Pradeep Kundarapu
Pradeep Kundarapu
Java & Kotlin developer, blogger and tech enthusiast.

Understanding Kotlin Extension Functions

Understanding Kotlin Extension Functions

Extension function allows us to extend the functionality of a class. It does not matter if the class is in a external library. We can customize the functionality of class with out making changes to it. At first these extension functions seems confusing for Java programmers but going though some examples should help in understanding it.

I will take String class as an example because String is one of the most used class in the Java world, lets add an extension function to it. Passing a string to println will print it on console but instead of passing string to a function we can add an extension function to the String itself. In below code I created an extension function on String and calling it from main()

fun main(){
    println("Hello World!") // <1>
    "Hello World!".println() // <2> Calling extension function on String class
}

//Extension function
fun String.println() = println(this) // <3>

/* Output:
Hello World!
Hello World!
*/

<1> Passing string to println which prints message on console. This is regular function in Kotlin
<2> println function is not part of String class but we are calling extension function.
<3> Declared an extension function on String class. More about this in the next section.

Declare Extension Functions

To declare an extension function we need to prefix function name with receiver type separating with dot like below.

fun <Receiver type>.<function name>(){}

Based on our example we created an extension function on String so we declared it as fun String.println(). We are saying that String is the receiver type and println is the extension function name. Now we can call println on any String objects in my project if I have this declaration in the class path and this function will print the message to console.

For this tutorial purpose I created a simple example where it just prints a message but we can have any logic in it which can manipulate receiver type. How to access receiver type in the function? the answer is using this. this is a implicit reference to the receiver type so we can manipulate receiver using this

In the above example I just want to print so I am directly passing this to println function like below

fun String.println() = println(this)

How Extension Functions Works?

How this is implicitly reference the receiver type? I decompiled the above code to show how Kotlin converts them to Java compatible code and below is the output:

Kotlin Code

"Hello World!".println()

fun String.println() = println(this)

Decompiled Code

println("Hello World!"); // <1>

public static final void println(@NotNull String $receiver) { // <2>
    Intrinsics.checkParameterIsNotNull($receiver, "receiver$0");
    System.out.println($receiver); // <3>
}

<1> Receiver type is passed as the argument to the extension function. This is the reason we can use this in the extension function to refer the receiver.
<2> Declaration is changed such that Receiver type becomes parameter to the function. <3> Extension function implementation is converted to Java. Where ever we used this in the Kotlin is replaced with receiver in Java

If extension function println needs to take arguments then those arguments are appended after the receiver type in the function implementation. Lets assume we have a class Animal in a third party library. In below code I created a extended function to add more functionality to it and extended function takes one argument.

class Animal(val type:String){ // <1>
    fun eat() = println("$type is Eating")
}

fun Animal.run(speed:Int) = println("$type is running at $speed mph") // <2>

fun main(){
    val animal = Animal("Cat") // <3>
    animal.eat()
    animal.run(10)
}

<1> Animal class is part of third party library so we can not change it.
<2> We added run as extension function on Animal, which prints animal type and speed
<3> Creating animal object and calling eat() and extension function run(). This example shows that we can add arguments to the external functions.

Conclusion

Extension functions not only just for Java core classes, we can add them for even third party libraries. But make sure to not overuse it because they may create ambiguity in the project so some policies may be needed in the project to create and maintain extension functions.

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