Integer: byte, short, int, and long data types in Java

By: Abinaya  

Java defines four integer types: byte, short, int, and long. All of these are signed, positive and negative values. Java does not support unsigned, positive-only integers. Many other computer languages, including C/C++, support both signed and unsigned integers. However, Java's designers felt that unsigned integers were unnecessary.

Specifically, they felt that the concept of unsigned was used mostly to specify the behavior of the high-order bit, which defined the sign of an int when expressed as a number. Java manages the meaning of the high-order bit differently, by adding a special "unsigned right shift" operator. Thus, the need for an unsigned integer type was eliminated.

The width of an integer type should not be thought of as the amount of storage it consumes, but rather as the behavior it defines for variables and expressions of that type. The Java run-time environment is free to use whatever size it wants, as long as the types behave as you declared them. In fact, at least one implementation stores bytes and shorts as 32-bit (rather than 8- and 16-bit) values to improve performance, because that is the word size of most computers currently in use.

The width and ranges of these integer types vary widely, as shown in this table:

Name Width Range
long 64 –9,223,372,036,854,775,808 to
9 ,223,372,036,854,775,807
int 32 –2,147,483,648 to 2,147,483,647
short 16 – 32,768 to 32,767
byte 8 – 128 to 127

Let's look at each type of integer.


The smallest integer type is byte. This is a signed 8-bit type that has a range from –128 to 127. Variables of type byte are especially useful when you're working with a stream of data from a network or file. They are also useful when you're working with raw binary data that may not be directly compatible with Java's other built-in types. Byte variables are declared by use of the byte keyword. For example, the following declares two byte variables called b and c:

byte b, c;


short is a signed 16-bit type. It has a range from –32,768 to 32,767. It is probably the least-used Java type, since it is defined as having its high byte first (called big-endian format). This type is mostly applicable to 16-bit computers, which are becoming increasingly scarce. Here are some examples of short variable declarations:

short s;
short t;

"Endianness" describes how multibyte data types, such as short, int, and long, are stored in memory. If it takes 2 bytes to represent a short, then which one comes first, the most significant or the least significant? To say that a machine is big-endian, means that the most significant byte is first, followed by the least significant one. Machines such as the SPARC and PowerPC are big-endian, while the Intel x86 series is little-endian.


The most commonly used integer type is int. It is a signed 32-bit type that has a range from –2,147,483,648 to 2,147,483,647. In addition to other uses, variables of type int are commonly employed to control loops and to index arrays. Any time you have an integer expression involving bytes, shorts, ints, and literal numbers, the entire expression is promoted to int before the calculation is done.

The int type is the most versatile and efficient type, and it should be used most of the time when you want to create a number for counting or indexing arrays or doing integer math. It may seem that using short or byte will save space, but there is no guarantee that Java won't promote those types to int internally anyway. Remember, type determines behavior, not size. (The only exception is arrays, where byte is guaranteed to use only one byte per array element, short will use two bytes, and int will use four.)


long is a signed 64-bit type and is useful for those occasions where an int type is not large enough to hold the desired value. The range of a long is quite large. This makes it useful when big, whole numbers are needed. For example, here is a program that computes the number of miles that light will travel in a specified number of days. 

// Compute distance light travels using long variables.
class Light {
public static void main(String args[]) {
int lightspeed;
long days;
long seconds;
long distance;
// approximate speed of light in miles per second
lightspeed = 186000;
days = 1000; // specify number of days here
seconds = days * 24 * 60 * 60; // convert to seconds
distance = lightspeed * seconds; // compute distance
System.out.print("In " + days);
System.out.print(" days light will travel about ");
System.out.println(distance + " miles.");

This program generates the following output:

In 1000 days light will travel about 16070400000000 miles.

Clearly, the result could not have been held in an int variable.


Archived Comments

1. quicasat
View Tutorial          By: quicasat at 2017-09-13 02:14:58

2. I must say you have high quality articles here. Your content should go viral.

You nee

View Tutorial          By: MonikaX at 2017-07-14 02:57:00

3. iocofuzoj
View Tutorial          By: iocofuzoj at 2017-06-11 12:56:59

4. I am sure this piece of writing has touched all the internet users, its really reqlly
nice p

View Tutorial          By: Barcelona Strip club at 2017-03-11 13:42:24

5. Great article for java beginners! good job!
View Tutorial          By: Amit Gunjal at 2016-12-18 13:40:04

6. Informative
View Tutorial          By: Ahmed at 2016-10-18 05:19:36

7. Find clarification to your doubts regarding integer data types in Core Java through Merit Campus, vi
View Tutorial          By: Merit Campus at 2016-02-12 12:34:41

8. You can get many sessions to read, to write practice tests on data types in Core Java through Merit
View Tutorial          By: Merit Campus at 2016-02-10 12:22:41

9. This is the same book which is copied from java senth edition its complete reference
View Tutorial          By: sameera at 2015-09-09 13:08:47

10. good one but. u dint used short..
View Tutorial          By: hafiz at 2015-03-17 10:10:33

11. Nice & Crisp summary! Perfect!
View Tutorial          By: Sunil S at 2013-06-08 10:08:00

12. what man the whole content u have copied from Complete Reference Java2(-Herbert Schildt)
View Tutorial          By: rahul vaidya at 2011-12-28 08:51:47

13. Don't forget the native type char, which is a 16 bit unsigned integer.
View Tutorial          By: Ron Stern at 2011-09-18 17:24:12

14. Great Article! Thanks
View Tutorial          By: Rachid at 2011-06-21 13:01:39

15. A useful article. It answered my question about when you should "just use int" even when t
View Tutorial          By: Kris Heidenstrom at 2011-05-28 04:15:05

Most Viewed Articles (in Java )

Latest Articles (in Java)

Comment on this tutorial