Returning null in a method whose signature says return int?

int is a primitive, null is not a value that it can take on. You could change the method return type to return java.lang.Integer and then you can return null, and existing code that returns int will get autoboxed.

Nulls are assigned only to reference types, it means the reference doesn’t point to anything. Primitives are not reference types, they are values, so they are never set to null.

Using the object wrapper java.lang.Integer as the return value means you are passing back an Object and the object reference can be null.

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