Instructional Material: Singleton Design Pattern

In a previous lesson, we discussed static variables and methods. Static variables and methods are available without an instance of their containing object and are shared with all other object instances that exist in your program. This is used for global variables and utility methods that don't really have the aspect of multiple instances that many objects do. We also said that Java does not support static classes. Lets explore the idea of static classes in more detail.

A static class would be useful when you will have only one instance of a class in existence at any time in your program. A robotics example might be a class that handles the teleop phase of the robot game. You really would not want to have more than one instance of your teleop class existing at the same time since the hardware interface can't be shared. So it would be nice to be able to define your teleop class as static.

Since you can't, you could define all variables and methods in your teleop class to be static and that would technically achieve the result you are looking for. However, it would still be possible to use the new keyword and create multiple instances of your teleop class. This would not make much sense as the fields and methods are static. However, you can disable the new keyword for a class by marking the class constructor private. Now you can't create instances of the teleop class with new and you have to access the class variables and methods using the class name. This will work but at the end of the day it is kind of messy and different than most classes you would write in Java.

A better alternative might be a regular class that is limited to a single instance and that single instance is shared when you ask for a new instance of that class. This can be done using the Singleton Design Pattern.

A quick note about design patterns. Design Patterns are coding techniques or design ideas shared by programmers across the world. Like code libraries, design patterns are idea or concept libraries. Singleton is a design pattern that describes a way to have a single instance object. This is how it works:

To create a Singleton class, you add a private class level static variable with the data type of the class itself. Next you mark the class constructor as private to disable the Java new keyword. Finally you add a method called (by convention) getInstance(). The getInstance() method checks to see if the static class variable is null, and if it is null, creates an instance of the class and stores the reference in the class variable and returns the reference to the caller. If the static class variable is not null, getInstance() returns the existing reference to the single existing instance of the class to the caller. In this way all callers to getInstance() get the same reference to the single instance of the class. The rest of the class can be written just like a normal class and the variables and methods are accessed via the instance reference in the calling class.

Here is an example of a singleton class:

Here is how this might be used:

Here we have 3 references to the singleton class but only one actual object instance has been created. Note that the variable instanceCount and method getInstanceCount() are coded and accessed just they would be in a normal class. This code would print out:


Here is the example code in CodingPoint. Here is a video dicussing the Singleton pattern.

Singleton classes can be difficult to understand at first, but are very useful in Java programming and in robotics in particular.


Material Type: 
Education Level: 
Middle School
High School
Focus Subject: 
Computing / Computer Science
Robotics Software
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