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Hugo Martins
Hugo Martins

Posted on • Originally published at hugomartins.io on

What's the Difference Between val and var in Kotlin?

Coming from a background of Python and PHP, I’m used to interpreted loosely typed languages in which declaring variables is done in an almost frivolous way. Suffice it to say, when I started writing Kotlin, I was a bit confused about the fact that there are two different ways of declaring essentially the same variables. Even when I wrote C#, back in the day, I never encountered anything similar to this.

Those declarations didn’t differ in type or visibility but rather on their mutability. Kotlin has quite a diverse offering of built-in functionality that encourages immutability. One of those is declaring properties with val and var. But what’s the difference between val and var then?

val is a keyword in Kotlin that allows us to define properties as read-only. Because they are read-only, they cannot be modified. var, on the other hand, is a keyword that can be used to declare properties in Kotlin that are mutable. These properties are not read-only (as with val) and they can be modified at will.

What does that mean in practice? Let’s consider the following example:

data class Car(
    val model: String
)

fun main() {
    val car = Car("Tesla")
    car.model = "Ford"
}
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If we try to compile this, Kotlin’s compiler complains with a Val cannot be reassigned error. A property declared with val cannot be safely modified at runtime. In fact, these properties don’t even have a setter accessor that we can use to set its value. On the other hand, let’s consider the following example:

data class Car(
    var model: String
)

fun main() {
    val car = Car("Tesla")
    car.model = "Ford"
}
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with the above example, Kotlin’s compiler won’t complain because the property model in the data class Car is declared with a var. By declaring with a var, it can be modified without any issues, even though car is declared with val. var has both getters and setters as accessors.

In essence, val and var are both property declaring keywords, that allow us to declare properties with varying types and visibility modes, differing on the mutability of those properties. While var allows properties to be mutable, val does not, enforcing immutability straight from the source code at runtime.

While it forced a shift of mentality, I’ve come to appreciate more and more being able to use val and enforcing immutability. I’ve come to rely on it so much that I end up missing it whenever I go back to other languages that don’t prize immutability as much as Kotlin.

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