For someone interested in getting into the field, computer programming can be a little daunting. Learning a programming language is a lot like learning a foreign language, and even the vernacular and terminology that surround software development can be mystifying.
Object oriented programming is one such term, and it’s a common term fundamental to software development. Like many programming terms, it uses familiar words in unfamiliar ways. If programming is just writing code electronically, how can it be oriented around objects? Aren’t objects physical things in the real world?
In coding vernacular, “object oriented” means something very specific, and knowing basic object oriented programming concepts is important to understanding software development in general. So let’s take a look at object oriented programming and see if we can demystify the concept somewhat.
What Is Object Oriented Programming?
Object oriented programming is programming where coders define the relationship between data and functions, as well as being able to define the functions and data structure themselves. If this doesn’t make much sense yet, don’t worry; we’ll illustrate what we mean with an example.
For beginners, any discussion of object oriented programming needs to start by explaining how you’d code something without using objects. Let’s say, for example, that you’re writing an application that will calculate optimal monthly payments for users to make to a credit card over the next five years, so they can pay it down quickly without breaking the bank. The code you write to create that application needs to know certain things — how much money users have access to, how much they owe, what their APR is and so on. And it needs to be able to do certain things — like figure out the minimum payment based on principal and an interest calculation, for example.
Without objects, every time you need your program to perform the above action — figuring out the minimum payment — you’d have to reproduce all of the code associated with performing that action. Not only is this time-consuming, it’s also error-prone and creates code that’s difficult to read and debug. Duplicate code also creates an issue when you need to make changes to that code: You have to change that code everywhere it appears in your application.
Objects are a way to simplify that process.
What Is an Object?
According to Adobe, “an object is a self-contained component that contains properties and methods needed to make a certain type of data useful.” In simpler terms, objects contain the data the program needs in order to function (properties) and the segments of code the program needs to act on that data (methods). So, for example, you might have an object that contains all the data required to calculate the minimum payment — interest rate, monthly principal and so on — as well as the code that takes those pieces of data and combines them into something useful: the minimum payment.
Because all the properties and methods required to calculate the minimum payment are housed within the object, you only need to write that code once. Whenever you need the minimum payment while coding the application, you call on that object rather than reproducing the code. It’s more efficient, easier to debug and takes a lot less time.
Classes and Instances
Objects are built from classes. When you create an object, you define a class for it, which acts as a blueprint or recipe for that object. When you want to create an object from that class, you create an instance of it. If a class is like a blueprint or recipe, then an instance is like the table you make from the blueprint or the meal you make from the recipe. You can use the class to make many different instances but, as with tables and meals, the individual instances can vary from each other in small ways.
In object oriented programming, this variance might come in the form of different data being passed to different instances, which generates different results. You can assign each of these instances to different named variables, in order to keep track of them more easily.
One Function, Many Classes
Each class only has one function, but you can have as many different classes in your application as you like. For example, if you want to be able to call on objects to calculate the minimum payment and to calculate the remaining balance after the payment, you wouldn’t assign these to the same class. Doing so is inefficient; you don’t necessarily always want both pieces of information at the same time. Instead, you’d create a class for each and call on both objects when you want both pieces of information.
How Is Object Oriented Programming Used?
If there’s a truism among programmers, it’s that they like to minimize the amount of work they need to do. This isn’t laziness; when you’re dealing with something as complex as even a relatively modest mobile app for tracking your to-do list, small errors can lead to big bugs and even bigger headaches for developers. Minimizing the amount of work that needs to be done also minimizes the likelihood of errors happening. Eliminating redundancy is object oriented programming’s chief strength, and it does it in a variety of ways.
Replicating Real-World Concepts
Object oriented programming mirrors the way the real world works in a number of ways. The various people in a company don’t necessarily need to know how the other employees do their jobs; they have the information they need to do their own, and each contributes to the whole. The same is true of objects in code. A car is built to do one thing: transport people from one place to another. Different kinds of cars exist, though, and serve people in slightly different ways. Methods and instantiation are similar.
This carries the benefit of making object oriented programming more intuitive and easier to understand than other types of programming. It’s easier to understand a foreign concept when you can use metaphors and analogies to make it seem more like something you’re familiar with.
Because object oriented programming works to eliminate duplicate code, object oriented code is simpler, shorter and easier to read. It’s also easier to work in because, once you have a class working the way you want it to, you don’t have to worry about what it’s doing; you only have to worry about how it affects other parts of the code.
This simplification makes debugging your code easier, because there’s less to deal with and it’s more organized. Similarly, when you want to make a change or add a new feature to your program, making a change to a single class propagates that change to every instance of that object, reducing your workload considerably and making the change less likely to create errors in the code.
Object Oriented Programming: Java and C#
Java and C# both use object oriented programming concepts and are considered to be “pure” object oriented languages. In addition to making both languages easy to learn and understand, Java and C# handle errors well, allow for efficient coding practices, allow users to define their own classes and methods, and even allow for classes derived from other classes, with methods that can override the base class’ methods. All of these features make Java and C# excellent object oriented programming languages for aspiring developers.
Get Started With Object Oriented Programming
“I went into The Software Guild hating and dreading Object Oriented Programming, since throughout the years I had tried and tried and tried to get my brain to wrap around the crazy concepts,” said Urvashi Atodaria, who completed the coding bootcamp in 2016. “What I learned at the Guild though, is that those concepts weren’t crazy at all.”
The Software Guild offers a 12-week full-time program or 10-month online program as a part-time option, so you can learn either Java or C#/.NET with the help of master instructors at a pace that works for your life. Upon completion, you’ll be prepared for junior developer positions. Apply to the coding bootcamp today.