One of the fundamental pillars of object-oriented programming is encapsulation. This powerful characteristic allows us to control access to class members, hiding implementation details and protecting the state of our objects. In this article we will delve into the concept of encapsulation, the usefulness of getters, setters, public/private properties and methods, and the important benefits this provides us as developers.

The Oxford Dictionary defines encapsulation as “enclosed or contained as if in a capsule”. This is precisely what we seek to achieve - “packaging” data and code within a single capsule (the class) to hide its internal complexity.

The formal definition would be:

“Encapsulation refers to bundling data and functions that manipulate these data into a single entity or software module.”1

That is, keeping related data and behaviours together in order to restrict direct access to that data from other parts of the programme, interacting only through a controlled interface (public API).

This provides advantages like:

  • Control over data modification.
  • Flexibility to change internal parts without affecting others.
  • Protection of the consistent state of objects.
  • Hiding complexity from the user.

Let’s see with concrete examples how to encapsulate in OOP.

Getters and Setters

Say we have a BankAccount class, with properties like name, account number and balance:

1class BankAccount:
3    name = ""
4    account_number = 0
5    balance = 0.0

We can directly access attributes like:

1account1 = BankAccount()
2account1.name = "John"
3account1.account_number = 1234
4account1.balance = 2500

The problem is any other code can modify the balance to invalid values:

1account1.balance = -9900 # Balance can't be negative in this bank!

This allows inconsistent state. To encapsulate we use getters and setters:

 1class BankAccount:
 3    def __init__(self):
 4        self.__balance = 0
 6    def get_balance(self):
 7        return self.__balance
 9    def set_balance(self, value):
10        if value < 0:
11            raise Exception("Balance can't be negative in this bank")
12        self.__balance = value
  • __balance is now private. It is only manipulated via the public getters and setters.

  • The setter controls invalid values not being input.

In Python, prepending double underscore __ denotes a private method or attribute of the class. With a single underscore _ it’s by convention a protected element, accessible from class and subclasses but not externally. And with no underscores, methods and attributes are public.

In Java this is explicit using the keywords public, protected and private:

1public class Person {
3    private String name; // Private
5    public String getName() { // Public
6        return this.name;
7    }

This notation helps declare the desired visibility to properly apply encapsulation.

Benefits of encapsulation

This powerful technique provides great advantages:

  • Information hiding: Implementation details are invisible to other objects, reducing coupling. Internal code can change minimizing impact.
  • Control over data: Integrity and validity of state is guaranteed via setters/validators.
  • Flexible code: Isolation between interfaces and specifics enables building more extensible and maintainable systems over time.

“Every module hides the complexity of its contents behind a simple fa??ade (interface)”, Gang of Four2.

Ultimately, when we need to control how internal state is manipulated in a class from other parts of the application, encapsulation is the best solution.


Applying encapsulation by restricting direct access to data and carefully coding a public access interface allows us to build more robust, secure and sustainable OOP systems over time.

Mastering these techniques requires experience and good judgement to find the right balance between information hiding and flexibility. But undoubtedly it???s worth the effort to leverage the benefits we???ve seen from this wonderful OOP principle.


  1. Byron, Jeff. Encapsulation in Java. https://stackify.com/encapsulation-in-java/ ↩︎

  2. Gamma, Erich et al. Design Patterns: Elements of Reusable Object-Oriented Software. Addison-Wesley. 1994. ↩︎