What is a NullPointerException, and how to fix a NullPointerException?

In this post, we will be sharing the top 4 accepted solutions for your query.

What is a NullPointerException?

NullPointerExceptions are exceptions that occur when you try to use a reference that points to no location in memory (null) as though it were referencing an object. Calling a method on a null reference or trying to access a field of a null reference will trigger a NullPointerException. These are the most common, but other ways are listed on the NullPointerException Javadoc page.

Explanation and how to fix a NullPointerException #1:

When you declare a reference variable (i.e., an object), you are really creating a pointer to an object. Consider the following code where you declare a variable of primitive type int:

int x;
x = 10;

In this example, the variable x is an int and Java will initialize it to 0 for you. When you assign the value of 10 on the second line, your value of 10 is written into the memory location referred to by x.

But, when you try to declare a reference type, something different happens. Take the following code:

Integer num;
num = new Integer(10);

The first line declares a variable named num, but it does not actually contain a primitive value yet. Instead, it contains a pointer (because the type is Integer which is a reference type). Since you have not yet said what to point to, Java sets it to null, which means “I am pointing to nothing“.

In the second line, the new keyword is used to instantiate (or create) an object of type Integer, and the pointer variable num is assigned to that Integer object.

The NullPointerException (NPE) occurs when you declare a variable but did not create an object and assign it to the variable before trying to use the contents of the variable (called dereferencing). So you are pointing to something that does not actually exist.

Dereferencing usually happens when using . to access a method or field, or using [ to index an array.

If you attempt to dereference num before creating the object you get a NullPointerException. In the most trivial cases, the compiler will catch the problem and let you know that “num may not have been initialized,” but sometimes you may write code that does not directly create the object.

For instance, you may have a method as follows:

public void doSomething(SomeObject obj) {
   // Do something to obj, assumes obj is not null
   obj.myMethod();
}

In which case, you are not creating the object obj, but rather assuming that it was created before the doSomething() method was called. Note, it is possible to call the method like this:

doSomething(null);

In which case, obj is null, and the statement obj.myMethod() will throw a NullPointerException.

If the method is intended to do something to the passed-in object as the above method does, it is appropriate to throw the NullPointerException because it’s a programmer error and the programmer will need that information for debugging purposes.

In addition to NullPointerExceptions thrown as a result of the method’s logic, you can also check the method arguments for null values and throw NPEs explicitly by adding something like the following near the beginning of a method:

// Throws an NPE with a custom error message if obj is null
Objects.requireNonNull(obj, "obj must not be null");

Note that it’s helpful to say in your error message clearly which object cannot be null. The advantage of validating this is that 1) you can return your own clearer error messages and 2) for the rest of the method you know that unless obj is reassigned, it is not null and can be dereferenced safely.

Alternatively, there may be cases where the purpose of the method is not solely to operate on the passed in object, and therefore a null parameter may be acceptable. In this case, you would need to check for a null parameter and behave differently. You should also explain this in the documentation. For example, doSomething() could be written as:

/**
  * @param obj An optional foo for ____. May be null, in which case
  *  the result will be ____.
  */
public void doSomething(SomeObject obj) {
    if(obj == null) {
       // Do something
    } else {
       // Do something else
    }
}

Finally, How to pinpoint the exception & cause using Stack Trace

What methods/tools can be used to determine the cause so that you stop the exception from causing the program to terminate prematurely?

Sonar with find bugs can detect NPE. Refer to this Answer.

Now Java 14 has added a new language feature to show the root cause of NullPointerException. This language feature has been part of SAP commercial JVM since 2006.

In Java 14, the following is a sample NullPointerException Exception message:

in thread “main” java.lang.NullPointerException: Cannot invoke “java.util.List.size()” because “list” is null

Explanation and how to fix a NullPointerException #2:

NullPointerExceptions are exceptions that occur when you try to use a reference that points to no location in memory (null) as though it were referencing an object. Calling a method on a null reference or trying to access a field of a null reference will trigger a NullPointerException. These are the most common, but other ways are listed on the Javadoc page mentioned above.

Probably the quickest example code I could come up with to illustrate a NullPointerException would be:

public class Example {

    public static void main(String[] args) {
        Object obj = null;
        obj.hashCode();
    }

}

On the first line inside main, I’m explicitly setting the Object reference obj equal to null. This means I have a reference, but it isn’t pointing to any object. After that, I try to treat the reference as though it points to an object by calling a method on it. This results in a NullPointerException because there is no code to execute in the location that the reference is pointing.

(This is a technicality, but I think it bears mentioning: A reference that points to null isn’t the same as a C pointer that points to an invalid memory location. A null pointer is literally not pointing anywhere, which is subtly different than pointing to a location that happens to be invalid.)

What is a NullPointerException and how to fix it #3:

A good place to start is the JavaDocs. They have this covered:

Thrown when an application attempts to use null in a case where an object is required. These include:

  • Calling the instance method of a null object.
  • Accessing or modifying the field of a null object.
  • Taking the length of null as if it were an array.
  • Accessing or modifying the slots of null as if it were an array.
  • Throwing null as if it were a Throwable value.

Applications should throw instances of this class to indicate other illegal uses of the null object.

It is also the case that if you attempt to use a null reference with synchronized, that will also throw this exception, per the JLS:

SynchronizedStatement:
    synchronized ( Expression ) Block
  • Otherwise, if the value of the Expression is null, a NullPointerException is thrown.

How do I fix it?

So you have a NullPointerException. How do you fix it? Let’s take a simple example which throws a NullPointerException:

public class Printer {
    private String name;

    public void setName(String name) {
        this.name = name;
    }

    public void print() {
        printString(name);
    }

    private void printString(String s) {
        System.out.println(s + " (" + s.length() + ")");
    }

    public static void main(String[] args) {
        Printer printer = new Printer();
        printer.print();
    }
}

Identify the null values

The first step is identifying exactly which values are causing the exception. For this, we need to do some debugging. It’s important to learn to read a stacktrace. This will show you where the exception was thrown:

Exception in thread "main" java.lang.NullPointerException
    at Printer.printString(Printer.java:13)
    at Printer.print(Printer.java:9)
    at Printer.main(Printer.java:19)

Here, we see that the exception is thrown on line 13 (in the printString method). Look at the line and check which values are null by adding logging statements or using a debugger. We find out that s is null, and calling the length method on it throws the exception. We can see that the program stops throwing the exception when s.length() is removed from the method.

Trace where these values come from

Next check where this value comes from. By following the callers of the method, we see that s is passed in with printString(name) in the print() method, and this.name is null.

Trace where these values should be set

Where is this.name set? In the setName(String) method. With some more debugging, we can see that this method isn’t called at all. If the method was called, make sure to check the order that these methods are called, and the set method isn’t called after the print method.

This is enough to give us a solution: add a call to printer.setName() before calling printer.print().

Other fixes

The variable can have a default value (and setName can prevent it from being set to null):

private String name = "";

Either the print or printString method can check for null, for example:

printString((name == null) ? "" : name);

Or you can design the class so that name always has a non-null value:

public class Printer {
    private final String name;

    public Printer(String name) {
        this.name = Objects.requireNonNull(name);
    }

    public void print() {
        printString(name);
    }

    private void printString(String s) {
        System.out.println(s + " (" + s.length() + ")");
    }

    public static void main(String[] args) {
        Printer printer = new Printer("123");
        printer.print();
    }
}

See also:

I still can’t find the problem

If you tried to debug the problem and still don’t have a solution, you can post a question for more help, but make sure to include what you’ve tried so far. At a minimum, include the stack trace in the question, and mark the important line numbers in the code. Also, try simplifying the code first (see SSCCE).

What is a NullPointerException and how to fix it example #4:

A null pointer exception is an indicator that you are using an object without initializing it.

For example, below is a student class that will use it in our code.

public class Student {

    private int id;

    public int getId() {
        return this.id;
    }

    public setId(int newId) {
        this.id = newId;
    }
}

The below code gives you a null pointer exception.

public class School {

    Student student;

    public School() {
        try {
            student.getId();
        }
        catch(Exception e) {
            System.out.println("Null pointer exception");
        }
    }
}

Because you are using student, but you forgot to initialize it like in the correct code shown below:

public class School {

    Student student;

    public School() {
        try {
            student = new Student();
            student.setId(12);
            student.getId();
        }
        catch(Exception e) {
            System.out.println("Null pointer exception");
        }
    }
}

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Linux and Python enthusiast, in love with open source since 2014, Writer at programming-articles.com, India.

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