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Instance Initialization

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When creating a New Class bear in mind that the instance variables in a newly instantiated object will be nil by default. This may leave the new object in an invalid state if further initialization is not performed. If there are sensible default values for the instance variables then the new object should be born with them.

Often this can be achieved using an Instance Creation Method however, in many cases, there are instance variables that can't be explicity provided for in this way. Ideally, we need a scheme whereby an object can, itself, initialize some of its own variable slots to sensible default values.

Also Known As

Explicit Initialization


Implement an #initialize method to set the initial values of the instance variables. Note that class Object does not inherently arrange for this method to be called during object creation, so you must cause this to happen. This is usually done by overriding an appropriate #new method, causing it to send #initialize to the new instance before it is returned. This scheme therefore avoids relying on clients of the class to perform their own explicit initialization of new instances.

If you are writing a class that is descended from one that already performs such initialization then it is not necessary to override #new again. You will normally want to pass #initialize on to super in the #initialize method however.


Consider a class LotterySyndicate with two instance variables participants (a collection of people who are members of the syndicate) and winningsSoFar (the total value of winnings so far).

LotterySyndicate class>>new

  "Answer an initialised instance of LotterySyndicate."

  ^super new initialize



  "Initialize the receiver."

  participants := Set new.

  winningsSoFar := 0


With an additional subclass, TaxableLotterySyndicate, which introduces an instance variable holding a tax rate, it is not necessary to override new again but #initialize must be forwarded to super.


  "Initialize the receiver."

  super initialize.

  taxRate := 0.


Known Uses

The Delay class contains an instance method #initialize which initializes instances of the Delay class. The class method #new runs the inherited #new method and then sends #initialize to the resultant Delay. The initialized Delay is then returned as the answer of #new.


  "Private - Initialize the receiver to be a valid Delay, but one which will fire immediately.

      Answer the receiver."

  duration := 0.

  waitSemaphore := Semaphore new



  "Answer a new, valid, Delay, but one which will fire immediately it receives #wait.

      See #forMilliseconds:, #forSeconds:, and #untilMilliseconds:"

  ^super new initialize


The sample VideoRecording class contains an #initialize method to set up the default attributes of a recorded programme:


  "Private - Initialize the receiver to contain default values."


      title: self defaultTitle;

      date: Date today;

      time: Time now;

      length: self defaultLength



  "Answer a new, initialised, instance of the receiver."

  ^super new initialise



Sometimes the initialization of instance variables may be time consuming and, if they are unlikely to be accessed, it may be more appropriate to leave them uninitialized and employ Lazy Initialization instead. This, in turn, yields a small time penalty each time the variable is accessed, however.

Related Patterns

Accessor Method, Class Initialization