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In Java, there are five (5) reference types: classes, interfaces, enums, annotations and arrays.

More often than not, comparing various types of classes with interfaces may be confusing for a begginer Java programmer. But even if you have spent multiple years in IT industry, answering the question:

What are differences and similarities between abstract classes and interfaces in Java?

when woken up in the middle of a night could not be a straightforward task. With passing years of coding, programmers become increasingly focused on practice, completion of down-to-earth assignements and project management. Language theory becomes more and more abstract over time.

An abstract class has some interesting features:

  • it’s impossible to create an instance of an abstract class
  • it can contain abstract methods which must be implemented in non-abstract subclasses inheriting from this abstract class
  • it also can contain fields and non-abstract methods (including static)
  • an abstract class can extend another class, including abstract
  • it can contain a constructor

Can abstract class be instantiated?

Nope. But an abstract class can be invoked if contains a main method. Also, an abstract class may contain both abstract and nonabstract methods.

To sum up, an abstract class has two main differences from regular (concrete) classes: no instances and abstract methods.

Can abstract class implement interface?

Yes, but no need to provide the implementation of interface method!

To add further complexity to the matter, since Java 8, an interface can have default and static methods that contain an implementation. It makes interface more similar to an abstract class. In case of a functional interface, which may contain a single abstract method (SAM type) only, static and default methods are allowed as well.

Abstract class Interface
an abstract class can have abstract and non-abstract instance methods an interface can have abstract, default and static (since Java 8) or privte instance methods
an abstract class can extend another abstract or regular class
using keyword extends
an interface can only extend another interface
using keyword extends (not implements!)
hence, an abstract class can only extend (inherit from) only one class hence, an interface cannot extend (inherit from) another class (no matter what type)
an abstract class can implement (inherit from) multiple interfaces using keyword implements an interface can also inherit from multiple interfaces, but it uses keyword extends for this purpose
an abstract class can have final, non-final, static, non-static variables (regular fields) an interface has only static final variables
an abstract class can provide an implementation of an interface an interface can’t provide an implementation of an abstract class
an abstract class can have a constructor a constructor not allowed
in an abstract class, the keyword abstract is mandatory to declare a method as an abstract in an interface, the keyword abstract is redundant

Postscriptum I

Speaking of the Java reference types, there is a useful mnemonic to remember:

Class - C

Interface - I

Annotation - A

Enum - E

Array - A

It’s CIA - EA, like Central Inteligence Agency - Electronic Arts (legendary game studio).

Postcriptum II

Speaking of arrays, let’s recall static utils methods for arrays. There are eight of them:

  • equals(), to compare two arrays for equality
  • deepEquals() for multidimensional arrays
  • fill()
  • sort()
  • binarySearch( ) to find an element in a sorted array only
  • toString( )
  • deepToString() for multidimensional arrays
  • hashCode( )

Another important method used with arrays is: Arrays.asList( ) converting an array to a list.

And arrays use methods inherited from the class java.lang.Object: clone , equals , finalize , getClass , hashCode , notify , notifyAll , toString.