Kotlin | Backing Fields

Exploring Kotlin

Less than 100 pages covering Kotlin syntax and features in straight and to the point explanation.

mode-delegation-design-pattern-uml Kotlin auto-generates a field referencing a class property within its accessors "get() or set()". This field is called a backing field and it will be generated if a property uses the default accessors implementation or if one of the accessors references it through field identifier.

Class Properties

  • val & var variables defined within the body of a class are called calss properties.
class SomeClass{
    val id:Int = 2  // property "id" of type Int
    var name:String = "" // property "name" of type String
}
  • Class properties are accessible using properties names and dot notation on instances of the class.
  • Properties declared as val are read-only i.e. have get().
  • Properties declared as var are mutable i.e. have get() and set().
val someClass:SomeClass = SomeClass() // create an instance of class SomeClass
println(someClass.id) // getting value of id = 2
someClass.name = "SomeName" // setting value of name
println(someClass.name) // SomeName // getting value of name

  • So, where are those get() and set() defined?

Auto-Generated get() & set()

  • Kotlin, implicitly generates accessors function i.e. get() & set() with default implementation for declared properties.
  • The default implementation of get() returns property value, while default implementation of set(value) assigns the passed value to the property.
  • get() & set() can be explicitly defined as shown below.
class SomeClass{
    val id:Int = 2  // property "id" of type Int
        get():Int { ... }

    var name:String = "" // property "name" of type String
        get():String { ... }
        set(value):Unit { ... }
}
  • So, how does get() return the property value?

This will generate StackOverflowError!

  • We may think that, get() returns the value of a property by simply using the property name e.g. get(){ return id }.
  • Actually, this implementation will generate a StackOverflowError because we are making a recursive call to to the property.
class SomeClass{
    val id:Int = 2  // property "id" of type Int
        get():Int { return id } // recursive call StackOverflowError

    var name:String = "" // property "name" of type String
        get():String { return name } // recursive call StackOverflowError
        set(value):Unit { name = value } // recursive call StackOverflowError
}
  • So, how do get() & set() refer to a property?

Backing field

  • To avoid recursive call, Kotlin provides a backing field that will help you refer to a property within its get() & set() functions.
  • field identifier can only be used in the accessors of the property.
class SomeClass{
    val id:Int = 2  // property "id" of type Int
        get():Int = field // default implementation

    var name:String = "" // property "name" of type String
        get():String = field  // default implementation
        set(value):Unit { field = value }  // default implementation
}
  • Kotlin provides a backing field automatically if it is used in the accessors i.e. if we override the default implementation of the accessors with a custom implementation that does not use backing field kotlin will NOT generate it.
val text:String = "ABCDEF"
val isEmpty: Boolean
get() = text.length == 0 // there will be no backing field

Properties without Backing Fields

  • Backing fields are not available for properties in the following cases:
    1. Properties declared in interfaces.
    2. Properties annotated with inline modifier.
    3. Extension properties
// 1. interface property
interface SomeInterface{
    var ID:Int 
    	get() = 3 // field is not allowed for inteface property
    	set(value){ } // field is not allowed for inteface property
    	
}

// 2. inline property
class SomeClass{
    inline var id:Int
    	get() = 3 // field is not allowed for inline property
    	set(value){ } // field is not allowed for inline property
}

// 3. extension property
val SomeClass.name:String
	get() = "SomeName" // field is not allowed for extension property
Exploring Kotlin

Less than 100 pages covering Kotlin syntax and features in straight and to the point explanation.