Observer Design Pattern in Java

Filed Under: Design Patterns

Observer Pattern is one of the behavioral design pattern. Observer design pattern is useful when you are interested in the state of an object and want to get notified whenever there is any change. In observer pattern, the object that watch on the state of another object are called Observer and the object that is being watched is called Subject.

Observer Design Pattern

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According to GoF, observer design pattern intent is;

Define a one-to-many dependency between objects so that when one object changes state, all its dependents are notified and updated automatically.

Subject contains a list of observers to notify of any change in it’s state, so it should provide methods using which observers can register and unregister themselves. Subject also contain a method to notify all the observers of any change and either it can send the update while notifying the observer or it can provide another method to get the update.

Observer should have a method to set the object to watch and another method that will be used by Subject to notify them of any updates.

Java provides inbuilt platform for implementing Observer pattern through java.util.Observable class and java.util.Observer interface. However it’s not widely used because the implementation is really simple and most of the times we don’t want to end up extending a class just for implementing Observer pattern as java doesn’t provide multiple inheritance in classes.

Java Message Service (JMS) uses Observer design pattern along with Mediator pattern to allow applications to subscribe and publish data to other applications.

Model-View-Controller (MVC) frameworks also use Observer pattern where Model is the Subject and Views are observers that can register to get notified of any change to the model.

Observer Pattern Java Example

For our observer pattern java program example, we would implement a simple topic and observers can register to this topic. Whenever any new message will be posted to the topic, all the registers observers will be notified and they can consume the message.

Based on the requirements of Subject, here is the base Subject interface that defines the contract methods to be implemented by any concrete subject.


public interface Subject {

	//methods to register and unregister observers
	public void register(Observer obj);
	public void unregister(Observer obj);
	//method to notify observers of change
	public void notifyObservers();
	//method to get updates from subject
	public Object getUpdate(Observer obj);

Next we will create contract for Observer, there will be a method to attach the Subject to the observer and another method to be used by Subject to notify of any change.


public interface Observer {
	//method to update the observer, used by subject
	public void update();
	//attach with subject to observe
	public void setSubject(Subject sub);

Now our contract is ready, let’s proceed with the concrete implementation of our topic.


import java.util.ArrayList;
import java.util.List;

public class MyTopic implements Subject {

	private List<Observer> observers;
	private String message;
	private boolean changed;
	private final Object MUTEX= new Object();
	public MyTopic(){
		this.observers=new ArrayList<>();
	public void register(Observer obj) {
		if(obj == null) throw new NullPointerException("Null Observer");
		synchronized (MUTEX) {
		if(!observers.contains(obj)) observers.add(obj);

	public void unregister(Observer obj) {
		synchronized (MUTEX) {

	public void notifyObservers() {
		List<Observer> observersLocal = null;
		//synchronization is used to make sure any observer registered after message is received is not notified
		synchronized (MUTEX) {
			if (!changed)
			observersLocal = new ArrayList<>(this.observers);
		for (Observer obj : observersLocal) {


	public Object getUpdate(Observer obj) {
		return this.message;
	//method to post message to the topic
	public void postMessage(String msg){
		System.out.println("Message Posted to Topic:"+msg);


The method implementation to register and unregister an observer is very simple, the extra method is postMessage() that will be used by client application to post String message to the topic. Notice the boolean variable to keep track of the change in the state of topic and used in notifying observers. This variable is required so that if there is no update and somebody calls notifyObservers() method, it doesn’t send false notifications to the observers.

Also notice the use of synchronization in notifyObservers() method to make sure the notification is sent only to the observers registered before the message is published to the topic.

Here is the implementation of Observers that will watch over the subject.


public class MyTopicSubscriber implements Observer {
	private String name;
	private Subject topic;
	public MyTopicSubscriber(String nm){;
	public void update() {
		String msg = (String) topic.getUpdate(this);
		if(msg == null){
			System.out.println(name+":: No new message");
		System.out.println(name+":: Consuming message::"+msg);

	public void setSubject(Subject sub) {


Notice the implementation of update() method where it’s calling Subject getUpdate() method to get the message to consume. We could have avoided this call by passing message as argument to update() method.

Here is a simple test program to consume our topic implementation.


public class ObserverPatternTest {

	public static void main(String[] args) {
		//create subject
		MyTopic topic = new MyTopic();
		//create observers
		Observer obj1 = new MyTopicSubscriber("Obj1");
		Observer obj2 = new MyTopicSubscriber("Obj2");
		Observer obj3 = new MyTopicSubscriber("Obj3");
		//register observers to the subject
		//attach observer to subject
		//check if any update is available
		//now send message to subject
		topic.postMessage("New Message");


When we run above program, we get following output.

Obj1:: No new message
Message Posted to Topic:New Message
Obj1:: Consuming message::New Message
Obj2:: Consuming message::New Message
Obj3:: Consuming message::New Message

Java Observer Pattern Class Diagram

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Observer design pattern is also called as publish-subscribe pattern. Some of it’s implementations are;

  • java.util.EventListener in Swing
  • javax.servlet.http.HttpSessionBindingListener
  • javax.servlet.http.HttpSessionAttributeListener

That’s all for Observer design pattern in java, I hope you liked it. Share your love with comments and by sharing it with others.


  1. Rajes Badam says:

    Very nice article, ofcourse all design pattern articles. One small correction, after notifyObservers();, you should nullify this.message, so that getUpdate should be returned null.

  2. Gomathi says:

    Please provide simple example to return the observed data to different web client

  3. rajsekhar says:

    Hi Pankaj Sir, nice explanation, but one thing that is bothering me is why did the client is calling the update() method? it is infact the Observable that should be triggering that method call.

  4. Sid says:

    Observer Pattern is not Pub-Sub Pattern.
    Pub-Sub pattern involves message broker or event bus or topic between publisher and subscribers.
    Please update

  5. Satyabrata Mohanty says:

    Its a nice explanation.Just got below concern
    what is the purpose of getUpdate method of observer interface having observer as argument is not clear to me.
    We are not using that inside method, i think getUpdate() is also fine
    Could you please suggest!

  6. Jay says:

    thanks for this.very well explained

  7. omid says:

    Thank you a lot

  8. Kunal Dada says:

    What is MUTEX object used for

  9. John says:

    You said that “Subject also contain a method to notify all the observers of any change and either it can send the update while notifying the observer or it can provide another method to get the update.”

    How do we decide which implementation to use ? I am guessing that if some of the observers only care that update has happened, but don’t care what was the update, then just update() is useful. If some are interested in what was updated, then update(Object updateInfo) makes sense.

    Also, why are we passing observer inside getUpdate(Observer obj) ? Maybe observable can use that to track which all observers got the message ?

  10. John says:

    It would be helpful to put a comment for why public void unregister(Observer obj) has a synchronized block, It is because you cannot add elements to arraylist and also remove elements from it at the same time. It will give a java.util.ConcurrentModificationException.

    1. Vishwas Tyagi says:

      I was looking for this reason. Thanks John

  11. Anand says:

    Really good article. Much better than others which are out there

    1. Pankaj says:

      Thanks for the appreciation Anand.

  12. Krishna says:

    Awesome article, such a simple and easy one to understand it.

  13. Faizuddin Ahmed Shaik says:

    I think this code has a flaw. If we set the message once and then do not set again and then check if there is any update, then according to the code the old msg is not null and it will tell that the update actually happened.

    1. GT says:


    2. Shan says:

      Yeah as per code your comment is valid. But please look into that the update method will be called only if the notify method called. This will happen only if new message is set.. So as per the pattern design this not seems like a flaw.

  14. Subhash Kumar says:

    Crystal clear. Useful for both the beginners and advanced level developers.

  15. Ankit says:

    Thanks for the nice article. But I wanted to check/know the reason why synchronization is required in this example? Is it not an overkill?

  16. Sumit says:

    Thanks for such a good explanation. Keep up the good work.

  17. Jason Alls says:

    Great article, exactly what I was looking for. Thank you, and keep up the good work.

    1. Pankaj says:

      Glad you liked it Jason.

  18. Ivan says:

    Hi, the method does not use the passed in variable: Observer obj

    public Object getUpdateMsg(Observer obj)

    Is it necessary to rewrite it as ‘public Object getUpdateMsg()’ ?

  19. Khosro Makari says:

    Thanks Mr Pankaj. I read design pattern from multiple sites, but your tutorial was more useful and was best. keep doing your best!

  20. sridhar says:

    Very good explanation

  21. Biswajit Mohapatra says:

    Excellent explanation and it helped me lot to understand what is Observer design pattern. Thanks a lot.

  22. Darpan says:

    After spending so much time on many tutorials, this was the best. Great explaination.

  23. Oleg says:

    Hi, Pankaj!! Thx for tutorials, like them much. Bur this one seems to be confusing a little. Here is more clear one. Implement this, if you like it.

  24. Karan says:

    I would like to know whether same implementation can be used for stocks exchange ,
    that is there are stream of stocks are coming in and the clients are waiting on the other side to see the current stock value of a particular company

  25. Jasvinder Singh says:

    The register() in MyTopic class should also call the Observer’s setSubject() passing ‘this’ as a parameter thereby abstracting, the attaching of the subject to the observer, from the client code. The client code should only need to register the observer to the topic.

    Importance of passing observer as a parameter to the MyTopic’s getUpdate() can be demonstrated by having a call back method in Observer interface.

  26. yuval says:

    i didn’t understand why the method getUpdate(Obserever obj) needs the Observer reference parameter since it doesnt uses it.

  27. md farooq says:

    Very good and simple explanation.

  28. Prince says:

    How to run this program using netbeans. Please explain it.

  29. Gerardo says:

    Thanks for this explanation!
    The only thing I don’t completely get is the need of the setSubject method in the Observer. Could you please explain?

    1. Akash kumar says:

      Hi Gerardo
      The object of an observer needs a subject to monitor, so the observer object should have a method to assign that subject to it. So that whenever a change occurs in the subject the observer gets to know it. So is the need of that setSubject method.

      1. Nikhil Verma says:

        Instead of having a setSubject method on the Observer side, would it not be better if the subject is simply passed as an argument in the update method of the observer .

        Something like update(Subject sub), wherein this would be passed as argument from the subject’s side while calling the method.

        1. Tanaya Karmakar says:

          Hi , there are two ways in which observers are getting updated , one is push and the other is pull , the method u mentioned is push method but pull method is considered better since observers are not forced to take the things they don’t need , in pull method observers pull the things they need from subject

  30. Ashish Patel says:

    Very Good Explanation !

  31. mohammed says:

    Thanks for your effort i really learned from it but your line (this.observers=new ArrayList();)
    it need to enhanced to (this.observers = new ArrayList();)

    Mohammed Gamal
    Software Engineer

  32. Savi says:

    Very well explained. Thanks…

  33. Vinh Bui says:

    Thank for your explanation. But I still have a confusing.
    As you said: “//synchronization is used to make sure any observer registered after message is received is not notified” in comment of class my topic, the synchronization is used for that purpose.
    But as my understanding about synchronization, the method “public void register(Observer obj)” and method “public void notifyObservers() ” still can be run parallel.
    It means the observers that registered after message is received also can be notified.

    1. Pankaj says:

      Very nice observation, yes you are correct.

      I have updated the register and deregister methods to use synchronization on MUTEX object, now when message is getting sent to the registered observers, it will not be sent to any observer registered after the message is received.

  34. sushil says:

    Explanation is very good

  35. Jeni says:

    Thanks for your post. You describe all topics very well.

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