }

    fun breathe() {
        println("Breathing...")
    }

    fun peck() {
        println("Peck, peck!")
    }

}

Done! Now, let's move to Main.kt and create a bird instance:

val bird = Bird()

Once you've created an instance of the Bird class, write whatever you named the instance, in my case, it's bird, and type a dot right after it. IntelliJ will then display all of its class methods (you can also invoke this menu by pressing Ctrl + Space):

Bird methods in Kotlin

We now see everything that we can call on the bird instance. The 3 methods we've just implemented are there as well as some others that all objects have from its base.

Now let's create an interface for our bird. We'll use the interface keyword to do just that. Naming interfaces in Kotlin is a rocket science, as well as in Java. We'll get by with BirdInterface though. Right-click on the project, and choose "New" -> "Kotlin File/Class". In the dropdown menu, choose "Interface".

New interface in Kotlin

An empty interface will be added to our project. We'll add the headers of methods which this interface will require. The implementation itself, method content, is added later by the class that implements the interface (see further).

Kotlin, as well as Java 8, allows us to implement method bodies in interfaces as well. This goes against what we're going to talk about here today. This functionality was made to support traits. However, working with traits is a bit different than with interfaces and many languages such as PHP or Scala even have a separate trait keyword for it.

Let's add method headers to BirdInterface, we'll purposely omit one of them and only add chirping and breathing:

interface BirdInterface {
    fun chirp()
    fun breathe()
}

An interface contains public methods only. It wouldn't make sense otherwise since it specifies how to work with an object from the outside.

Let's go back to Main.kt and change the line with the bird variable so it won't be longer of the Bird type, but of the BirdInterface type:

val bird: BirdInterface = Bird()

What the code above means is that in the bird variable, we expect an object that contains the methods specified in the BirdInterface interface. Kotlin reports an error since the Bird class doesn't implement BirdInterface yet. Although it does have the needed methods, it must first be informed that it implements this interface. Let's move to the Bird class and let it implement the BirdInterface interface. We'll assign the override keyword (as we did with inheritance) to the implemented methods. We implement interfaces using the : operator:

class Bird: BirdInterface {
    override fun chirp() {
        println("♫ ♫ ♫")
    }

    override fun breathe() {
        println("Breathing...")
    }

    fun peck() {
        println("Peck, peck!")
    }

When we go back to Main.kt, the line with the variable of the BirdInterface type no longer causes an error. The Bird class correctly implements the BirdInterface interface. Meaning that Bird instances can now be stored in variables of this type.

Now just for completeness' sake, let's see what happens when we remove a method from the class, which is required by the interface, like the chirp() method. IntelliJ will warn us that the implementation is not complete. Once you have visual confirmation of the interface's dependency on the class, put the method back where it belongs.

Let's write bird with a dot after it. Again, IntelliJ will offer the following methods:

Methods of a bird stored in a variable of the BirdInterface interface

We can see that now we can call only the methods provided by the interface on the instance. That's because the bird is now a variable of the BirdInterface type, not the Bird type. Meaning that we cannot call the peck() method because we did not add it to the interface.

Why did we leave it out in the first place, you may ask? Lots of potential reasons, we've already encountered one of them. By using an interface, we simplify a complex object and expose only the parts needed in a certain part of the program.

Also, I must add that interfaces cannot be instantiated. In other words, this code will not work:

// this code won't work
val bird: BirdInterface = BirdInterface()

Multiple inheritance

Kotlin, like most programming languages, doesn't support multiple inheritance. Meaning that we can't inherit one class from more than one other class. Mainly, because method naming collisions could very well occur when multiple classes containing methods with the same name inherit their methods into another class (the diamond problem). Multiple inheritance is often worked around using interfaces because we are allowed to implement as many interfaces in a class as we want. A class of the sort only allows us to work with its instances in ways that we want to. We wouldn't have to worry about of what object type it actually is, or what it provides beyond the interfaces.

Now let's add a LizardInterface to our project. Lizards will be able to breathe and crawl:

interface LizardInterface {
    fun crawl()
    fun breathe()
}

Next, we'll try "multiple inheritance", more accurately, implement multiple interfaces by a single class. We'll add a Pterodactyl class to the project. It'll implement both the BirdInterface and LizardInterface interfaces:

class Pterodactyl: LizardInterface, BirdInterface {

}

If we click on the "light-bulb" icon, we can choose to "Implement members". IntelliJ will then automatically generate the class methods we choose.

Automatic interface implementation in IntelliJ

After having both interfaces implemented, the code will look like this:

class Pterodactyl: LizardInterface, BirdInterface {

    override fun crawl() {
        TODO("not implemented") // To change body of created functions use File | Settings | File Templates
    }

    override fun breathe() {
        TODO("not implemented") // To change body of created functions use File | Settings | File Templates
    }

    override fun chirp() {
        TODO("not implemented") // To change body of created functions use File | Settings | File Templates
    }
}

Now all we have to do is specify what we want each method to do:

override fun crawl() {
    println("I'm crawling...")
}

override fun breathe() {
    println("I'm breathing...")
}

override fun chirp() {
    println("♫ ♫♫ ♫ ♫ ♫♫")
}

That's pretty much it! Now, let's add an instance of the Pterodactyl class in Main.kt:

val pterodactyl = Pterodactyl()

Make sure, that it has both the bird and lizard methods:

Bird and lizard methods on a pterodactyl instance

We'll stick to interfaces for a little while since there's much more to them that we haven't covered. In the next lesson, Type casting and object hierarchy in Kotlin, you'll learn more advanced techniques of the object-oriented programming.


 

 

Article has been written for you by Samuel Kodytek
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