Inheritance in Java: Definition, Example & Syntax

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  • 0:03 A Great Inheritance
  • 1:05 Syntax
  • 2:40 Overriding
  • 4:59 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Martin Gibbs

Martin has 16 years experience in Human Resources Information Systems and has a PhD in Information Technology Management. He is an adjunct professor of computer science and computer programming.

Inheritance in Java is not an estate or a classic car from a long-lost relative. It means certain classes can share attributes from other classes. Here, we'll learn the concept and the syntax for this powerful feature of Java.

A Great Inheritance

Inheritance is a wonderful thing in Java. It's a term used often in object-oriented programming. But what does it really mean? And how do you harness this powerful concept?

To inherit in Java means allowing all methods and variables from one class to be accessible by another class. That is, the new class inherits these items. The parent class, also called superclass, is the class whose methods and variables can be used in the child class (also called subclass).

Another way to think of the inheritance concept is the phrase: A union employee is an employee; a paperback book is a book. It's more than a child inheriting 50% of their parent's DNA - they get all of it. The subclass gets all the goodies from the parent class, but it can also create its own variables and methods.

Inheritance is a key part of object-oriented programming. It allows for use and re-use of objects, methods, and variables, without having to add extra/redundant code.


The syntax for creating a subclass, and thus harnessing inheritance is:

public class Class extends ParentClass {
  //new variable or methods here

Inheritance in Java: Example

Let's look at some code. The following example creates an Employee class and another class for a union employee. All of the features of the employee class come over to the Union class, such as pay, FTE (full-time equivalent; how many hours you work in a pay period). However, this class can be used for its own methods.

public class Employee {
  private double payRate;
  private String fullName;
  private double FTE;
  public void calculatePay() {
   //calculate the pay here
public class UnionEmployee extends Employee {
  // everything from Employee will come over
  // new fields for UnionEmployee:
  private String barganingUnit;
  private String unionCode;
  private double unionDues;
  public void calculateUnionDues() {
   // can use the Employee calc pay
   // also special calc for dues

The subclass can use the variables and methods from the parent class, but not vice versa. You are not able to bring in the union information to the parent Employee class as they are private to the UnionEmployee class.


The child class inherits variables and methods from the parent. Not only can you use the methods from the parent class, you can override, or change, them. In the above example, we could use the method to calculate pay as-is. Or, we could override it for a union employee.

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