3.6 The Binary String Concatenation Operator '+'

The binary operator + is overloaded in the sense that the operation performed is determined by the type of the operands. When one of the operands is a String object, the other operand is implicitly converted to its string representation and string concatenation is performed. Non-String operands are converted as follows:

  • For a operand of a primitive data type, its value is converted to a String object with the string representation of the value.

  • Values like true, false, and null are represented by string representations of these literals. A reference variable with the value null also has the string representation "null" in this context.

  • For all reference value operands, a string representation is constructed by calling the toString() method on the referred object. Most classes override this method from the Object class in order to provide a more meaningful string representation of their objects. Discussion of the toString() method can be found in Section 10.2.

The result of the concatenation is always a new String object. The String class is discussed in Section 10.5.

String theName = " Uranium";
theName = " Pure" + theName;                  // " Pure Uranium"
String trademark1 = 100 + "%" + theName;      // "100% Pure Uranium"      (1)

The integer literal 100 is implicitly converted to the string "100" before concatenation. This conversion is corresponds to first creating an object of the wrapper class Integer, which represents the integer 100, and then creating a string from this object by using the toString() method supplied by this class:

new Integer(100).toString();

Note that using the character literal '%', instead of the string literal "%" in line (1) above, does not give the same result:

String trademark2 = 100 + '%' + theName;      // "137 Pure Uranium"

Integer addition is performed by the first + operator: 100 + '%', that is, (100 + 37). Caution should be exercised as the + operator might not be applied as intended, as shown by the following example:

System.out.println("We put two and two together and get " + 2 + 2);

The above statement prints "We put two and two together and get 22" and not "We put two and two together and get 4". The first integer literal 2 is promoted to a String literal "2" for the first concatenation, resulting in the String literal "We put two and two together and get 2". This result is then concatenated with the String literal "2". The whole process proceeds as follows:

"We put two and two together and get " +  2  +  2
"We put two and two together and get " + "2" +  2
"We put two and two together and get 2" +  2
"We put two and two together and get 2" + "2"
"We put two and two together and get 22"

Both occurrences of the + operator are treated as string concatenation. A pair of parentheses might be in order to perform arithmetic addition, to convey the intended meaning of the sentence

System.out.println("We put two and two together and get " + (2 + 2));

The compiler uses a string buffer to avoid the overhead of temporary String objects when applying the string concatenation operator (+), as explained in Section 10.6 on page 424.