The following Java tutorial introduces object serialization--Java's built-in mechanism for manipulating objects as streams of bytes. Object serialization provides the foundation for Java's remote method invocation (RMI) capabilties that enable Java programs that are distributed over a network to invoke each others so-called "remote methods." RMI is used frequently in distributed enterprise applications that are built with Java Enterprise Edition (Java EE). In this tutorial, we demonstrate object serialization by writing entire objects to and reading entire objects from files on disk. This tutorial is intended for students and professionals who are already familiar with Java programming. Download the examples for this tutorial here.
[Notes: This tutorial is an excerpt (Section 14.6) of Chapter 14, Files and Streams, from our best-selling textbook Java How to Program, 6/e. This tutorial may refer to other chapters or sections of the book that are not included here. When you purchase this book you also get free access to the Web-based Java Multimedia Cyber Classroom, 6/e, for six months. The Cyber Classroom includes audio descriptions of the examples in Chapters 1-14, solutions to approximately one-half of the end-of-chapter exercises, interactive true/false self-assessment questions and a searchable Web-based e-book. Permission Information: Deitel, Harvey M. and Paul J., JAVA HOW TO PROGRAM, ©2005, pp. 697-706. Electronically reproduced by permission of Pearson Education, Inc., Upper Saddle River, New Jersey.]
14.6 Introduction to Object Serialization
In Section 14.5, we demonstrated how to write the individual fields of an AccountRecord object into a file as text, and how to read those fields from a file and place their values into an AccountRecord object in memory. In the examples, AccountRecord was used to aggregate the information for one record. When the instance variables for an AccountRecord were output to a disk file, certain information was lost, such as the type of each value. For instance, if the value "3" were read from a file, there is no way to tell if the value came from an int, a String or a double. We have only data, not type information, on a disk. If the program that is going to read this data “knows” what object type the data corresponds to, then the data is simply read into objects of that type. For example, in Section 14.5.2, we know that we are inputting an int (the account number), followed by two Strings (the first and last name) and a double (the balance). We also know that these values are separated by spaces, with only one record on each line. Sometimes we will not know exactly how the data is stored in a file. In such cases, we would like to read or write an entire object from a file. Java provides such a mechanism, called object serialization. A so-called serialized object is an object represented as a sequence of bytes that includes the object’s data as well as information about the object’s type and the types of data stored in the object. After a serialized object has been written into a file, it can be read from the file and deserialized—that is, the type information and bytes that represent the object and its data can be used to recreate the object in memory.
Classes ObjectInputStream and ObjectOutputStream, which respectively implement the ObjectInput and ObjectOutput interfaces, enable entire objects to be read from or written to a stream (possibly a file). To use serialization with files, we initialize ObjectInputStream and ObjectOutputStream objects with stream objects that read from and write to files—objects of classes FileInputStream and FileOutputStream, respectively. Initializing stream objects with other stream objects in this manner is sometimes called wrapping—the new stream object being created wraps the stream object specified as a constructor argument. To wrap a FileInputStream in an ObjectInputStream, for instance, we pass the FileInputStream object to the ObjectInputStream’s constructor.
The ObjectOutput interface contains method writeObject, which takes an Object that implements interface Serializable (discussed shortly) as an argument and writes its information to an OutputStream. Correspondingly, the ObjectInput interface contains method readObject, which reads and returns a reference to an Object from an InputStream. After an object has been read, its reference can be cast to the object’s actual type. As you will see in , Networking, applications that communicate via a network, such as the Internet, can also transmit entire objects across the network.
In this section, we create and manipulate sequential-access files using object serialization. Object serialization is performed with byte-based streams, so the sequential files created and manipulated will be binary files. Recall that binary files cannot be viewed in standard text editors. For this reason, we write a separate application that knows how to read and display serialized objects.