Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Non-Static Members and Static Contexts

A question commonly asked on Java forums concerns an error message similar to the following:

non-static variable cannot be referenced from a static context

In Java, static means "something pertaining to an object class". Often, the term class is substituted for static, as in "class method" or "class variable." Non-static, on the other hand, means "something pertaining to an actual instance of an object. Similarly, the term instance is often substituted for non-static, as in "instance method" or "instance variable."

The error comes about because static members (methods, variables, classes, etc.) don't require an instance of the object to be accessed; they belong to the class. But a non-static member belongs to an instance -- an individual object. There's no way in a static context to know which instance's variable to use or method to call. Indeed, there may not be any instances at all! Thus, the compiler happily tells you that you can't access an instance member (non-static) from a class context (static).

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