Comparing Java enum members: == or equals()?

6 Answers

Can == be used on enum?

Yes: enums have tight instance controls that allows you to use == to compare instances. Here's the guarantee provided by the language specification (emphasis by me):

JLS 8.9 Enums

An enum type has no instances other than those defined by its enum constants.

It is a compile-time error to attempt to explicitly instantiate an enum type. The final clone method in Enum ensures that enum constants can never be cloned, and the special treatment by the serialization mechanism ensures that duplicate instances are never created as a result of deserialization. Reflective instantiation of enum types is prohibited. Together, these four things ensure that no instances of an enum type exist beyond those defined by the enum constants.

Because there is only one instance of each enum constant, it is permissible to use the == operator in place of the equals method when comparing two object references if it is known that at least one of them refers to an enum constant. (The equals method in Enum is a final method that merely invokes super.equals on its argument and returns the result, thus performing an identity comparison.)

This guarantee is strong enough that Josh Bloch recommends, that if you insist on using the singleton pattern, the best way to implement it is to use a single-element enum (see: Effective Java 2nd Edition, Item 3: Enforce the singleton property with a private constructor or an enum type; also Thread safety in Singleton)

What are the differences between == and equals?

As a reminder, it needs to be said that generally, == is NOT a viable alternative to equals. When it is, however (such as with enum), there are two important differences to consider:

== never throws NullPointerException

enum Color { BLACK, WHITE };

Color nothing = null;
if (nothing == Color.BLACK);      // runs fine
if (nothing.equals(Color.BLACK)); // throws NullPointerException

== is subject to type compatibility check at compile time

enum Color { BLACK, WHITE };
enum Chiral { LEFT, RIGHT };

if (Color.BLACK.equals(Chiral.LEFT)); // compiles fine
if (Color.BLACK == Chiral.LEFT);      // DOESN'T COMPILE!!! Incompatible types!

Should == be used when applicable?

Bloch specifically mentions that immutable classes that have proper control over their instances can guarantee to their clients that == is usable. enum is specifically mentioned to exemplify.

Item 1: Consider static factory methods instead of constructors

[...] it allows an immutable class to make the guarantee that no two equal instances exist: a.equals(b) if and only if a==b. If a class makes this guarantee, then its clients can use the == operator instead of the equals(Object) method, which may result in improved performance. Enum types provide this guarantee.

To summarize, the arguments for using == on enum are:

  • It works.
  • It's faster.
  • It's safer at run-time.
  • It's safer at compile-time.

I know that Java enums are compiled to classes with private constructors and a bunch of public static members. When comparing two members of a given enum, I've always used .equals(), e.g.

public useEnums(SomeEnum a)

However, I just came across some code that uses the equals operator == instead of .equals():

public useEnums2(SomeEnum a)
    if(a == SomeEnum.SOME_ENUM_VALUE)

Which operator is the one I should be using?

You can use: ==, equals() or switch() block for comparing Enums, all are technically true and would serve your need.

Check this tutorial to know more about the common operations of Enum: How to use Enums in java

Enum in the middle is a set of constant integers. "==" is just as valid and proper as if you compared two integers.

As others have said, both == and .equals() work in most cases. The compile time certainty that you're not comparing completely different types of Objects that others have pointed out is valid and beneficial, however the particular kind of bug of comparing objects of two different compile time types would also be found by FindBugs (and probably by Eclipse/IntelliJ compile time inspections), so the Java compiler finding it doesn't add that much extra safety.


  1. The fact that == never throws NPE in my mind is a disadvantage of ==. There should hardly ever be a need for enum types to be null, since any extra state that you may want to express via null can just be added to the enum as an additional instance. If it is unexpectedly null, I'd rather have a NPE than == silently evaluating to false. Therefore I disagree with the it's safer at run-time opinion; it's better to get into the habit never to let enum values be @Nullable.
  2. The argument that == is faster is also bogus. In most cases you'll call .equals() on a variable whose compile time type is the enum class, and in those cases the compiler can know that this is the same as == (because an enum's equals() method can not be overridden) and can optimize the function call away. I'm not sure if the compiler currently does this, but if it doesn't, and turns out to be a performance problem in Java overall, then I'd rather fix the compiler than have 100,000 Java programmers change their programming style to suit a particular compiler version's performance characteristics.
  3. enums are Objects. For all other Object types the standard comparison is .equals(), not ==. I think it's dangerous to make an exception for enums because you might end up accidentally comparing Objects with == instead of equals(), especially if you refactor an enum into a non-enum class. In case of such a refactoring, the It works point from above is wrong. To convince yourself that a use of == is correct, you need to check whether value in question is either an enum or a primitive; if it was a non-enum class, it'd be wrong but easy to miss because the code would still compile. The only case when a use of .equals() would be wrong is if the values in question were primitives; in that case, the code wouldn't compile so it's much harder to miss. Hence, .equals() is much easier to identify as correct, and is safer against future refactorings.

I actually think that the Java language should have defined == on Objects to call .equals() on the left hand value, and introduce a separate operator for object identity, but that's not how Java was defined.

In summary, I still think the arguments are in favor of using .equals() for enum types.

In short, both have pros and cons.

On one hand, it has advantages to use ==, as described in the other answers.

On the other hand, if you for any reason replace the enums with a different approach (normal class instances), having used == bites you. (BTDT.)

In case of enum both are correct and right!!

Using anything other than == to compare enum constants is nonsense. It's like comparing class objects with equals – don't do it!

However, there was a nasty bug (BugId 6277781) in Sun JDK 6u10 and earlier that might be interesting for historical reasons. This bug prevented proper use of == on deserialized enums, although this is arguably somewhat of a corner case.



java java   enums