Get the class used to create an object instance in AS3

Sometimes, you want to know the datatype of an object at runtime. The most common thing to do in ActionScript 3 is use the is keyword to see if an object is an instance of a specific class. For example, you use exampleObject is Sprite to see if something is a Sprite (or any subclass of Sprite). However, there are times when you want to use the actual class in your code to create a new instance, or to do something a little more arcane. There are a couple simple ways to access the datatype of an object and place it in a variable.

Method 1: Combine a couple flash.utils functions

The first way to get an object’s class at runtime takes requires calls to a couple useful functions that live in the flash.utils package:

import flash.utils.getQualifiedClassName;
import flash.utils.getDefinitionByName;

var example:Sprite = new Sprite();
var exampleName:String = getQualifiedClassName( example );
var exampleType:Class = getDefinitionByName( exampleName ) as Class;
trace( exampleType == Sprite ); //output: true

Start by calling the function flash.utils.getQualifiedClassName(), and pass in the object. It will return a string that includes the full class name, including the package. For example, passing in a Sprite object will return the String value "flash.display::Sprite". Next, call the function flash.utils.getDefinitionByName(), and pass in the String value that you just received. It will return a reference to the object’s class. An equality check is included in the code above to demonstrate that exampleType is actually the Sprite class.

Are you curious about that :: part of the fully-qualified class name? Shouldn’t it be . instead? Check out my post Packages are actually namespaces in ActionScript 3 to learn more.

Mainly, I’ve included this first method of extracting a class from an instance because the two utility functions used in the example above are quite useful in other contexts. However, the second method is much simpler, if a little more obscure.

Method 2: The constructor property

Every object in ActionScript 3 has a property named constructor. According to the documentation, it is a reference to the datatype used to instantiate the object. In other words, every object can tell you the Class (or Function, since AS3 still supports ECMAScript function prototypes) used to create it with one simple property lookup. How simple!

var example:Sprite = new Sprite();
var exampleType:Class = Object( example ).constructor;
trace( exampleType == Sprite); //output: true

What’s interesting, and not immediately obvious (unless you read the documentation thoroughly), is that if you try to access the constructor property in the strict mode (which is on by default in the AS3 compiler), you’ll get a compiler error. However, the documentation notes that dynamic objects don’t cause this error. We can use that fact to create an easy workaround because everything is an Object, and Object happens to be a dynamic class. As you can see in the code above, a simple cast makes the error go away.

Personally, I prefer the second method because it takes only a simple property lookup, and it requires no calls to functions with long names. Again, though, those functions can be quite useful in other contexts, so it’s worth making note of them.

About Josh Tynjala

Josh Tynjala is a frontend developer, open source contributor, bowler hat enthusiast, and karaoke addict. You might be familiar with his project, Feathers UI, an open source user interface library for Starling Framework that is included in the Adobe Gaming SDK.


  1. john

    Thank you. I love you. Seriously, I’ve been scouring as3 message boards all over the internet looking for a solution to “duplicate” a movieClip dynamically and this does the job perfectly. I will spread this link around for all the others who have this problem.

    Thank you.

  2. Szmo

    I just can’t get it how can you duplicate a MovieClip with this. Could anyone make a tutorial or sample? :S Would be really helpfull.

  3. Kasper "KGC" Christensen

    Thank you so much, I really needed this for a level editor function in a game I’m working on – and this allows me to create the levels in movieclips, and then read the contents of the movieclips, and place the contents on the stage (or any other container), effectively making the Flash Professional IDE a visual level editor!