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Tip of the Day
Language: Java
Expertise: Intermediate
Jan 11, 1999

The Purpose of the Marker Interface

One of the "clean" features of the Java programming language is that it mandates a separation between interfaces (pure behavior) and classes (state and behavior). Interfaces are used in Java to specify the behavior of derived classes.

Often you will come across interfaces in Java that have no behavior. In other words, they are just empty interface definitions. These are known as marker interfaces. Some examples of marker interfaces in the Java API include:

 
- java,lang.Cloneable
- java,io.Serializable
- java.util.EventListener
Marker interfaces are also called "tag" interfaces since they tag all the derived classes into a category based on their purpose. For example, all classes that implement the Cloneable interface can be cloned (i.e., the clone() method can be called on them). The Java compiler checks to make sure that if the clone() method is called on a class and the class implements the Cloneable interface. For example, consider the following call to the clone() method on an object o:
 
SomeObject o = new SomeObject();
SomeObject ref = (SomeObject)(o.clone());
If the class SomeObject does not implement the interface Cloneable (and Cloneable is not implemented by any of the superclasses that SomeObject inherits from), the compiler will mark this line as an error. This is because the clone() method may only be called by objects of type "Cloneable." Hence, even though Cloneable is an empty interface, it serves an important purpose.
Ajit Sagar
 
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