How are Java enums more powerful than integer constants? How can this capability be used?


Enums are essentially final classes with a fixed number of instances. They can implement interfaces but cannot extend another class.

This flexibility is useful in implementing the strategy pattern, for example, when the number of strategies is fixed. Consider an address book that records multiple methods of contact. We can represent these methods as an enum and attach fields, like the filename of the icon to display in the UI, and any corresponding behaviour, like how to initiate contact via that method:

        public enum ContactMethod {
            PHONE("telephone.png") {
                @Override public void initiate(User user) {
            EMAIL("envelope.png") {
                @Override public void initiate(User user) {
            SKYPE("skype.png") {
            ContactMethod(String icon) {
                this.icon = icon;
            private final String icon;
            public abstract void initiate(User user);
            public String getIcon() {
                return icon;

We can dispense with switch statements entirely by simply using instances of ContactMethod:

        ContactMethod method = user.getPrimaryContactMethod();

This is just the beginning of what can be done with enums. Generally, the safety and flexibility of enums means they should be used in place of integer constants, and switch statements can be eliminated with liberal use of abstract methods.

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