Change Reference to Value

You have a reference object that is small, immutable, and awkward to manage.

Turn it into a value object.



As with Change Value to Reference, the decision between a reference and a value object is not always clear. It is a decision that often needs reversing.

The trigger for going from a reference to a value is that working with the reference object becomes awkward. Reference objects have to be controlled in some way. You always need to ask the controller for the appropriate object. The memory links also can be awkward. Value objects are particularly useful for distributed and concurrent systems.

An important property of value objects is that they should be immutable. Any time you invoke a query on one, you should get the same result. If this is true, there is no problem having many objects represent the same thing. If the value is mutable, you have to ensure that changing any object also updates all the other objects that represent the same thing. That's so much of a pain that the easiest thing to do is to make it a reference object.

It's important to be clear on what immutable means. If you have a money class with a currency and a value, that's usually an immutable value object. That does not mean your salary cannot change. It means that to change your salary, you need to replace the existing money object with a new money object rather than changing the amount on an exisiting money object. Your relationship can change, but the money object itself does not.


  • Check that the candidate object is immutable or can become immutable.

    If the object isn't currently immutable, use Remove Setting Method until it is.

    If the candidate cannot become immutable, you should abandon this refactoring.

  • Create an equals method and a hash method.
  • Compile and test.
  • Consider removing any factory method and making a constructor public.


I begin with a currency class:

  class Currency...
    private String _code;
    public String getCode() {
        return _code;
    private Currency (String code) {
        _code = code;

All this class does is hold and return a code. It is a reference object, so to get an instance I need to use

        Currency usd = Currency.get("USD");

The currency class maintains a list of instances. I can't just use a constructor (which is why it's private).

  new Currency("USD").equals(new Currency("USD")) // returns false

To convert this to a value object, the key thing to do is verify that the object is immutable. If it isn't, I don't try to make this change, as a mutable value causes no end of painful aliasing.

In this case the object is immutable, so the next step is to define an equals method:

    public boolean equals(Object arg) {
        if (! (arg instanceof Currency)) return false;
        Currency other = (Currency) arg;
        return (_code.equals(other._code));

If I define equals, I also need to define hashCode. The simple way to do this is to take the hash codes of all the fields used in the equals method and do a biwise xor (^) on them. Here it's easy because there's only one:

    public int hashCode() {
        return _code.hashCode();

With both methods replaced, I can compile and test. I need to do both; otherwise any collection that relies on hashing, such as Hashtable, HashSet or HashMap, may act strangely.

Now I can create as many equal currencies as I like. I can get rid of all the controller behavior on the class and the factory method and just use the constructor, which I can now make public.

  new Currency("USD").equals(new Currency("USD")) // now returns true