Every object has a type. Using the parlance, each object is an instance of a class, in which “class” is synonymous with “type.” The most important distinguishing characteristic of a class is “What messages can you send to it?”
Booch offers an even more succinct description of an object:
An object has state, behavior and identity.
This means that an object can have internal data (which gives it state), methods (to produce behavior), and each object can be uniquely distinguished from every other object—to put this in a concrete sense, each object has a unique address in memory.
An object has an interface
Aristotle was probably the first to begin a careful study of the concept of type; he spoke of “the class of fishes and the class of birds.” The idea that all objects, while being unique, are also part of a class of objects that have characteristics and behaviors in common was used directly in the first object-oriented language, Simula-67, with its fundamental keyword class that introduces a new type into a program.
Simula, as its name implies, was created for developing simulations such as the classic “bank teller problem.” In this, you have numerous tellers, customers, accounts, transactions, and units of money—a lot of “objects.” Objects that are identical except for their state during a program’s execution are grouped together into “classes of objects,” and that’s where the keyword class came from. Creating abstract data types (classes) is a fundamental concept in object-oriented programming. Abstract data types work almost exactly like built-in types: You can create variables of a type (called objects or instances in object-oriented parlance) and manipulate those variables (called sending messages or requests; you send a message and the object figures out what to do with it). The members (elements) of each class share some commonality: Every account has a balance, every teller can accept a deposit, etc. At the same time, each member has its own state: Each account has a different balance, each teller has a name. Thus, the tellers, customers, accounts, transactions, etc., can each be represented with a unique entity in the computer program. This entity is the object, and each object belongs to a particular class that defines its characteristics and behaviors.
So, although what we really do in object-oriented programming is create new data types, virtually all object-oriented programming languages use the “class” keyword. When you see the word “type” think “class” and vice versa.3
Since a class describes a set of objects that have identical characteristics (data elements) and behaviors (functionality), a class is really a data type because a floating point number, for example, also has a set of characteristics and behaviors. The difference is that a programmer defines a class to fit a problem rather than being forced to use an existing data type that was designed to represent a unit of storage in a machine. You extend the programming language by adding new data types specific to your needs. The programming system welcomes the new classes and gives them all the care and type checking that it gives to built-in types.
The object-oriented approach is not limited to building simulations. Whether or not you agree that any program is a simulation of the system you’re designing, the use of OOP techniques can easily reduce a large set of problems to a simple solution.
Once a class is established, you can make as many objects of that class as you like, and then manipulate those objects as if they are the elements that exist in the problem you are trying to solve. Indeed, one of the challenges of object-oriented programming is to create a one-to-one mapping between the elements in the problem space and objects in the solution space.
While you’re trying to develop or understand a program design, one of the best ways to think about objects is as “service providers.” Your program itself will provide services to the user, and it will accomplish this by using the services offered by other objects. Your goal is to produce (or even better, locate in existing code libraries) a set of objects that provide the ideal services to solve your problem.
A way to start doing this is to ask, “If I could magically pull them out of a hat, what objects would solve my problem right away?” For example, suppose you are creating a bookkeeping program. You might imagine some objects that contain pre-defined bookkeeping input screens, another set of objects that perform bookkeeping calculations, and an object that handles printing of checks and invoices on all different kinds of printers. Maybe some of these objects already exist, and for the ones that don’t, what would they look like? What services would those objects provide, and what objects would they need to fulfill their obligations? If you keep doing this, you will eventually reach a point where you can say either, “That object seems simple enough to sit down and write” or “I’m sure that object must exist already.” This is a reasonable way to decompose a problem into a set of objects.
In a good object-oriented design, each object does one thing well, but doesn’t try to do too much.
[Thinking in Java]