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Let's say we have a class called 'Automobile' and we have an instance of that class called 'myCar'. I would like to ask why do we need to put the values that our methods return in a variable? Why don't we just call the method?

For example, why should one write:

string message = myCar.SpeedMessage();

instead of:

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The only time I would do that would be if SpeedMessage was an expensive operation and its value was going to be used multiple times. –  axblount Oct 6 '12 at 17:54

4 Answers 4

There are some times when an extra variable can help general readability, especially when evaluating some long expression inside an if or a function call that makes the code go way off the right-hand side of the screen.

In Java 5 or later (and many similar languages), an extra variable can be useful to find the cause of null-pointer exceptions. Consider the following Java code which relies on Java's "autoboxing" to convert Integer objects to an int primitive:

public int add(Integer firstIntObj, Integer secondIntObj) {
    return firstIntObj + secondIntObj;

It will throw a NullPointerException when it converts an uninitialized (null) Integer object into a primitive int, but this exception doesn't indicate which object caused the exception because the two possible culprits are on the same line. The following would blow up on a different line for each null input, thus the line number in the exception will indicate which one was null:

public int add(Integer firstIntObj, Integer secondIntObj) {
    int first = firstIntObj;
    int second = secondIntObj;
    return first + second;

A better way to handle this is to throw your own descriptive exception so that someone calling this method can diagnose their own problem without needing your source code:

public int add(Integer firstIntObj, Integer secondIntObj) {
    if (firstIntObj == null) {
        throw new IllegalArgumentException("First argument was null!");
    if (secondIntObj == null) {
        throw new IllegalArgumentException("Second argument was null!");
    return firstIntObj + secondIntObj;

This technique can be used to split up any line that could throw more than one exception. Using separate variables is less typing than throwing a descriptive exception - it's quick and dirty.

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In this case it doesn't really matter but when you're working with bigger systems it can be an issue as:

  1. It makes debugging a lot easier
  2. If you have a habit of compacting your code as far as me it makes it actually readable ie:


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You might want to expand on the "makes debugging easier" statement, by explaining how some (all?) debuggers make it hard to set a breakpoint in the middle of a statement. Using two lines means it's possible to set a break after the variable has been assigned but before the value is used in the following statement. –  Bryan Oakley Oct 8 '12 at 17:22

Short answer: We don't. Both examples are absolutely fine.

There are three reasons why people use temporary variables anyway (like in your first example):

  1. It gives an explicit name to the intermediate value (we now know that it's a message, not just any old string).
  2. It helps prevent statements getting too long and too complex.
  3. It makes step-debugging easier, because you can step over each part individually (although there are step debuggers that work at sub-line precision).
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@Timwi Disagree. I'd move #2 up to #1. Writing code in simple, easy to read steps is an excellent habit, and using local variables as needed facilitates that. –  Caleb Oct 7 '12 at 18:02
+1 excellent points. I always argue for point #1 - naming it explicitly allows you to describe the variable's intent, which is basically the only information missing (your IDE can do the rest: inform you of the type, navigate to source, etc). –  Daniel B Oct 8 '12 at 7:05
4. There used to be an extra step in between creating the variable and the (now) only use of it, that was removed for some reason. –  jwenting Oct 8 '12 at 7:33
Just wanted to point out that many optimizers will elide the variable, so if you go looking for it in the debugger, it may not exist. Not a problem if you compile with the debug flag set, but at higher optimization levels that's a pretty common optimization. –  TMN Oct 8 '12 at 14:10
Re: "Explicit name to intermediate value" - in the example above, speedMessage() is more descriptive than just message. I would think that when possible, it would be better to improve the name of a method being called than to introduce a temporary variable. When that's not possible, a temporary variable or a comment can aid readability. But I'm with you on #2 and #3. –  GlenPeterson Oct 9 '12 at 4:09

in most languages you don't need to which is handy if you want to use a getter and pass it into a method:


but it can improve readability by separating the calls especially when it's a non trivial function

also it reduces the horizontal footprint of the call at the cost of an extra line (provided that the new variable's name is short)

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