Smooth operator

Manifold: Operator Overloading for Java

Scott McKinney
© Shutterstock / Elesey

Finally you can use BigDecimal and other Java types directly in arithmetic and relational operations by incorporating a feature called operator overloading into your project. In this article, Scott McKinney walks you through this new capability provided by the Manifold project. Along the way he discusses other interesting features built atop operator overloading including unit expressions.

The Manifold extension dependency plugs into Java to provide seamless operator overloading capability. You can type-safely provide arithmetic, relational, and unit operators for any class by implementing one or more predefined operator methods. You can implement operator methods directly in your class or use extension methods to implement operators for classes you don’t otherwise control. For example, using extension methods Manifold provides operator implementations for BigDecimal so you can write code like this:

BigDecimal result = bigValue1 + bigValue2;

With unit expressions it gets even better where you can work with BigDecimal and other types more easily:

BigDecimal result = 3.14bd * 10.75bd; // `bd` makes BigDecimals

Precise measurements via units and operator overloading:

Length distance = 65 mph * 3.2 hr;
HeatCapacity kBoltzmann = 1.380649e-23r J/dK;

Arithmetic and Negation Operators

Any type can support arithmetic operators by implementing one or more of the following operator methods:


Operation Method
a + b
a - b a.minus(b)
a * b a.times(b)
a / b a.div(b)
a % b a.rem(b)


Operation Method
-a a.unaryMinsu()

Note operator methods do not belong to a class or interface you implement. Instead you implement them structurally simply by defining a method with the same signature. Note you can implement several different versions of the same method differing by parameter type.

Here’s a simple example demonstrating how to implement the + operator:

public class Point {
  public final int x, y;
  public Point(int x, int y) {this.x = x; this.y = y;}
  public Point plus(Point that) {
    return new Point(x + that.x, y + that.y);

var a = new Point(1, 2);
var b = new Point(3, 4);

var sum = a + b; // Point(4, 6)

Since operator methods are structural, you can define multiple plus() methods:

public Point plus(int[] coord) {
  if(coord.length != 2) {
    throw new IllegalArgumentException();
  return new Point(x + coord[0], y + coord[1]);



Relational Operators

You can implement relational operators using a combination of the ComparableUsing and/or Comparable interfaces.


Relational operators can be implemented all together with the ComparableUsing interface, which extends Comparable to provide an operator-specific API.

boolean compareToUsing( T that, Operator op );

Where Operator is an enum which specifies constants for relational operators.

Operation ComparableUsing Impl Comparable Impl
a > b a.compareToUsing(b, GT) a.compareTo(b) > 0
a >= b a.compareToUsing(b, GE) a.compareTo(b) >= 0
a < b a.compareToUsing(b, LT) a.compareTo(b) < 0
a <= b a.compareToUsing(b, LE) a.compareTo(b) <= 0


ComparableUsing provides a default implementation for compareToUsing() that delegates to Comparable‘s compareTo() implementation for the >>=<<= subset of relational operators. For the == and != subset ComparableUsing delegates to the type’s equals() method (more on equality later). This behavior is suitable for most types, so normally you only need to add ComparableUsing to your type’s implements or extends clause and implement just Comparable as you normally would. Thus adding relational operator support to the Point example we have:

public class Point implements ComparableUsing {
  public final int x, y;
  public Point(int x, int y) {this.x = x; this.y = y;}
  public Point plus(Point that) {
    return new Point(x + that.x, y + that.y);
  public int compareTo(Point that) {
    return x - that.x;

Now you can easily compare `Point` values like this:

if (pt1 >= pt2) ...


If you’re not interested in supporting == and != and your type implements the Comparable interface, it automatically supports the >>=<<= subset of relational operators. For example, both java.lang.String and java.time.LocalDate implement the compareTo() method from Comparable, which means they can be used in relational expressions:

String name1;
String name2;
if (name1 > name2) {...}
LocalDate date1;
LocalDate date2;
if (date1 > date2) {...}

SEE ALSO: Manifold: Java Access Control, Stop the Insanity!

Equality Operators

To implement the == and != subset of relational operators you must implement the ComparableUsing interface. By default ComparableUsing delegates to your type’s equals() method, but you can easily override this behavior by overriding the equalityMode() method in your CopmarableUsing implementation. The EqualityMode enum provides the available modes:

 * The mode indicating the method used to implement {@code ==} and {@code !=} operators.
enum EqualityMode
  /** Use the {@code #compareTo()} method to implement `==` and `!=` */

  /** Use the {@code equals()} method to implement `==` and `!=` (default) */

  /** Use {@code identity} comparison for `==` and `!=`, note this is the same as Java's normal {@code ==} behavior } */

Based on the EqualityMode returned by your implementation of CompareToUsing#equalityMode(), the == and != operators compile using the following methods:

Operation Equals <small>(default)</small> CompareTo Identity
a == b a.equals(b) a.compareToUsing(b, EQ) a == b
a != b !a.equals(b) a.compareToUsing(b, NE) a != b


Note Manifold generates efficient, null-safe code for == and !=. For example, a == b using Equals mode compiles as:

a == b || a != null && b != null && a.equals(b)

If you need something more customized you can override compareToUsing() with your own logic for any of the operators, including == and !=. To enable == on Point more effectively, you can accept the default behavior of ComparableUsing and implement equals():
public boolean equals(Object that) {
  return this == that || that != null && getClass() == that.getClass() && 
         x == ((Point)that).x && y == ((Point)that).y;

Note always consider implementing hashCode() if you implement equals(), otherwise your type may not function properly when used with Map and other data structures:

public int hashCode() {
  return Objects.hash(x, y); 

Sometimes it’s better to use the CompareTo mode. For instance, the == and != implementations for RationalBigDecimal, and BigInteger use the CompareTo mode because in those classes compareTo() reflects equality in terms of the face value of the number they model e.g., 1.0 == 1.00, which is desirable behavior in many use-cases. In that case simply override equalityMode() to return CompareTo:

public EqualityMode equalityMode() {
  return CompareTo;

SEE ALSO: Manifold: Say Goodbye to Checked Exceptions

Unit Operators

Unit or “binding” operations are unique to the Manifold framework. They provide a powerfully concise syntax and can be applied to a wide range of applications. You implement the operator with the prefixBind() and postfixBind() methods:

Operation Postfix Bind Prefix Bind
a b b.postfixBind(a) a.prefixBind(b)


If the type of a implements R prefixBind(B) where B is assignable from the type of b, then a b compiles as the method call a.prefixBind(b) having type R. Otherwise, if the type of b implements R postfixBind(A) where A is assignable from the type of a, then a b compiles as the method call b.postfixBind(a) having type R.

This feature enables expressions such as:

Mass m = 5 kg;
Force f = 5 kg * 9.8 m/s/s;
for (int i: 1 to 10) {...}

Read more about unit expressions.

Operators by Extension Methods

Using extension methods you can provide operator implementations for classes you don’t otherwise control. For instance, Manifold provides operator extensions for BigDecimal and BigInteger. These extensions are implemented in the manifold-science dependency.

Here’s what the + extension for BigDecimal looks like:

public abstract class ManBigDecimalExt implements ComparableUsing {
  /** Supports binary operator {@code +} */
  public static BigDecimal plus(@This BigDecimal thiz, BigDecimal that) {
    return thiz.add(that);
Now you can perform arithmetic and comparisons using operator expressions:
if (bd1 >= bd2) {
  BigDecimal result = bd1 + bd2;
  . . .

Note the manifold-science and manifold-collections modules use operator overloading and unit expressions extensively.

Scott McKinney
Scott McKinney is the founder and principle engineer at Manifold Systems. Previously, he was a staff engineer at Guidewire where he designed and created Gosu. He currently pounds code by the truckload while listening to way too much retro synthwave.

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments