This lesson is all about controlling the flow of your code. The concept is pretty simple. You have some code that you only want to execute under specific conditions, so you need a way for the computer to check whether those conditions have been met. Conditional logic can be found everywhere in everyday life. Ever had to tidy your room before being allowed to play video games? That’s your mother setting up a nice conditional statement that might look like this in a computer program…
if room_tidy == true "I can play video games" end
There must be a motherboard joke in there somewhere. Answers on a postcard!
Any conditional statement will always have an expression that evaluates to
false. Based on this answer, the computer will decide whether or not to execute the code that follows. If it’s true, then the code will be processed; if it’s false, the code will be skipped, and you can provide some other code that will be run instead. There can even be several conditional statements on one line, but keep in mind that too many can make code look cluttered.
You’ll write a lot of conditional statements on your road to programmer stardom. Although they are fundamentally simple, they are a big source of bugs in your code when something isn’t working as expected. Make sure you understand the logic behind the expression being evaluated so you can step through it if you need to.
By the end of this lesson, you should be able to do the following:
- Describe and list falsy values.
- Explain how to use
- Explain the difference between
- Describe what
- Explain what short circuit evaluation is.
- Describe what the ternary operator is and how to use it.
- Explain what a
casestatement is and how it works.
Truthy and Falsy in Ruby
You already know that conditional statements check expressions for a true or false value, so it follows that you need to understand what Ruby considers to be true or false. In typical Ruby fashion, it’s very simple. The only false values in Ruby are the values
false themselves. That’s it! Everything else is considered true. Even the string
"false" is true in conditional expressions! If you have experience with other programming languages, you might be familiar with the number 0 or an empty string (“”) being equivalent to false. This isn’t the case with Ruby, so be careful when writing those expressions, or you’ll have more bugs than a decomposing body.
Basic Conditional Statement
The simplest way to control the flow of your code using conditionals is with the
The general syntax of an
if statement is shown here:
if statement_to_be_evaluated == true # do something awesome... end if 1 < 2 puts "Hot diggity, 1 is less than 2!" end #=> Hot diggity, 1 is less than 2!
If there is only one line of code to be evaluated inside the block, then you can rewrite the code to be more succinct and take up only one line:
puts "Hot diggity damn, 1 is less than 2" if 1 < 2
You don’t even need the
end statement. Nice and concise!
The statement to be evaluated can be anything that returns true or false. It could be a mathematical expression, a variable value, or a call to a method. Only if the expression evaluates to true does the code inside the block run.
Adding else and elsif
We often want to check a condition and run some code if it’s true but then run some other code if it’s false. This is done with an
if attack_by_land == true puts "release the goat" else puts "release the shark" end
Oh yeah! Protected on land and sea.
But what about if we’re attacked by air? We need yet another conditional check. Enter the
if attack_by_land == true puts "release the goat" elsif attack_by_sea == true puts "release the shark" else puts "release Kevin the octopus" end
Ain’t nobody pillaging our land!
You can have as many
elsif expressions as you want. The
else clause is optional, but you usually want to provide some default value in case none of the previous expressions evaluate to
To determine whether an expression evaluates to
false, you’ll need a comparison operator. There are several provided by Ruby:
== (equals) returns
true if the values compared are equal.
5 == 5 #=> true 5 == 6 #=> false
!= (not equal) returns
true if the values compared are not equal.
5 != 7 #=> true 5 != 5 #=> false
> (greater than) returns
true if the value on the left of the operator is larger than the value on the right.
7 > 5 #=> true 5 > 7 #=> false
< (less than) returns
true if the value on the left of the operator is smaller than the value on the right.
5 < 7 #=> true 7 < 5 #=> false
>= (greater than or equal to) returns
true if the value on the left of the operator is larger than or equal to the value on the right.
7 >= 7 #=> true 7 >= 5 #=> true
<= (less than or equal to) returns
true if the value on the left of the operator is smaller than or equal to the value on the right.
5 <= 5 #=> true 5 <= 7 #=> true
#eql? checks both the value type and the actual value it holds.
5.eql?(5.0) #=> false; although they are the same value, one is an integer and the other is a float 5.eql?(5) #=> true
#equal? checks whether both values are the exact same object in memory. This can be slightly confusing because of the way computers store some values for efficiency. Two variables pointing to the same number will usually return
a = 5 b = 5 a.equal?(b) #=> true
This expression is true because of the way computers store integers in memory. Although two different variables are holding the number 5, they point to the same object in memory. However, consider the next code example:
a = "hello" b = "hello" a.equal?(b) #=> false
This happens because computers can’t store strings in the same efficient way they store numbers. Although the values of the variables are the same, the computer has created two separate string objects in memory.
In addition to the above operators, Ruby has a special operator that is affectionately referred to as the spaceship operator. Unlike the other comparison operators, which all return
false, the spaceship operator returns one of three numerical values.
<=> (spaceship operator) returns the following:
-1if the value on the left is less than the value on the right;
0if the value on the left is equal to the value on the right; and
1if the value on the left is greater than the value on the right.
5 <=> 10 #=> -1 10 <=> 10 #=> 0 10 <=> 5 #=> 1
The spaceship operator is most commonly used in sorting functions, which we’ll cover more later.
All of the above operators also work on data types other than numbers, such as strings. Why not play around with this in a REPL?
Sometimes you’ll want to write an expression that contains more than one condition. In Ruby, this is accomplished with logical operators, which are
|| (or) and
There are some differences between the word versions and their symbolic equivalents, particularly in the way they evaluate code. We recommend you read this article that explains the differences.
&& operator returns
true if both the left and right expressions return
if 1 < 2 && 5 < 6 puts "Party at Kevin's!" end # This can also be written as if 1 < 2 and 5 < 6 puts "Party at Kevin's!" end
One thing to keep in mind with the
|| operators is the order of logic. The expressions are always evaluated from left to right.
&& operator, both expressions must return
true. If the first expression encountered returns
false, then the second expression is never checked. To the Ruby interpreter, it’s pointless to evaluate the second half as the overall expression can never return
|| operator, if the first expression evaluates to
true, then the second expression is never checked because the complete expression is already
true, and the code in the block is run.
This is known as short circuit evaluation.
if 10 < 2 || 5 < 6 #=> although the left expression is false, there is a party at Kevin's because the right expression returns true puts "Party at Kevin's!" end # This can also be written as if 10 < 2 or 5 < 6 puts "Party at Kevin's!" end
! operator reverses the logic of the expression. Therefore, if the expression itself returns
false, using the
! operator makes the expression
true, and the code inside the block will be executed.
if !false #=> true if !(10 < 5) #=> true
Case statements are a neat way of writing several conditional expressions that would normally result in a messy
if...elsif statement. You can even assign the return value from a case statement to a variable for use later.
Case statements process each condition in turn, and if the condition returns
false, it will move onto the next one until a match is found. An
else clause can be provided to serve as a default if no match is found.
grade = 'F' did_i_pass = case grade #=> create a variable `did_i_pass` and assign the result of a call to case with the variable grade passed in when 'A' then "Hell yeah!" when 'D' then "Don't tell your mother." else "'YOU SHALL NOT PASS!' -Gandalf" end
As soon as a match is found, the value of that match is returned, and the case statement stops execution. Can you tell what the value of the
did_i_pass variable is going to be after the case statement?
If you need to do some more complex code manipulation, you can remove the
then keyword and instead place the code to be executed on the next line.
grade = 'F' case grade when 'A' puts "You're a genius" future_bank_account_balance = 5_000_000 when 'D' puts "Better luck next time" can_i_retire_soon = false else puts "'YOU SHALL NOT PASS!' -Gandalf" fml = true end
unless statement works in the opposite way as an
if statement: it only processes the code in the block if the expression evaluates to
false. There isn’t much more to it.
age = 19 unless age < 18 puts "Get a job." end
Just like with
if statements, you can write a simple
unless statement on one line, and you can also add an
age = 19 puts "Welcome to a life of debt." unless age < 18 unless age < 18 puts "Down with that sort of thing." else puts "Careful now!" end
You should use an
unless statement when you want to not do something if a condition is
true, because it can make your code more readable than using
The ternary operator is a one-line
if...else statement that can make your code much more concise.
Its syntax is
conditional statement ? <execute if true> : <execute if false>. You can assign the return value of the expression to a variable.
age = 19 response = age < 18 ? "You still have your entire life ahead of you." : "You're all grown up." puts response #=> "You're all grown up."
Here, because the expression evaluated to
false, the code after the
: was assigned to the variable
Writing this as an
if...else statement would be much more verbose:
age = 19 if age < 18 response = "You still have your entire life ahead of you." else response = "You're all grown up." end puts response #=> "You're all grown up."
However, if your conditional statements are complicated, then using an
if...else statement can help to make your code more readable. Remember, above all else, your code needs to be readable and understandable by other people, especially in the development stage. You can always optimize your code for efficiency once it’s finished and you’re moving to a production environment where speed matters.
- For more depth, read the Flow Control chapter from LaunchSchool’s Introduction to Programming With Ruby.
- For an overview of flow control, read through this Ruby Explained: Conditionals and Flow Control article.
This section contains helpful links to other content. It isn’t required, so consider it supplemental.
- For more on the spaceship operator, see this Stack Overflow post.
- For more depth on flow control, read Zetcode’s Flow Control section.
- If you want some in-depth practice with these concepts, go through Learn Ruby the Hard Way from Exercise 27 through Exercise 31.
This section contains questions for you to check your understanding of this lesson. If you’re having trouble answering the questions below on your own, review the material above to find the answer.
- What is a Boolean?
- What are “truthy” values?
- Are the following considered true or false:
- When do you use
- When do you use
- What do
- What is short circuit evaluation?
- What is returned by
puts("woah") || true?
- What is the ternary operator?
- When should you use a case statement?