Replace Type Code with Subclasses

You have an immutable type code that affects the behavior of a class.

Replace the type code with subclasses.



If you have a type code that does not affect behavior, you can use Replace Type Code with Class. However, if the type code affects behavior, the best thing to do is to use polymorphism to handle the variant behavior.

This situation usually is indicated by the presence of case-like conditional statements. These may be switches or if-then-else constructs. In either case they test the value of the type code and then execute different code depending on the value of the type code. Such conditionals need to be refactored with Replace Conditional with Polymorphism. For this refactoring to work, the type code has to be replaced with an inheritance structure that will host the polymorphic behavior. Such an inheritance structure has a class with subclasses for each type code.

The simplest way to establish this structure is Replace Type Code with Subclasses. You take the class that has the type code and create a subclass for each type code. However, there are cases in which you can't do this. In the first the value of the type code changes after the object is created. In the second the class with the type code is already subclassed for another reason. In either of these cases you need to use Replace Type Code with State/Strategy.

Replace Type Code with Subclasses is primarily a scaffolding move that enables Replace Conditional with Polymorphism. The trigger to use Replace Type Code with Subclasses is the presence of conditional statements. If there are no conditional statements, Replace Type Code with Class is the better and less critical move.

Another reason to Replace Type Code with Subclasses is the presence of features that are relevant only to objects with certain type codes. Once you've done this refactoring, you can use Push Down Method and Push Down Field to clarify that these features are relevant only in certain cases.

The advantage of Replace Type Code with Subclasses is that it moves knowledge of the variant behavior from clients of the class to the class itself. If I add new variants, all I need to do is add a subclass. Without polymorphism I have to find all the conditionals and change those. So this refactoring is particularly valuable when variants keep changing.


  • Self-encapsulate the type code.
    If the type code is passed into the constructor, you need to replace the constructor with a factory method.
  • For each value of the type code, create a subclass. Override the getting method of the type code in the subclass to return the relevant value.

    This value is hard coded into the return (e.g., return 1). This looks messy, but it is a temporary measure until all case statements have been replaced.

  • Compile and test after replacing each type code value with a subclass.
  • Remove the type code field from the superclass. Declare the accessors for the type code as abstract.
  • Compile and test.


I use the boring and unrealistic example of employee payment:

  class Employee...
    private int _type;
    static final int ENGINEER = 0;
    static final int SALESMAN = 1;
    static final int MANAGER = 2;
    Employee (int type) {
        _type = type;

The first step is to use Self Encapsulate Field on the type code:

    int getType() {
        return _type;

Because the employee's constructor uses a type code as a parameter, I need to replace it with a factory method:

    Employee create(int type) {
        return new Employee(type);
    private Employee (int type) {
        _type = type;

I can now start with engineer as a subclass. First I create the subclass and the overriding method for the type code:

  class Engineer extends Employee {
    int getType() {
        return Employee.ENGINEER;

I also need to alter the factory method to create the appropriate object:

  class Employee
    static Employee create(int type) {
        if (type == ENGINEER) return new Engineer();
        else return new Employee(type);

I continue, one by one, until all the codes are replaced with subclasses. At this point I can get rid of the type code field on employee and make getType an abstract method. At this point the factory method looks like this:

    abstract int getType();
    static Employee create(int type) {
        switch (type) {
            case ENGINEER:
               return new Engineer();
            case SALESMAN:
               return new Salesman();
            case MANAGER:
               return new Manager();
               throw new IllegalArgumentException("Incorrect type code value");

Of course this is the kind of switch statement I would prefer to avoid. But there is only one, and it is only used at creation.

Naturally once you have created the subclasses you should use Push Down Method and Push Down Field on any methods and fields that are relevant only for particular types of employee.