What Data Type Is Enum Based On?


Scott Campbell

In the world of programming, data types play a crucial role in defining the nature and behavior of variables. One such data type is the enum or enumeration. Enums are used to define a set of named values, making it easier to work with a fixed set of possible options.

What is an Enum?

An enum is a user-defined data type that consists of a set of named values called enumerators. Each enumerator represents a unique constant value within the enum.

Enums are often used to represent a collection of related constants. For example, consider an application that deals with different colors. Instead of using string literals like “red”, “green”, and “blue” throughout the code, an enum called Color can be defined with these values:

enum Color {

In this example, Color is the name of the enum, and RED, GREEN, and BLUE are the enumerators.

Data Type of Enum

The data type of an enum depends on the programming language you are using. In most programming languages, an enum is considered as an integer-based data type.


In C and C++, each enumerator in an enum has an underlying integer value associated with it. By default, the first enumerator has a value of 0, and subsequent enumerators have values incremented by one.

enum Color {
  RED,    // Value: 0
  GREEN,  // Value: 1
  BLUE    // Value: 2

In this example, Color is an integer-based data type with values 0, 1, and 2 representing RED, GREEN, and BLUE, respectively.


In Java, an enum is a full-fledged class and can have methods and fields associated with it. However, behind the scenes, each enum value is an instance of the enum class. The data type of an enum in Java is the name of the enum class itself.

In this Java example, Color is the data type representing the enum itself.

The Benefits of Using Enums

  • Readability: Enums provide a descriptive way to represent a fixed set of options. It enhances code readability by conveying the intention more clearly than using primitive types or plain strings.
  • Type Safety: Enums offer compile-time type safety.

    It means that if you define a variable with an enum type, the compiler ensures that only valid enum values can be assigned to it.

  • Maintainability: By using enums, you can easily modify or extend your code without worrying about manually updating all occurrences of related constants throughout your program.
  • Semantic Meaning: Enums allow you to attach semantic meaning to values. For example, instead of using boolean flags like “isSuccessful = true”, you can have an enum value called SUCCESS.


The data type of an enum is dependent on the programming language being used. In C/C++, enums are integer-based, while in Java, an enum is a class representing itself. Regardless of the specific implementation, enums provide a powerful way to define and work with a fixed set of named values, improving code readability, maintainability, and type safety.

So next time you encounter a situation where you need to represent a set of related constants, consider using enums to make your code more organized and expressive.

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