Objects under construction


There are two common styles for creating a new object or record. In the first style, common in functional languages, the programmer creates a new record by specifying the value of all of its fields in a single expression:

type t = { foo : int; bar : string }
let make () = { foo = 42; bar = "hello" }

In the second style, common in imperative and object-oriented languages, the programmer creates a new record by first allocating a blank record, and then filling its fields in one-by-one using mutation:

struct t { int foo; const char* bar; };
struct t* x = malloc(sizeof(struct t));
x->foo = 42;
x->bar = "hello";
class T {
  int foo;
  String bar;
  T () { this.foo = 42; this.bar = "hello"; }

In the first style, the record is fully constructed as soon as it is available, and no intermediate states are visible. By contrast, the second style allows intermediate states to be observed, which can have confusing or unsound consequences.

For instance, Java allows fields to be marked final, which disallows non-constructor assignments to the field, as in the following class:

class A {
  private final int x;
  public void printX() { System.out.println(x); }
  public A () { printX(); this.x = 42; printX(); }

A Java programmer might believe that the printX method will always print the same value, but this is not the case as it may be invoked while the object is still under construction.

This caused a soundness issue in Kotlin's non-null checking1, when a non-nullable field was observed to be null during initialisation.

// Counterexample by Joshua Rosen
class Foo {
    val nonNull: String

    init {
        nonNull = "Initialized"

    fun crash() {
        nonNull.startsWith("foo") // crashes

fun main(args: Array<String>) {

In Java, it's additionally possible for final fields to never be initialised, because a reference to an uninitialised object can leak out via an exception:

class Ex extends RuntimeException {
    public Object o;
    public Ex(Object a) { this.o = a; }
    static int leak(Object x) { throw new Ex(x); }

class A {
    public final int leak = Ex.leak(this);
    public final int thing = Integer.parseInt("42");

public class Test {
    static A make() {
        try {
            return new A();
        } catch (Ex x) {
            return (A)x.o;
    public static void main(String []args){
       A a = make();
       // a is uninitialised: its 'thing' field is zero