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Comparable in Java vs. Comparator in Java: What's the Difference?

Edited by Aimie Carlson || By Janet White || Published on February 13, 2024
Comparable in Java is an interface defining a natural order for objects of a class, while Comparator is an external tool to define custom orderings.

Key Differences

The Comparable interface in Java is implemented by a class to define a natural ordering of its objects, typically via the compareTo method. Comparator, on the other hand, is an external class that enables the definition of multiple, different comparison strategies for a class's objects.
When a class implements Comparable, it provides a single way to compare its objects. With Comparator, different comparison strategies can be created and used without modifying the original class structure.
Comparable is used for defining an intrinsic comparison method, generally considering one attribute. Comparator allows more flexibility, enabling comparisons based on multiple attributes or criteria.
Implementing Comparable affects the original class, embedding the comparison logic within it. Comparator keeps comparison logic separate, allowing comparison logic to be external to the class of objects being compared.
Comparable is typically used when there is a single, natural ordering of objects. Comparator is preferred when multiple or external criteria for comparison are needed, or when you cannot modify the source class.

Comparison Chart

Implementation Location

Inside the class of objects being compared.
Outside, in a separate class.

Comparison Strategy

Single natural ordering.
Multiple, customizable orderings.

Method Used

CompareTo method.
Compare method.

Class Modification

Requires modifying the class.
Does not require modifying the class being compared.


Less flexible, single comparison logic.
More flexible, allows different comparison logics.

Comparable in Java and Comparator in Java Definitions

Comparable in Java

"Enables objects to be compared based on a single criterion."
By implementing Comparable, MyClass objects can be sorted easily.

Comparator in Java

"Allows specifying multiple different comparison strategies."
Using a Comparator, I can sort MyClass objects in different ways.

Comparable in Java

"A method to establish a natural order of class instances."
Implementing Comparable in MyClass allows me to define a natural order for its instances.

Comparator in Java

"Used when sorting needs are external to the class of the objects."
I use a Comparator to sort MyClass instances when I can't modify the MyClass definition.

Comparable in Java

"Provides a way for Java collections to sort objects intrinsically."
Using Comparable in MyClass, I can sort a list of MyClass objects directly.

Comparator in Java

"An interface for defining a custom ordering of objects."
I created a Comparator for MyClass to sort objects based on a specific attribute.

Comparable in Java

"An interface defining a natural ordering of objects of a class."
The class MyClass implements Comparable to order its instances.

Comparator in Java

"Implemented in a separate class, using the compare method."
MyComparator class implements Comparator to define how to compare two MyClass instances.

Comparable in Java

"Requires a class to implement the compareTo method."
MyClass implements Comparable, defining how two MyClass objects compare.

Comparator in Java

"Enables comparisons based on multiple attributes or criteria."
My Comparator for MyClass compares objects based on multiple fields.


What is Comparable in Java?

Comparable is an interface that allows a class to define a natural order for its instances.

Why would I use a Comparator?

Use a Comparator for custom comparison logic, or when you need multiple ways to compare objects.

What does Comparator do in Java?

Comparator is an interface that defines a custom order for comparing objects.

When should I use Comparable?

Use Comparable when there is a single, natural ordering for objects in a class.

Can I sort a collection using Comparable?

Yes, collections can be sorted based on the natural order defined by Comparable.

What method does Comparator use?

Comparator uses the compare method to determine the order of objects.

Can Comparator handle null values?

Yes, but you need to handle null values explicitly in your Comparator implementation.

How is Comparable implemented?

Implement Comparable by defining the compareTo method inside your class.

Can Comparator be used with Java Streams?

Yes, Comparator can be used with Java Streams for sorting and other operations.

Do I need to implement both Comparable and Comparator?

Not necessarily; use Comparable for natural order and Comparator for custom orderings.

Is Comparable part of the Java Collection Framework?

Yes, Comparable is used within the Java Collection Framework for sorting.

What if I don't implement Comparable in a class?

If you don't implement Comparable, the class will not have a natural ordering, making some sorting operations impossible.

Is it mandatory to implement Comparable for all classes?

No, it's not mandatory. Implement Comparable only if a natural ordering is needed.

Is it possible to sort using Comparator without modifying the class?

Yes, Comparator allows sorting without changing the original class code.

What are the benefits of using Comparator?

Comparator offers flexibility in comparison logic and allows comparisons without altering the original class.

What happens if compareTo returns zero?

If compareTo returns zero, it means the two objects are considered equal in their natural order.

How does compare method in Comparator work?

compare method in Comparator compares two objects and returns a negative, zero, or positive integer based on the order.

Can Comparator compare objects of different classes?

Generally, Comparator is used to compare objects of the same class, but it can be designed to compare different classes if needed.

Can I have multiple Comparator classes for one class?

Yes, you can have multiple Comparator classes providing different ways to compare objects of a single class.

Can Comparable and Comparator be used together?

Yes, they can be used together if different sorting methods are needed for the same class.
About Author
Written by
Janet White
Janet White has been an esteemed writer and blogger for Difference Wiki. Holding a Master's degree in Science and Medical Journalism from the prestigious Boston University, she has consistently demonstrated her expertise and passion for her field. When she's not immersed in her work, Janet relishes her time exercising, delving into a good book, and cherishing moments with friends and family.
Edited by
Aimie Carlson
Aimie Carlson, holding a master's degree in English literature, is a fervent English language enthusiast. She lends her writing talents to Difference Wiki, a prominent website that specializes in comparisons, offering readers insightful analyses that both captivate and inform.

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