Name Use Pattern - Part 1 - Variables and Objects

Pattern Name:

Name Use Pattern - Part 1 - Variables and Objects


Viera K. Proulx

Intent and Motivation:

Computer program works with different types of information - numbers, words, codes representing colors, files used by the program and many others. Each of these items needs to be uniquely identified within a program. The word identifier is used to describe any name used in most programming languages.

There are specific grammar rules how an identifier can be written - for example, it has to start with a letter of alphabet, can contain additional letters or digits or the character _ (underscore) though it is not a good idea to use underscore - as it is often used for compiler and system variables. The program may differentiate between capital letters and lower case letters (we say it is case-sensitive). In that case, we can use identifiers like FirstName, MaxValue, etc. Additionally, people working on a joint project may adapt conventions for selecting identifiers. For example, certain kind of names start must with a capital letter (names of classes), others must start with lower case (names of variables and object instances).

Every named item in C++ and Java needs to be declared and defined before it is used.

Problem Examples:

  1. The program is painting rectangles. It will need the coordinates of two opposite corners - a total of four integer values. We need to declare and define four integer variables that record this information (typically we would name them x1, y1, x2, y2). Alternately, there may exist a class Rect that records these four values as its member data. In that case, we can define one instance of a Rect object (and we may name it r).
  2. The program needs to read names, save them and print them later. To remember a name, we need to declare-define-use a string object. A good choice of a name for this object would be name, or firstName, or myName.
  3. The program is printing the weather record for the daily newspaper. It needs to remember the name of each city and the lowest and highest temperature. For this we will need one string object (city) and two integer variables (low, high).

Problem and Context:

In a computer program a variable of a given type represents a memory location that can be used to store one item of data of the given type. So, for example, a variable of the type int in C++ or Java represents one integer value (within the specified range). Similarly, if we declare and name an instance of an object in a given class, the name will represent collectively all the components of this object - its member data and member functions. We see, that before a name can be used, we need to specify what kind of information the name will represent: we need to declare the name and specify its usage.

We first need to declare that a name that represents memory storage area of an entity of a given type. At that time the compiler will know that this name can be used everywhere where an integer can be used - in computations, as output, etc. We now need to define the data that will initially be stored in the reserved memory storage area. Later we will see, that when a name represents a behavior or process, we will need to define the behaviors applicable to this name.

Finally, the name can be used - the value stored in the memory will be used in computations, will be printed, will guide the location or the color of graphic images, and can be modified the represent newly computed information. How the name can be used is determined by how it was defined - the definition specifies all possible uses of the name.

In some cases, we also need to worry about invalidating the name once it is no longer needed, so that the memory storage can be recycled, or to indicate that the behavior represented by this name is no longer applicable.

This pattern applies to all names used in a computer program. Some of the names we will consider in the future are: variables and objects, functions, files, streams, classes, constants, names of files (to include in a program).

Required Elements and Structure:

declaring an identifier

To declare an identifier means to specify that a particular name will represent a quantity (information) of a given type or an object in a given class. For example, we may define a variable x to represent an integer quantity (type int) and variable myName to represent a sequence of letters (object in the class string), by including the following lines at the beginning of our program:

int x;

string myName;

At this point, the compiler remembers the meaning of these names, but the names do not represent any values. Typically, there is a space reserved in the computer memory where the value of one integer can be stored, or where a name can be remembered, but that space contains garbage - whatever information has been stored there last time any program used this memory space, though sometimes, the memory storage area may be reset to all zeros. You can think of it as a piece of blackboard that has been reserved for you, but has not been erased.

defining a value of an identifier

There are several ways how an identifier can be assigned a value. We will learn only a few of them now - more will be shown as we learn more about the C++ programming language.

We can assign a value to an integer variable in the following three ways:

  1. Initialize the value of variable x when it is declared.
  2. Statements

    int x = 5;

    string myName = "Peter Pan";

    combine the declaration of the name and the initialization of its value.


  3. Change the value of an integer identifier anywhere in the program using the assignment statement.


x = 4 + 9;

will cause the computer to first compute the value of the expression on the right hand side of the equal sign (i.e. adding 4 and 9, resulting in 13), then assign the resulting value (13) to the identifier specified on the left (x).

This can be used either to assign an initial value to an identifier, or to change its value later in the program.


4 + 9 = x; //WRONG!!!*****

The left hand side 4+9 is not a name of an identifier and even if the computer could compute the value of the expression on the right hand side (in this case the value of the variable x), it cannot perform the assignment of this value to an identifier.

myName = "Peter Pan";


  1. Read user input or input from a file.

The statements and functions used to read data from the keyboard or from files are quite complex and are different in every language. The basic functions are not designed to deal with errors in the user input, and so most programmers use some more advanced variations of the Reading Data Pattern, especially when dealing with the input from keyboard. The issues related to reading input are quite complex and not related to the Name Use Pattern. For explanation of the examples shown below, the reader should consult the Reading Data Pattern.

The basic C++ statement that reads the input stream from the keyboard (the sequence of keystrokes typed in followed by the return key) is the following:

cin >> x;

cin >> myName;


In our code, we prefer to use IOTools toolkit functions:

x = RequestInt("Next number:");

myName = RequestString("Type in your name");


using an identifier

Once an identifier has been properly declared and initialized, it can be used in computations, used in output and other operations appropriate for its type or class. Variables of the int and double type can take part in arithmetic expressions, can be printed, and we can assign new values to them. Besides reading and writing string objects, we can manipulate them in a number of ways. These will be discusses when we learn more about the string class.

If the identifier has not been initialized before it is used, the compiler may notice the error and notify the programmer, or it may ignore the fact and use the garbage that appears in the memory space assigned to the identifier.

Implementation Examples:

The following program segments show several uses of this pattern. All four program segments will result in identical output, namely the following two lines:

My name is Peter Pan

25 / 5 = 5


// example 1

string myName = "Peter Pan";

int x = 25;

cout << "My name is " << myName << endl;

cout << "25 / 5 = " << x/25 << endl;


// example 2

string myName = "Peter Pan";

int x = 25;

int y;

y = x / 5;

cout << "My name is " << myName << endl;

cout << "25 / 5 = " << y << endl;


// example 3

string myName = "Peter Pan";

string title = "My name is "

int x = 25;

int y;

y = x / 5;

cout << title << myName << endl;

cout << x << " / 5 = " << y << endl;


// example 4

string myName;

myName = "Peter Pan";

int x = 25;

int y;

y = 5;

cout << "My name is " << myName << endl;

cout << x << "/" << y << " = " << x/y << endl;


An identifier is the name of a C++ item that the program needs to recognize. Each identifier needs to be declared, so that the computer knows how is it going to be used and assigns a space in the memory that will be used to store the value of the identifier (when appropriate). The identifier then needs to be initialized - that means we need to assign the actual value to the identifier. After that, when the identifier is used in a program it represents the value assigned to it most recently.

The first kinds of identifiers we use specify the type of a variable (for example int for integer variables, double for real numbers), or an object in a given class (such as string object).