Beneath the surface of Lateinit

Posted on by Andras Kindler

The lateinit keyword stands for late initialization. Lateinit comes very handy when a non-null initializer cannot be supplied in the constructor, but the developer is certain that the variable will not be null when accessing it, thus avoiding null checks when referencing it later.

There are a handful of use cases where this is extremely helpful, for example:

  • Android: variables that get initialized in lifecycle methods;
  • Using Dagger for DI: injected class variables are initialized outside and independently from the constructor;
  • Setup for unit tests: test environment variables are initialized in a @Before-annotated method;
  • Spring Boot annotations (eg. @Autowired).

Warning: lateinit is not to be confused with the by lazy keyword, which basically defers initialization to where the defined property is first used, not its declaration.

Nothing new under the sun

Lateinit is not a new concept, and a couple of languages are also using it. For example, it is present in Swift, where this is called an implicitly unwrapped optional, and can be used like this: var book: Book!.

How does it work?


Using the lateinit keyword has the following requirements:

  • has to be a var property, val not allowed;
  • can be either a property inside the body of a class, or a top-level property (Since 1.2);
  • can only be of non-null type;
  • primitive types disallowed.

What happens in the background

Although lateinit might look like magic, it is nothing of that sort. A quick peek into the decompiled bytecode reveals what is happening under the hood. For example, the following line in Kotlin:

lateinit var book: Book

translates to:

public Book book;

public final Book getBook() {
  Book var10000 =;
  if( == null) {
  return var10000;

public final void setBook(@NotNull Book var1) {
  Intrinsics.checkParameterIsNotNull(var1, "<set-?>"); = var1;

This means a backing field is generated, with a proper getter and setter. Important: this will make the backing field exposed in Java code via get() and set() methods. To disable this, annotate the variable with @field:JvmSynthetic - this will apply the synthetic modifier via bytecode, preventing it to be accessible in Java code.


Trying to access a lateinit var before it is initialized throws a special exception stating the property itself, and the fact that it wasn't initialized. For example, if trying to access a lateinit var book: Book before it was initialized, the following RuntimeException is presented:

kotlin.UninitializedPropertyAccessException: lateinit property book has not been initialized

For the overprotective

Since Kotlin 1.2, it is possible to check if a lateinit property has been initialized before using by calling .isInitialized on the reference to that property. So if there's uncertainty involved, the following lines can help.

if (::book.isInitialized) {
  // do stuff


Lateinit is a neat trick, that is very helpful (even unavoidable) in certain situations - an elegant and handy solution in the Kotlin developers' repertoire. However, one has to be careful with it - it is not a substitute for using a nullable var to suppress access warnings.