Instance variables are the variables that are defined at the class level.
Class level means they are defined inside the class body but outside of any method or block.
Instance variables belong to an object and each object has its own copy of instance variables.
Thus, they represent the state of an object.

Similar to instance(or class) variables, there may also be methods that are defined inside a class.
They are called class methods or instance methods.
Example of instance variables
Below is a class Car which contains two instance variables color and model and a class method printCar which prints the values of both these variables.

public class Car {
    * Instance variables
   String color;

   String model;

    * Constructor
   public Car(String color, String model) {
      this.color = color;
      this.model = model;

    * Instance method
   public String printCar() {
      System.out.println("Car color: " + color);
      System.out.println("Car model: " + model);

Let us create a couple of objects of this class

Car objOne = new Car(“Red”, “i10);
Car objOne = new Car(“Blue”, “i20);

This declaration creates two objects with different values of color and model variables.

Now, when printCar method is called on each of this object, look at the output.

Car color: Red
Car model: i10
Car color: Blue
Car model: i20

Above output shows that each object has a different value for the instance variables.
As mentioned earlier, instance variables represent the state of an object.
Thus, one object represents a red car with a different model and another object represents a blue car with another model.

Accessing Instance variables
Instance variables can only be accessed using an object of the class in which they are declared.
Instance variables are accessed by their name using the dot operator and the object.


where objOne is the name(or reference) of an object and color is the name of instance variable.

If you are accessing an instance variable inside the same class, then there is no need to use object name and dot before the variable
It can be accessed simply by its name or using this.color where this refers to the current object.

Instance variables in memory
Each object has its own copy of instance variables. Above two objects will be represented in memory as shown below.
instance variables in memory javaDefault values of instance variables
It is also possible to define a default value of instance variable at the time of declaring the variable.
If an instance variable is given a default value, then each object will have the same value for that variable automatically initialized so that you do not want to set its value explicitly.
But you can always override the default value for a particular object.

public class Book {

   String title;

   String type = "paperback";

   // other fields and methods

Above class has two instance variables. One out of these is given a default value.
Every object  created will have the same value for that variable unless overridden.
If instance variables are not given any value, then they are automatically initialized by the JVM as per their data type as below.

Data typeDefault value
char‘\u0000′(null character)

Scope of instance variables
Instance variables support all the four access modifiers(or specifiers) in java and can thus, be marked public, private, protected and default(without any specifier).
This means that their scope(or visibility) can be limited to a class, package or they can be made visible everywhere.

If they are marked private, then getter and setter methods should be created to retrieve and modify their values. These getter and setter methods should always be public.

Remember that instance variables can only be accessed using an object of their class and there is no other way to access these.
Besides access modifiers, following are the other keywords that may be applied to instance variables.

  • Instance variables can not be abstract.
  • They can not by synchronized.
  • They can be final.
  • They can be transient.
  • They can be volatile.
  • They can be marked static¬†with static keyword. If they are marked static, then they are no longer called instance variables.
  • They can not be strictfp.
  • They can not be native.
  • They can be public, private, protected or without any specifier.

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