Java assignment operator execution

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I understand that in Java assignment evaluates to the value of the right operand so statements like x == (y = x) evaluate to true.

This code, however, outputs false.

public static void main(String[]args){     String x = "hello";     String y = "goodbye";     System.out.println(x.equals(x = y)); } 

Why is this? In my understanding, it first evaluates (x = y), which assigns x the value of y, and then returns the value of y. Then x.equals(y) is evaluated, which should be true since x and y should share the same references now, but instead, I get false.

Java assignment operator execution

What is happening here?


First of all: that's an interesting question, but should never come up in "real code", as assigning to the variable you call in the very same line is confusing even if you know how it works.

What happens here is these 3 steps:

  1. figure out which object to call the method on (i.e. evaluate the first x, this will result in a reference to the String "hello")
  2. figure out the parameters (i.e. evaluate x = y, which will change x to point to the String "goodbye" and also return a reference to that String)
  3. call the method equals on the result of #1 using the result of #2 as the parameter (which will be references to the Strings "hello" and "goodbye" respectively).

Looking at the byte code produced for that method makes it clear (assuming you're fluent in Java bytecode):

     0: ldc           #2                  // String hello      2: astore_1      3: ldc           #3                  // String goodbye      5: astore_2      6: getstatic     #4                  // Field java/lang/System.out:Ljava/io/PrintStream;      9: aload_1     10: aload_2     11: dup     12: astore_1     13: invokevirtual #5                  // Method java/lang/String.equals:(Ljava/lang/Object;)Z     16: invokevirtual #6                  // Method java/io/PrintStream.println:(Z)V     19: return 

Line #9 is step 1 above (i.e. evaluates x and remembers the value).

Line #10-12 is step 2. It loads y, duplicates it (once for assigning, once for the return value of the assignment expression) and assigns it to x.

Line #13 invokes equals on the result computed in Line #9 and the result of Lines #10-12.


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