Appendix A: Operator Precedence in Java
Java has welldefined rules for evaluating expressions,
including operator precedence, operator associativity,
and order of operand evalution. We describe each of these three rules.
Operator precedence.
Operator precedence specifies the manner in which operands are grouped with operators. For example,1 + 2 * 3
is treated as 1 + (2 * 3)
, whereas
1 * 2 + 3
is treated as (1 * 2) + 3
because the multiplication operator
*
has a higher precedence than the addition operator +
.
You can use parentheses to override the default operator precedence rules.
Operator associativity.
When an expression has two operators with the same precedence, the operators and operands are grouped according to their associativity. For example 72 / 2 / 3 is treated as (72 / 2) / 3 since the division operator is lefttoright associate. You can use parentheses to override the default operator associativity rules.Most Java operators are lefttoright associative. One notable exception is the assigment operator, which is righttoleft associative. As a result, the expression x = y = z = 17 is treated as x = (y = (z = 17)), leaving all three variables with the value 17. Recall that an assignment statement evaluates to the value of its righthand side. Associativity it not relevant for some operators. For example, x <= y <= z and x++ are invalid expressions in Java.
Precedence and associativity of Java operators.
The table below shows all Java 11 operators from highest to lowest precedence, along with their associativity. The table also includes other Java constructs (such asnew
, []
, and ::
)
that are not Java operators.
Most programmers do not memorize them all,
and, even those that do, use parentheses for clarity.
Level  Operator  Description  Associativity 

16 
() [] new . :: 
parentheses array access object creation member access method reference 
lefttoright 
15 
++  
unary postincrement unary postdecrement 
lefttoright 
14 
+  ! ~ ++  
unary plus unary minus unary logical NOT unary bitwise NOT unary preincrement unary predecrement 
righttoleft 
13 
() 
cast 
righttoleft 
12  * / %  multiplicative  lefttoright 
11 
+  + 
additive string concatenation 
lefttoright 
10 
<< >> >>> 
shift  lefttoright 
9 
< <= > >= instanceof 
relational  lefttoright 
8 
== != 
equality  lefttoright 
7  &  bitwise AND  lefttoright 
6  ^  bitwise XOR  lefttoright 
5    bitwise OR  lefttoright 
4  &&  logical AND  lefttoright 
3    logical OR  lefttoright 
2  ?:  ternary  righttoleft 
1 
= += = *= /= %= &= ^= = <<= >>= >>>= 
assignment  righttoleft 
0 
> > 
lambda expression switch expression 
righttoleft 
You'll find different (and usually equivalent) operator precedence
tables on the web and in textbooks.
They typically disagree in inconsequential ways because some operators
cannot share operands, so their relative precedence order
does not matter (e.g, new
and ++
).
There is no explicit operator precedence table in the
Java Language Specification.
Instead, the operator precedence and associativity
rules are inferred via the grammar that defines the Java language.
Order of operand evaluation in Java.
Associativity and precedence determine in which order Java groups operands and operators, but it does not determine in which order the operands are evaluated. In Java, the operands of an operator are always evaluated lefttoright. Similarly, argument lists are always evaluated lefttoright. So, for example in the expression A() + B() * C(D(), E()), the subexpressions are evaluated in the order A(), B(), D(), E(), and C(). Although, C() appears to the left of both D() and E(), we need the results of both D() and E() to evaluate C(). It is considered poor style to write code that relies upon this behavior (and different programming languages may use different rules).Shortcircuit evaluation.
With three exceptions (&&
, 
, and ?:
),
Java evaluates every operand of an operator before the operation is performed.
For the logical AND (&&
) and logical OR (
) operators,
Java evaluate the second operand only if it is necessary to
resolve the result. This is known as shortcircuit evaluation.
It allows statements like
if ((s != null) && (s.length() < 10)) to work reliably (i.e.,
invoke the length()
method only if s
is not null
).
Programmers rarely use the non shortcircuiting
versions (& and ) with boolean expressions.
Operator precedence gone awry.
Sometimes the precedence order defined in a language do not conform with mathematical norms. For example, in Microsoft Excel,a^b
is treated as (a)^b
instead of
(a^b)
. So 3^2
evaluates to
9
(instead of 9
),
not the value that most mathematicians would expect.
Microsoft acknowledges this
quirk
as a “design choice.” One wonders whether the programmer
was relying on the C precedence order in which unary operators
have higher precedence than binary operators. This rule agrees
with mathematical conventions for all C operators, but fails
with the addition of the exponentiation operator.
Once the order was established in Microsoft Excel 2.0, it could
not easily be changed without breaking backward compatibility.
Operator associativity gone awry.
Sometimes the associativty of an operator is implemented lefttoright in one programming language but righttoleft in another. An alarming example is exponentiation. In Wolfram Alpha and Google Sheets, the exponentiation operator is righttoleft associative, so2 ^ 2 ^ 3
is treated
as 2 ^ (2 ^ 3)
, which is 256.
However, in Matlab and Excel, the exponentiation operator
is lefttoright associative, so
2 ^ 2 ^ 3
is treated as
as (2 ^ 2) ^ 3
, which is 64.
Exponentiation is not a binary operator in Java.
Exercises.
 What is the result of the following code fragment? Explain.
System.out.println("1 + 2 = " + 1 + 2); System.out.println("1 + 2 = " + (1 + 2));

What does the following code fragment print?
System.out.println(1 + 2 + "abc"); System.out.println("abc" + 1 + 2);
Answer: 3abc and abc12, respectively. The + operator is lefttoright associative, whether it is string concatenation or addition.

Add parentheses to the following expression to make it more clear
to other programmers.
year % 4 == 0 && year % 100 != 0  year % 400 == 0
((year % 4 == 0) && (year % 100 != 0))  (year % 400 == 0)

What is the value of the expression
1 <= 2 <= 3
? Explain.Answer: It leads to a compiletime error. The compiler parses the expression
1 <= 2 <= 3
as(1 <= 2) <= 3
. This leads to a compiletime error because you can't use the<=
operator to compare aboolean
to anint
. So, while the relational operators have lefttoright associativity, this property is not useful.  What is the result of the following code fragment? Explain.
boolean a = false; boolean b = false; boolean c = true; System.out.println(a == b == c);
true
. The equality operator is lefttoright associative, soa == b
evaluates totrue
and this result is compared toc
, whihc yieldstrue
.  What is the result of the following code fragment? Explain.
int n = new String("ABCDEFGHIJ").substring(0, 5).length(); System.out.println(n);
5
. Object construction and method invocation have the same precedence and are lefttoright associative. So, Java creates a newString
object"ABCEFGHIJ"
; extracts the substring"ABCDE"
; then computes the length of the extracted substring. 
What is the value of the expression
+~17
? Explain.Hint: The unary operators are righttoleft associative.

What is the value of the expression
17
? Explain.Answer: It leads to a compiletime error because Java parses

as the predecrement operator (and not two unary minus operators). 
What is the value of
z
after executing the following code fragment? Explain.int x = 5; int y = 10; int z = ++x * y;

What is the value of
y
after executing the following code fragment? Explain.int x = 10; int y = x+++x;

What is the value of
x
after executing the following code fragment? Explain.int x = 10; ++++x;
Answer: It leads to a compiletime error. Java parses it as
++(++x)
. The++x
term increments the variablex
and evaulates to the integer11
. This leads to a compiletime error becasue you the preincrement operator must be applied to a variable (not an integer). So, while the preincrement operator has righttoleft associativity, this property is not useful.