Java Language Operators The Equality Operators (==, !=)


The == and != operators are binary operators that evaluate to true or false depending on whether the operands are equal. The == operator gives true if the operands are equal and false otherwise. The != operator gives false if the operands are equal and true otherwise.

These operators can be used operands with primitive and reference types, but the behavior is significantly different. According to the JLS, there are actually three distinct sets of these operators:

  • The Boolean == and != operators.
  • The Numeric == and != operators.
  • The Reference == and != operators.

However, in all cases, the result type of the == and != operators is boolean.

The Numeric == and != operators

When one (or both) of the operands of an == or != operator is a primitive numeric type (byte, short, char, int, long, float or double), the operator is a numeric comparison. The second operand must be either a primitive numeric type, or a boxed numeric type.

The behavior other numeric operators is as follows:

  1. If one of the operands is a boxed type, it is unboxed.
  2. If either of the operands now a byte, short or char, it is promoted to an int.
  3. If the types of the operands are not the same, then the operand with the "smaller" type is promoted to the "larger" type.
  4. The comparison is then carried out as follows:
    • If the promoted operands are int or long then the values are tested to see if they are identical.
    • If the promoted operands are float or double then:
      • the two versions of zero (+0.0 and -0.0) are treated as equal
      • a NaN value is treated as not equals to anything, and
      • other values are equal if their IEEE 754 representations are identical.

Note: you need to be careful when using == and != to compare floating point values.

The Boolean == and != operators

If both operands are boolean, or one is boolean and the other is Boolean, these operators the Boolean == and != operators. The behavior is as follows:

  1. If one of the operands is a Boolean, it is unboxed.
  2. The unboxed operands are tested and the boolean result is calculated according to the following truth table
ABA == BA != B

There are two "pitfalls" that make it advisable to use == and != sparingly with truth values:

The Reference == and != operators

If both operands are object references, the == and != operators test if the two operands refer to the same object. This often not what you want. To test if two objects are equal by value, the .equals() method should be used instead.

String s1 = "We are equal";
String s2 = new String("We are equal");

s1.equals(s2); // true

// WARNING - don't use == or != with String values
s1 == s2;      // false

Warning: using == and != to compare String values is incorrect in most cases; see . A similar problem applies to primitive wrapper types; see .

About the NaN edge-cases

JLS 15.21.1 states the following:

If either operand is NaN, then the result of == is false but the result of != is true. Indeed, the test x != x is true if and only if the value of x is NaN.

This behavior is (to most programmers) unexpected. If you test if a NaN value is equal to itself, the answer is "No it isn't!". In other words, == is not reflexive for NaN values.

However, this is not a Java "oddity", this behavior is specified in the IEEE 754 floating-point standards, and you will find that it is implemented by most modern programming languages. (For more information, see ... noting that this is written by someone who was "in the room when the decisions were made"!)