Runtime Polymorphism | Dynamic Method Dispatch in Java

Table of Contents

In the world of Java programming, understanding polymorphism is essential for writing flexible and maintainable code. One of the key aspects of polymorphism is runtime polymorphism, also known as dynamic method dispatch. In this comprehensive guide, we will explore what runtime polymorphism is, how it works in Java, and provide you with practical examples to grasp this concept thoroughly.

1. Introduction to Polymorphism

What is Polymorphism?

Polymorphism is a fundamental concept in object-oriented programming (OOP). It allows objects of different classes to be treated as objects of a common superclass. This enables flexibility and reusability in your code. Polymorphism can be achieved through two mechanisms: compile-time polymorphism (method overloading) and runtime polymorphism (method overriding).

Types of Polymorphism

  1. Compile-Time Polymorphism: This type of polymorphism is resolved at compile time and involves method overloading. In method overloading, multiple methods with the same name but different parameter lists exist in the same class.
  2. Runtime Polymorphism: Also known as dynamic polymorphism, runtime polymorphism is resolved at runtime. It involves method overriding, where a subclass provides a specific implementation of a method defined in its superclass.

2. Understanding Runtime Polymorphism

What is Runtime Polymorphism?

Runtime polymorphism, also referred to as dynamic method dispatch, is a mechanism in Java where the method called on an object is determined at runtime. In other words, the decision about which method to call for an object is made during program execution, not at compile time.

How Does Runtime Polymorphism Work?

Runtime polymorphism relies on inheritance and method overriding. Here’s how it works:

  1. A subclass inherits a method from its superclass.
  2. The subclass provides its own implementation of the inherited method.
  3. When an object of the subclass is created and the method is called on that object, the JVM (Java Virtual Machine) determines which implementation of the method to execute based on the actual type of the object at runtime.

This dynamic method resolution is a crucial feature of polymorphism, allowing you to write flexible and extensible code.

3. Dynamic Method Dispatch

The Role of Dynamic Method Dispatch

Dynamic method dispatch is the mechanism through which the correct version of an overridden method is called at runtime. It plays a pivotal role in runtime polymorphism by determining the appropriate method to execute based on the actual object type.

Example of Dynamic Method Dispatch

Consider a simple example involving a class hierarchy of shapes:

class Shape {
    void draw() {
        System.out.println("Drawing a shape");

class Circle extends Shape {
    void draw() {
        System.out.println("Drawing a circle");

class Square extends Shape {
    void draw() {
        System.out.println("Drawing a square");

public class Main {
    public static void main(String[] args) {
        Shape s1 = new Circle();
        Shape s2 = new Square();

        s1.draw(); // Calls draw() of Circle class
        s2.draw(); // Calls draw() of Square class

In this example, Shape is the superclass, and Circle and Square are subclasses that override the draw method. When objects of these subclasses are created and their draw methods are called, the JVM dynamically determines the appropriate draw method to execute based on the actual object type (Circle or Square).

4. Benefits of Runtime Polymorphism

Code Reusability

Runtime polymorphism enhances code reusability by allowing you to create generic code that works with objects of different subclasses. This reduces code duplication and promotes maintainability.


You can easily extend your code by adding new subclasses that override methods in the superclass. Existing code that works with the superclass can seamlessly work with the new subclasses, enhancing the extensibility of your software.

Ease of Maintenance

With runtime polymorphism, you can make changes to the behavior of your program by modifying the method implementations in the subclasses, rather than altering the existing code. This makes maintenance and updates more manageable.

5. Java Implementation

Abstract Classes and Interfaces

In Java, runtime polymorphism is often implemented using abstract classes and interfaces. Abstract classes can contain abstract (unimplemented) methods, while interfaces can declare method signatures to be implemented by implementing classes.

Method Overriding

Method overriding is the key concept behind runtime polymorphism. In a subclass, you can provide a specific implementation of a method that is already defined in its superclass. To achieve method overriding:

  • The method in the subclass must have the same name, return type, and parameters as the method in the superclass.
  • You must use the @Override annotation to indicate that you intend to override a method.

Using @Override Annotation

The @Override annotation is a helpful tool for ensuring that you are correctly overriding methods from a superclass. It provides compile-time checks and helps prevent common mistakes.

class Animal {
    void makeSound() {
        System.out.println("Animal makes a sound");

class Dog extends Animal {
    void makeSound() {
        System.out.println("Dog barks");

In this example, the @Override annotation is used to indicate that the makeSound method in the Dog class is intended to override the method in the Animal class.

6. Common Pitfalls

Method Signature

When overriding a method, it’s crucial to match the method signature, including the method name, return type, and parameter types. Failing to do so will result in a compilation error.

Constructors and Static Methods

Constructors and static methods cannot be overridden in the same way as instance methods. They are shadowed in the subclass rather than overridden. Subclasses can have their own constructors and static methods, but they do not inherit them from the superclass.

Final Methods

Methods declared as final in the superclass cannot be overridden in the subclass. Attempting to override a final method will result in a

compilation error.

7. Practical Examples

A Shape Hierarchy

Let’s revisit the earlier example involving shapes. You can create a hierarchy of shapes, such as circles, squares, and triangles, and implement runtime polymorphism to handle their drawing operations.

Real-World Scenario

Consider a real-world scenario where you have an e-commerce system with various payment methods, including credit card, PayPal, and cryptocurrency. You can use runtime polymorphism to process payments in a generic way, making it easy to add new payment methods in the future without modifying existing code.

8. Conclusion

Runtime polymorphism, also known as dynamic method dispatch, is a powerful concept in Java that allows you to write flexible and extensible code. By leveraging method overriding, abstract classes, interfaces, and the @Override annotation, you can achieve dynamic method resolution at runtime, enabling code reusability, extensibility, and ease of maintenance.

In this guide, we explored the fundamentals of runtime polymorphism, its benefits, common pitfalls to avoid, and practical examples to illustrate its use. Embracing runtime polymorphism is a valuable skill for Java developers, as it enhances code quality and maintainability, making your software more adaptable to changing requirements.

For further learning and reference, you can visit this link for additional insights and examples on the topic of runtime polymorphism in Java. Happy coding!

Anand Das

Anand Das

Anand is Co-founder and CTO of Bito. He leads technical strategy and engineering, and is our biggest user! Formerly, Anand was CTO of Eyeota, a data company acquired by Dun & Bradstreet. He is co-founder of PubMatic, where he led the building of an ad exchange system that handles over 1 Trillion bids per day.

From Bito team with

This article is brought to you by Bito – an AI developer assistant.

Latest posts

Effective JavaScript Techniques for Comparing Two Arrays

Mastering Loop Control in Python: Break vs Continue Explained

Reading JSON Files in Python: A Step-by-Step Tutorial

Efficient Data Iteration: Mastering Python Generators

Introduction to Static Variables in Python

Top posts

Effective JavaScript Techniques for Comparing Two Arrays

Mastering Loop Control in Python: Break vs Continue Explained

Reading JSON Files in Python: A Step-by-Step Tutorial

Efficient Data Iteration: Mastering Python Generators

Introduction to Static Variables in Python

Related Articles

Get Bito for IDE of your choice