Declaring Kotlin variable with lateinit modifier

Posted on Jan 11, 2022

Learn the use of Kotlin lateinit modifier for declaring variables without initial values


The Kotlin lateinit modifier is used when you want to declare a non-nullable variable without initializing the value.

To use the modifier, you need to add it before the variable name as follows:

lateinit var message: String

A variable declared with lateinit must use the var keyword instead of val. This is because you need to mutate the value of the variable later.

When you declare a non-nullable variable with Kotlin, you need to immediately set the value on initialization.

For example, if you are defining a String variable, then the value needs to be assigned during the declaration as follows:

var myString: String = "Hello"

But in developing applications, there will be cases when you want to declare variables without initial values.

It could be that the variable is a class member that gets initialized by one function and called by the other.

Consider the following Message class:

class Message {
    lateinit var message: String

    fun setMessage(message: String) {
        this.message = message
    }

    fun getLength(): Int {
        return message.length
    }
}

As you can see, the message property of the Message class is initialized without any value.

The value is set when the setMessage() function is called.

When you call the getLength() function first, Kotlin will throw the UninitializedPropertyAccessException error:

val msg = Message()

msg.getLength() // UninitializedPropertyAccessException

msg.newMessage("Hello!")

To prevent any error with lateinit variables, you need to check if the variable has been initialized before accessing it.

The getLength() method needs to check the message variable initialization using .isInitialized property:

fun getLength(): Int {
    return if(this::message.isInitialized) {
        message.length
    } else {
        0
    }
}

Using lateinit modifier in Android apps

The modifier is commonly used when you create an Android application with multiple Activity classes.

The class variable values might come from the Intent of another class, so you need to use lateinit to declare the variables before the onCreate() method call.

Consider the following example:

class PreviewActivity : AppCompatActivity() {
    private lateinit var message: Message

    override fun onCreate(savedInstanceState: Bundle?) {
        super.onCreate(savedInstanceState)
        setContentView(R.layout.activity_preview)
        message = intent.getSerializableExtra("Message") as Message
    }
}

In the above example, the variable message is an instance of Message class.

The variable value was initialized from the extra data put on the intent by the previous Activity class.

Without defining the variable as a class member, you won’t be able to use the message variable outside of the onCreate() method.

You can also define the variable as a nullable type, but that means you need to set the value as null on initialization:

private var message: Message? = null

But then each time you need to call the message property or method, you need to add the double bang operator !! for non-null asserted call:

message!!.contactName
message!!.getReplyAddress

With the lateinit modifier, Kotlin won’t complain about the value of your variable and you don’t need to add double bang operator on property and method calls.

Now you’ve learned how the lateinit modifier works in Kotlin. Nice work! 👍

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