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Comparable and Comparator in Java Example

Published on August 3, 2022
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By Pankaj
Developer and author at DigitalOcean.
Comparable and Comparator in Java Example

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Comparable and Comparator in Java are very useful for sorting the collection of objects. Java provides some inbuilt methods to sort primitive types array or Wrapper classes array or list. Here we will first learn how we can sort an array/list of primitive types and wrapper classes and then we will use java.lang.Comparable and java.util.Comparator interfaces to sort array/list of custom classes. Let’s see how we can sort primitive types or Object array and list with a simple program.

package com.journaldev.sort;

import java.util.ArrayList;
import java.util.Arrays;
import java.util.Collections;
import java.util.List;

public class JavaObjectSorting {

    /**
     * This class shows how to sort primitive arrays, 
     * Wrapper classes Object Arrays
     * @param args
     */
    public static void main(String[] args) {
        //sort primitives array like int array
        int[] intArr = {5,9,1,10};
        Arrays.sort(intArr);
        System.out.println(Arrays.toString(intArr));
        
        //sorting String array
        String[] strArr = {"A", "C", "B", "Z", "E"};
        Arrays.sort(strArr);
        System.out.println(Arrays.toString(strArr));
        
        //sorting list of objects of Wrapper classes
        List<String> strList = new ArrayList<String>();
        strList.add("A");
        strList.add("C");
        strList.add("B");
        strList.add("Z");
        strList.add("E");
        Collections.sort(strList);
        for(String str: strList) System.out.print(" "+str);
    }
}

Output of the above program is:

[1, 5, 9, 10]
[A, B, C, E, Z]
 A B C E Z

Now let’s try to sort an array of objects.

package com.journaldev.sort;

public class Employee {

    private int id;
    private String name;
    private int age;
    private long salary;

    public int getId() {
        return id;
    }

    public String getName() {
        return name;
    }

    public int getAge() {
        return age;
    }

    public long getSalary() {
        return salary;
    }

    public Employee(int id, String name, int age, int salary) {
        this.id = id;
        this.name = name;
        this.age = age;
        this.salary = salary;
    }

    @Override
    //this is overridden to print the user-friendly information about the Employee
    public String toString() {
        return "[id=" + this.id + ", name=" + this.name + ", age=" + this.age + ", salary=" +
                this.salary + "]";
    }

}

Here is the code I used to sort the array of Employee objects.

//sorting object array
Employee[] empArr = new Employee[4];
empArr[0] = new Employee(10, "Mikey", 25, 10000);
empArr[1] = new Employee(20, "Arun", 29, 20000);
empArr[2] = new Employee(5, "Lisa", 35, 5000);
empArr[3] = new Employee(1, "Pankaj", 32, 50000);

//sorting employees array using Comparable interface implementation
Arrays.sort(empArr);
System.out.println("Default Sorting of Employees list:\n"+Arrays.toString(empArr));

When I tried to run this, it throws the following runtime exception.

Exception in thread "main" java.lang.ClassCastException: com.journaldev.sort.Employee cannot be cast to java.lang.Comparable
	at java.util.ComparableTimSort.countRunAndMakeAscending(ComparableTimSort.java:290)
	at java.util.ComparableTimSort.sort(ComparableTimSort.java:157)
	at java.util.ComparableTimSort.sort(ComparableTimSort.java:146)
	at java.util.Arrays.sort(Arrays.java:472)
	at com.journaldev.sort.JavaSorting.main(JavaSorting.java:41)

Comparable and Comparator

comparable and comparator, comparable vs comparator, comparable and comparator in java Java provides Comparable interface which should be implemented by any custom class if we want to use Arrays or Collections sorting methods. The Comparable interface has compareTo(T obj) method which is used by sorting methods, you can check any Wrapper, String or Date class to confirm this. We should override this method in such a way that it returns a negative integer, zero, or a positive integer if “this” object is less than, equal to, or greater than the object passed as an argument. After implementing Comparable interface in Employee class, here is the resulting Employee class.

package com.journaldev.sort;

import java.util.Comparator;

public class Employee implements Comparable<Employee> {

    private int id;
    private String name;
    private int age;
    private long salary;

    public int getId() {
        return id;
    }

    public String getName() {
        return name;
    }

    public int getAge() {
        return age;
    }

    public long getSalary() {
        return salary;
    }

    public Employee(int id, String name, int age, int salary) {
        this.id = id;
        this.name = name;
        this.age = age;
        this.salary = salary;
    }

    @Override
    public int compareTo(Employee emp) {
        //let's sort the employee based on an id in ascending order
        //returns a negative integer, zero, or a positive integer as this employee id
        //is less than, equal to, or greater than the specified object.
        return (this.id - emp.id);
    }

    @Override
    //this is required to print the user-friendly information about the Employee
    public String toString() {
        return "[id=" + this.id + ", name=" + this.name + ", age=" + this.age + ", salary=" +
                this.salary + "]";
    }

}

Now when we execute the above snippet for Arrays sorting of Employees and print it, here is the output.

Default Sorting of Employees list:
[[id=1, name=Pankaj, age=32, salary=50000], [id=5, name=Lisa, age=35, salary=5000], [id=10, name=Mikey, age=25, salary=10000], [id=20, name=Arun, age=29, salary=20000]]

As you can see that Employees array is sorted by id in ascending order. But, in most real-life scenarios, we want sorting based on different parameters. For example, as a CEO, I would like to sort the employees based on Salary, an HR would like to sort them based on age. This is the situation where we need to use Java Comparator interface because Comparable.compareTo(Object o) method implementation can provide default sorting and we can’t change it dynamically. Whereas with Comparator, we can define multiple methods with different ways of sorting and then chose the sorting method based on our requirements.

Java Comparator

Comparator interface compare(Object o1, Object o2) method need to be implemented that takes two Object argument, it should be implemented in such a way that it returns negative int if the first argument is less than the second one and returns zero if they are equal and positive int if the first argument is greater than the second one. Comparable and Comparator interfaces use Generics for compile-time type checking, learn more about Java Generics. Here is how we can create different Comparator implementation in the Employee class.

/**
     * Comparator to sort employees list or array in order of Salary
     */
    public static Comparator<Employee> SalaryComparator = new Comparator<Employee>() {

        @Override
        public int compare(Employee e1, Employee e2) {
            return (int) (e1.getSalary() - e2.getSalary());
        }
    };

    /**
     * Comparator to sort employees list or array in order of Age
     */
    public static Comparator<Employee> AgeComparator = new Comparator<Employee>() {

        @Override
        public int compare(Employee e1, Employee e2) {
            return e1.getAge() - e2.getAge();
        }
    };

    /**
     * Comparator to sort employees list or array in order of Name
     */
    public static Comparator<Employee> NameComparator = new Comparator<Employee>() {

        @Override
        public int compare(Employee e1, Employee e2) {
            return e1.getName().compareTo(e2.getName());
        }
    };

All the above implementations of Comparator interface are anonymous classes. We can use these comparators to pass an argument to sort function of Arrays and Collections classes.

//sort employees array using Comparator by Salary
Arrays.sort(empArr, Employee.SalaryComparator);
System.out.println("Employees list sorted by Salary:\n"+Arrays.toString(empArr));

//sort employees array using Comparator by Age
Arrays.sort(empArr, Employee.AgeComparator);
System.out.println("Employees list sorted by Age:\n"+Arrays.toString(empArr));

//sort employees array using Comparator by Name
Arrays.sort(empArr, Employee.NameComparator);
System.out.println("Employees list sorted by Name:\n"+Arrays.toString(empArr));

Here is the output of the above code snippet:

Employees list sorted by Salary:
[[id=5, name=Lisa, age=35, salary=5000], [id=10, name=Mikey, age=25, salary=10000], [id=20, name=Arun, age=29, salary=20000], [id=1, name=Pankaj, age=32, salary=50000]]
Employees list sorted by Age:
[[id=10, name=Mikey, age=25, salary=10000], [id=20, name=Arun, age=29, salary=20000], [id=1, name=Pankaj, age=32, salary=50000], [id=5, name=Lisa, age=35, salary=5000]]
Employees list sorted by Name:
[[id=20, name=Arun, age=29, salary=20000], [id=5, name=Lisa, age=35, salary=5000], [id=10, name=Mikey, age=25, salary=10000], [id=1, name=Pankaj, age=32, salary=50000]]

So now we know that if we want to sort java object array or list, we need to implement java Comparable interface to provide default sorting and we should implement java Comparator interface to provide different ways of sorting. We can also create separate class that implements Comparator interface and then use it. Here is the final classes we have explaining Comparable and Comparator in Java.

package com.journaldev.sort;

import java.util.Comparator;

public class Employee implements Comparable<Employee> {

    private int id;
    private String name;
    private int age;
    private long salary;

    public int getId() {
        return id;
    }

    public String getName() {
        return name;
    }

    public int getAge() {
        return age;
    }

    public long getSalary() {
        return salary;
    }

    public Employee(int id, String name, int age, int salary) {
        this.id = id;
        this.name = name;
        this.age = age;
        this.salary = salary;
    }

    @Override
    public int compareTo(Employee emp) {
        //let's sort the employee based on an id in ascending order
        //returns a negative integer, zero, or a positive integer as this employee id
        //is less than, equal to, or greater than the specified object.
        return (this.id - emp.id);
    }

    @Override
    //this is required to print the user-friendly information about the Employee
    public String toString() {
        return "[id=" + this.id + ", name=" + this.name + ", age=" + this.age + ", salary=" +
                this.salary + "]";
    }

    /**
     * Comparator to sort employees list or array in order of Salary
     */
    public static Comparator<Employee> SalaryComparator = new Comparator<Employee>() {

        @Override
        public int compare(Employee e1, Employee e2) {
            return (int) (e1.getSalary() - e2.getSalary());
        }
    };

    /**
     * Comparator to sort employees list or array in order of Age
     */
    public static Comparator<Employee> AgeComparator = new Comparator<Employee>() {

        @Override
        public int compare(Employee e1, Employee e2) {
            return e1.getAge() - e2.getAge();
        }
    };

    /**
     * Comparator to sort employees list or array in order of Name
     */
    public static Comparator<Employee> NameComparator = new Comparator<Employee>() {

        @Override
        public int compare(Employee e1, Employee e2) {
            return e1.getName().compareTo(e2.getName());
        }
    };
}

Here is the separate class implementation of Comparator interface that will compare two Employees object first on their id and if they are same then on the name.

package com.journaldev.sort;

import java.util.Comparator;

public class EmployeeComparatorByIdAndName implements Comparator<Employee> {

    @Override
    public int compare(Employee o1, Employee o2) {
        int flag = o1.getId() - o2.getId();
        if(flag==0) flag = o1.getName().compareTo(o2.getName());
        return flag;
    }

}

Here is the test class where we are using different ways to sort Objects in java using Comparable and Comparator.

package com.journaldev.sort;

import java.util.Arrays;

public class JavaObjectSorting {

    /**
     * This class shows how to sort custom objects array/list
     * implementing Comparable and Comparator interfaces
     * @param args
     */
    public static void main(String[] args) {

        //sorting custom object array
        Employee[] empArr = new Employee[4];
        empArr[0] = new Employee(10, "Mikey", 25, 10000);
        empArr[1] = new Employee(20, "Arun", 29, 20000);
        empArr[2] = new Employee(5, "Lisa", 35, 5000);
        empArr[3] = new Employee(1, "Pankaj", 32, 50000);
        
        //sorting employees array using Comparable interface implementation
        Arrays.sort(empArr);
        System.out.println("Default Sorting of Employees list:\n"+Arrays.toString(empArr));
        
        //sort employees array using Comparator by Salary
        Arrays.sort(empArr, Employee.SalaryComparator);
        System.out.println("Employees list sorted by Salary:\n"+Arrays.toString(empArr));
        
        //sort employees array using Comparator by Age
        Arrays.sort(empArr, Employee.AgeComparator);
        System.out.println("Employees list sorted by Age:\n"+Arrays.toString(empArr));
        
        //sort employees array using Comparator by Name
        Arrays.sort(empArr, Employee.NameComparator);
        System.out.println("Employees list sorted by Name:\n"+Arrays.toString(empArr));
        
        //Employees list sorted by ID and then name using Comparator class
        empArr[0] = new Employee(1, "Mikey", 25, 10000);
        Arrays.sort(empArr, new EmployeeComparatorByIdAndName());
        System.out.println("Employees list sorted by ID and Name:\n"+Arrays.toString(empArr));
    }

}

Here is the output of the above program:

Default Sorting of Employees list:
[[id=1, name=Pankaj, age=32, salary=50000], [id=5, name=Lisa, age=35, salary=5000], [id=10, name=Mikey, age=25, salary=10000], [id=20, name=Arun, age=29, salary=20000]]
Employees list sorted by Salary:
[[id=5, name=Lisa, age=35, salary=5000], [id=10, name=Mikey, age=25, salary=10000], [id=20, name=Arun, age=29, salary=20000], [id=1, name=Pankaj, age=32, salary=50000]]
Employees list sorted by Age:
[[id=10, name=Mikey, age=25, salary=10000], [id=20, name=Arun, age=29, salary=20000], [id=1, name=Pankaj, age=32, salary=50000], [id=5, name=Lisa, age=35, salary=5000]]
Employees list sorted by Name:
[[id=20, name=Arun, age=29, salary=20000], [id=5, name=Lisa, age=35, salary=5000], [id=10, name=Mikey, age=25, salary=10000], [id=1, name=Pankaj, age=32, salary=50000]]
Employees list sorted by ID and Name:
[[id=1, name=Mikey, age=25, salary=10000], [id=1, name=Pankaj, age=32, salary=50000], [id=5, name=Lisa, age=35, salary=5000], [id=10, name=Mikey, age=25, salary=10000]]

The java.lang.Comparable and java.util.Comparator are powerful interfaces that can be used to provide sorting objects in java.

Comparable vs Comparator

  1. Comparable interface can be used to provide single way of sorting whereas Comparator interface is used to provide different ways of sorting.
  2. For using Comparable, Class needs to implement it whereas for using Comparator we don’t need to make any change in the class.
  3. Comparable interface is in java.lang package whereas Comparator interface is present in java.util package.
  4. We don’t need to make any code changes at client side for using Comparable, Arrays.sort() or Collection.sort() methods automatically uses the compareTo() method of the class. For Comparator, client needs to provide the Comparator class to use in compare() method.

Do you know that Collections.sort() method that takes Comparator argument follows Strategy Pattern?

You can checkout complete code and more core java examples from our GitHub Repository.

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About the authors
Default avatar
Pankaj

author

Developer and author at DigitalOcean.

Still looking for an answer?

Was this helpful?

You made this really easy. It’s no longer over my head anymore. Thanks !

- Xhunter

    Hi Pankaj, Since Comparable is an interface and any class which implements the interface should override all the methods, then why “Employee implements Comparable” only overrides the “compare” method. Don’t we need to override all the abstract methods in Comparable? Thanks

    - Kalyan Ghosh

      Nice work Pankaj. I always comeback whenever there is need to refresh.

      - Manish

        Why can’t i use Comparable like this for different of Sortings… public static Comparable SalaryComparable = new Comparable() { @Override public int compareTo(Employee e) { return (int) (this.getSalary() - e.getSalary()); } }; public static Comparable AgeComparable = new Comparable() { @Override public int compareTo(Employee e) { return (int) (this.getAge() - e.getAge()); } };

        - Ram

          Comparable vs Comparator At Point 4 : It should be Collections.sort() and not Collection.sort()

          - Sagar

            import java.util.*; public class Item implements Comparable{ public int serialNumber; private String name; private double unitPrice; public Item(int sn, String n, double p) { serialNumber = sn; name = n; unitPrice = p; } public String getName(){ return name; } public double getUnitPrice(){ return unitPrice; } public void setUnitPrice(double p){ unitPrice = p; } public void printDetails(){ System.out.print(“NAME: " + name); System.out.print(” || SERIAL NUMBER: " + serialNumber); System.out.println(" || UNIT PRICE: $" + unitPrice); } ///////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////// //////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////// /** * Comparator to sort Item in order of unit price * **/ public static ComparatorUnitPriceComparator = new Comparator(){ public int compare(Item n1,Item n2) { return(int) (n1.getUnitPrice()-n2.getUnitPrice()); } }; ///////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////// /** * Comparator to sort Items in order of their names * **/ public static ComparatorNameComparator= new Comparator() { public int compare(Item name1, Item name2) { return name1.getName().compareTo(name2.getName()); } }; } I got an error after executing this code … please help $javac Item.java Item.java:2: error: Item is not abstract and does not override abstract method compareTo(Item) in Comparable public class Item implements Comparable{ ^ 1 error

            - Student

              Thanks for a simple and clear explanation of the concept. Cheers

              - deepak yadav

                Can you please explain how the same can be done using List ?

                - Vijayalaxmi

                  Nice one. Well explained

                  - Shradha

                    Excellent explanation. Thank you.

                    - Pragati