[java] Java enum - why use toString instead of name

If you look in the enum api at the method name() it says that:

Returns the name of this enum constant, exactly as declared in its enum declaration. Most programmers should use the toString method in preference to this one, as the toString method may return a more user-friendly name. This method is designed primarily for use in specialized situations where correctness depends on getting the exact name, which will not vary from release to release.

Why is better to use toString()? I mean toString may be overridden when name() is already final. So if you use toString and someone overrides it to return a hard-coded value your whole application is down... Also if you look in the sources the toString() method returns exactly and just the name. It's the same thing.

This question is related to java enums

The answer is


While most people blindly follow the advice of the javadoc, there are very specific situations where you want to actually avoid toString(). For example, I'm using enums in my Java code, but they need to be serialized to a database, and back again. If I used toString() then I would technically be subject to getting the overridden behavior as others have pointed out.

Additionally one can also de-serialize from the database, for example, this should always work in Java:

MyEnum taco = MyEnum.valueOf(MyEnum.TACO.name());

Whereas this is not guaranteed:

MyEnum taco = MyEnum.valueOf(MyEnum.TACO.toString());

By the way, I find it very odd for the Javadoc to explicitly say "most programmers should". I find very little use-case in the toString of an enum, if people are using that for a "friendly name" that's clearly a poor use-case as they should be using something more compatible with i18n, which would, in most cases, use the name() method.


Use name() when you want to make a comparison or use the hardcoded value for some internal use in your code.

Use toString() when you want to present information to a user (including a developper looking at a log). Never rely in your code on toString() giving a specific value. Never test it against a specific string. If your code breaks when someone correctly changes the toString() return, then it was already broken.

From the javadoc (emphasis mine) :

Returns a string representation of the object. In general, the toString method returns a string that "textually represents" this object. The result should be a concise but informative representation that is easy for a person to read. It is recommended that all subclasses override this method.


name() is a "built-in" method of enum. It is final and you cannot change its implementation. It returns the name of enum constant as it is written, e.g. in upper case, without spaces etc.

Compare MOBILE_PHONE_NUMBER and Mobile phone number. Which version is more readable? I believe the second one. This is the difference: name() always returns MOBILE_PHONE_NUMBER, toString() may be overriden to return Mobile phone number.


A practical example when name() and toString() make sense to be different is a pattern where single-valued enum is used to define a singleton. It looks surprisingly at first but makes a lot of sense:

enum SingletonComponent {
    INSTANCE(/*..configuration...*/);

    /* ...behavior... */

    @Override
    String toString() {
      return "SingletonComponent"; // better than default "INSTANCE"
    }
}

In such case:

SingletonComponent myComponent = SingletonComponent.INSTANCE;
assertThat(myComponent.name()).isEqualTo("INSTANCE"); // blah
assertThat(myComponent.toString()).isEqualTo("SingletonComponent"); // better

name() is literally the textual name in the java code of the enum. That means it is limited to strings that can actually appear in your java code, but not all desirable strings are expressible in code. For example, you may need a string that begins with a number. name() will never be able to obtain that string for you.


You can also use something like the code below. I used lombok to avoid writing some of the boilerplate codes for getters and constructor.

@AllArgsConstructor
@Getter
public enum RetroDeviceStatus {
    DELIVERED(0,"Delivered"),
    ACCEPTED(1, "Accepted"),
    REJECTED(2, "Rejected"),
    REPAIRED(3, "Repaired");

    private final Integer value;
    private final String stringValue;

    @Override
    public String toString() {
        return this.stringValue;
    }
}