Inheritance and recursion

By | June 27, 2019

Question

Suppose we have the following classes:

class A {

    void recursive(int i) {
        System.out.println("A.recursive(" + i + ")");
        if (i > 0) {
            recursive(i - 1);
        }
    }

}

class B extends A {

    void recursive(int i) {
        System.out.println("B.recursive(" + i + ")");
        super.recursive(i + 1);
    }

}

Now lets call recursive in class A:

public class Demo {

    public static void main(String[] args) {
        A a = new A();
        a.recursive(10);
    }

}

The output is, as expected counting down from 10.

A.recursive(10)
A.recursive(9)
A.recursive(8)
A.recursive(7)
A.recursive(6)
A.recursive(5)
A.recursive(4)
A.recursive(3)
A.recursive(2)
A.recursive(1)
A.recursive(0)

Let’s get to the the confusing part. Now we call recursive in class B.

Expected:

B.recursive(10)
A.recursive(11)
A.recursive(10)
A.recursive(9)
A.recursive(8)
A.recursive(7)
A.recursive(6)
A.recursive(5)
A.recursive(4)
A.recursive(3)
A.recursive(2)
A.recursive(1)
A.recursive(0)

Actual:

B.recursive(10)
A.recursive(11)
B.recursive(10)
A.recursive(11)
B.recursive(10)
A.recursive(11)
B.recursive(10)
..infinite loop...

How does this happen? I know this is a devised example, but it makes me wonder.

Older question with a concrete use case.

Solution

This is expected. This is what happens for an instance of B.

class A {

    void recursive(int i) { // <-- 3. this gets called
        System.out.println("A.recursive(" + i + ")");
        if (i > 0) {
            recursive(i - 1); // <-- 4. this calls the overriden "recursive" method in class B, going back to 1.
        }
    }

}

class B extends A {

    void recursive(int i) { // <-- 1. this gets called
        System.out.println("B.recursive(" + i + ")");
        super.recursive(i + 1); // <-- 2. this calls the "recursive" method of the parent class
    }

}

As such, the calls are alternating between A and B.

This doesn’t happen in the case of an instance of A because the overriden method won’t be called.

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