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What is the difference between instanceof and Class.isAssignableFrom(…)?

Posted by: admin November 2, 2017 Leave a comment

Questions:

Which of the following is better?

a instanceof B

or

B.class.isAssignableFrom(a.getClass())

The only difference that I know of is, when ‘a’ is null, the first returns false, while the second throws an exception. Other than that, do they always give the same result?

Answers:

When using instanceof, you need to know the class of B at compile time. When using isAssignableFrom() it can be dynamic and change during runtime.

Questions:
Answers:

instanceof can only be used with reference types, not primitive types. isAssignableFrom() can be used with any class objects:

a instanceof int  // syntax error
3 instanceof Foo  // syntax error
int.class.isAssignableFrom(int.class)  // true

See http://java.sun.com/javase/6/docs/api/java/lang/Class.html#isAssignableFrom(java.lang.Class).

Questions:
Answers:

Talking in terms of performance :

TL;DR

Use isInstance or instanceof which have similar performance. isAssignableFrom is slightly slower.

Sorted by performance:

  1. isInstance
  2. instanceof (+ 0.5%)
  3. isAssignableFrom (+ 2.7%)

Based on a benchmark of 2000 iterations on JAVA 8 Windows x64, with 20 warmup iterations.

In theory

Using a soft like bytecode viewer we can translate each operator into bytecode.

In the context of:

package foo;

public class Benchmark
{
  public static final Object a = new A();
  public static final Object b = new B();

  ...

}

JAVA:

b instanceof A;

Bytecode:

getstatic foo/Benchmark.b:java.lang.Object
instanceof foo/A

JAVA:

A.class.isInstance(b);

Bytecode:

ldc Lfoo/A; (org.objectweb.asm.Type)
getstatic foo/Benchmark.b:java.lang.Object
invokevirtual java/lang/Class isInstance((Ljava/lang/Object;)Z);

JAVA:

A.class.isAssignableFrom(b.getClass());

Bytecode:

ldc Lfoo/A; (org.objectweb.asm.Type)
getstatic foo/Benchmark.b:java.lang.Object
invokevirtual java/lang/Object getClass(()Ljava/lang/Class;);
invokevirtual java/lang/Class isAssignableFrom((Ljava/lang/Class;)Z);

Measuring how many bytecode instructions is used by each operator, we could expect instanceof and isInstance to be faster than isAssignableFrom. However, the actual performance is NOT determined by the bytecode but by the machine code (which is platform dependent). Let’s do a micro benchmark for each of the operator.

The benchmark

Credit: As advised by @aleksandr-dubinsky, and thanks to @yura for providing the base code, here is a JMH benchmark (see this tuning guide):

class A {}
class B extends A {}

public class Benchmark {

    public static final Object a = new A();
    public static final Object b = new B();

    @Benchmark
    @BenchmarkMode(Mode.Throughput)
    @OutputTimeUnit(TimeUnit.MICROSECONDS)
    public boolean testInstanceOf()
    {
        return b instanceof A;
    }

    @Benchmark
    @BenchmarkMode(Mode.Throughput)
    @OutputTimeUnit(TimeUnit.MICROSECONDS)
    public boolean testIsInstance()
    {
        return A.class.isInstance(b);
    }

    @Benchmark
    @BenchmarkMode(Mode.Throughput)
    @OutputTimeUnit(TimeUnit.MICROSECONDS)
    public boolean testIsAssignableFrom()
    {
        return A.class.isAssignableFrom(b.getClass());
    }

    public static void main(String[] args) throws RunnerException {
        Options opt = new OptionsBuilder()
                .include(TestPerf2.class.getSimpleName())
                .warmupIterations(20)
                .measurementIterations(2000)
                .forks(1)
                .build();

        new Runner(opt).run();
    }
}

Gave the following results (score is a number of operations in a time unit, so the higher the score the better):

Benchmark                       Mode   Cnt    Score   Error   Units
Benchmark.testIsInstance        thrpt  2000  373,061 ± 0,115  ops/us
Benchmark.testInstanceOf        thrpt  2000  371,047 ± 0,131  ops/us
Benchmark.testIsAssignableFrom  thrpt  2000  363,648 ± 0,289  ops/us

Warning

  • the benchmark is JVM and platform dependent. Since there is no significant differences between each operation, it might be possible to get a different result (and maybe different order!) on a different JAVA version and/or platform like Solaris, Mac or Linux.
  • the benchmark compares the performance of “is B an instance of A” when “B extends A” directly. If the class hierarchy is deeper and more complex (like B extends X which extends Y which extends Z which extends A), results might be different.
  • it is usually advised to write the code first picking one of the operator (the most convenient) and then profile your code to check if there are performance bottleneck. Maybe this operator is negligible in the context of your code, or maybe…
  • in relation to previous point, instanceof in the context of your code might get optimized more easily than an isInstance for example…

To give you an example, take the following loop:

class A{}
class B extends A{}

A b = new B();

boolean execute(){
  return A.class.isAssignableFrom(b.getClass());
  // return A.class.isInstance(b);
  // return b instanceof A;
}

// Warmup the code
for (int i = 0; i < 100; ++i)
  execute();

// Time it
int count = 100000;
final long start = System.nanoTime();
for(int i=0; i<count; i++){
   execute();
}
final long elapsed = System.nanoTime() - start;

Thanks to the JIT, the code is optimized at some point and we get:

  • instanceof: 6ms
  • isInstance: 12ms
  • isAssignableFrom : 15ms

Note

Originally this post was doing its own benchmark using a for loop in raw JAVA, which gave unreliable results as some optimization like Just In Time can eliminate the loop. So it was mostly measuring how long did the JIT compiler take to optimize the loop: see Performance test independent of the number of iterations for more details

Related questions

Questions:
Answers:

A more direct equivalent to a instanceof B is

B.class.isInstance(a)

This works (returns false) when a is null too.

Questions:
Answers:

Apart from basic differences mentioned above, there is a core subtle difference between instanceof operator and isAssignableFrom method in Class.

Read instanceof as “is this (the left part) the instance of this or any subclass of this (the right part)” and read x.getClass().isAssignableFrom(Y.class) as “Can I write X x = new Y()”. In other words, instanceof operator checks if the left object is same or subclass of right class, while isAssignableFrom checks if we can assign object of the parameter class (from) to the reference of the class on which the method is called.
Note that both of these consider the actual instance not the reference type.

Consider an example of 3 classes A, B and C where C extends B and B extends A.

B b = new C();

System.out.println(b instanceof A); //is b (which is actually class C object) instance of A, yes. This will return true.  
System.out.println(b instanceof B); // is b (which is actually class C object) instance of B, yes. This will return true.  
System.out.println(b instanceof C); // is b (which is actually class C object) instance of C, yes. This will return true. If the first statement would be B b = new B(), this would have been false.
System.out.println(b.getClass().isAssignableFrom(A.class));//Can I write C c = new A(), no. So this is false.
System.out.println(b.getClass().isAssignableFrom(B.class)); //Can I write C c = new B(), no. So this is false.
System.out.println(b.getClass().isAssignableFrom(C.class)); //Can I write C c = new C(), Yes. So this is true.

Questions:
Answers:

There is also another difference:

null instanceof X is false no matter what X is

null.getClass().isAssignableFrom(X) will throw a NullPointerException

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Answers:

There is yet another difference. If the type (Class) to test against is dynamic, e.g. passed as a method parameter, then instanceof won’t cut it for you.

boolean test(Class clazz) {
   return (this instanceof clazz); // clazz cannot be resolved to a type.
}

but you can do:

boolean test(Class clazz) {
   return (clazz.isAssignableFrom(this.getClass())); // okidoki
}

Oops, I see this answer is already covered. Maybe this example is helpful to someone.

Questions:
Answers:

This thread provided me some insight into how instanceof differed from isAssignableFrom, so I thought I’d share something of my own.

I have found that using isAssignableFrom to be the only (probably not the only, but possibly the easiest) way to ask one’s self if a reference of one class can take instances of another, when one has instances of neither class to do the comparison.

Hence, I didn’t find using the instanceof operator to compare assignability to be a good idea when all I had were classes, unless I contemplated creating an instance from one of the classes; I thought this would be sloppy.

Questions:
Answers:

Consider following situation. Suppose you want to check whether type A is a super class of the type of obj, you can go either


A.class.isAssignableFrom(obj.getClass())

OR


obj instanceof A

But the isAssignableFrom solution requires that the type of obj be visible here. If this is not the case (e.g., the type of obj might be of a private inner class), this option is out. However, the instanceof solution would always work.

Questions:
Answers:

instanceof cannot be used with primitive types or generic types either. As in the following code:

//Define Class< T > type ... 

Object e = new Object();

if(e instanceof T) {
  // Do something.
}

The error is: Cannot perform instanceof check against type parameter T. Use it’s erasure Object instead since further generic type information will be erased at runtime.

Does not compile due to type erasure removing the runtime reference. However, the code below will compile:

if( type.isAssignableFrom(e.getClass())){
  // Do something.
}

Questions:
Answers:
isAssignableFrom(A, B) =

if (A == B) return true
else if (B == java.lang.Object) return false
else return isAssignableFrom(A, getSuperClass(B))

The pseudo code above is a definition of, if references of type/class A is assignable from references of type/class B. It is a recursive definition. To some it may be helpful, for others it may be confusing. I add it in case somebody should find it useful. This is just an attempt to capture my understanding, it is not the official definition. It is used in a certain Java VM implementation and works for many example programs, so while I cannot guarentee that it captures all aspects of isAssignableFrom, it is not completely off.

Questions:
Answers:

Talking in terms of performance “2” (with JMH):

class A{}
class B extends A{}

public class InstanceOfTest {

public static final Object a = new A();
public static final Object b = new B();

@Benchmark
@BenchmarkMode(Mode.AverageTime)
@OutputTimeUnit(TimeUnit.NANOSECONDS)
public boolean testInstanceOf()
{
    return b instanceof A;
}

@Benchmark
@BenchmarkMode(Mode.AverageTime)
@OutputTimeUnit(TimeUnit.NANOSECONDS)
public boolean testIsInstance()
{
    return A.class.isInstance(b);
}

@Benchmark
@BenchmarkMode(Mode.AverageTime)
@OutputTimeUnit(TimeUnit.NANOSECONDS)
public boolean testIsAssignableFrom()
{
    return A.class.isAssignableFrom(b.getClass());
}

public static void main(String[] args) throws RunnerException {
    Options opt = new OptionsBuilder()
            .include(InstanceOfTest.class.getSimpleName())
            .warmupIterations(5)
            .measurementIterations(5)
            .forks(1)
            .build();

    new Runner(opt).run();
}
}

It gives:

Benchmark                            Mode  Cnt  Score   Error  Units
InstanceOfTest.testInstanceOf        avgt    5  1,972 ? 0,002  ns/op
InstanceOfTest.testIsAssignableFrom  avgt    5  1,991 ? 0,004  ns/op
InstanceOfTest.testIsInstance        avgt    5  1,972 ? 0,003  ns/op

So that we can conclude: instanceof as fast as isInstance() and isAssignableFrom() not far away (+0.9% executon time). So no real difference whatever you choose

Questions:
Answers:

some tests we did in our team show that A.class.isAssignableFrom(B.getClass()) works faster than B instanceof A. this can be very useful if you need to check this on large number of elements.