Julia Language Conditionals


  • if cond; body; end
  • if cond; body; else; body; end
  • if cond; body; elseif cond; body; else; end
  • if cond; body; elseif cond; body; end
  • cond ? iftrue : iffalse
  • cond && iftrue
  • cond || iffalse
  • ifelse(cond, iftrue, iffalse)


All conditional operators and functions involve using boolean conditions (true or false). In Julia, the type of booleans is Bool. Unlike some other languages, other kinds of numbers (like 1 or 0), strings, arrays, and so forth cannot be used directly in conditionals.

Typically, one uses either predicate functions (functions that return a Bool) or comparison operators in the condition of a conditional operator or function.

if...else expression

The most common conditional in Julia is the if...else expression. For instance, below we implement the Euclidean algorithm for computing the greatest common divisor, using a conditional to handle the base case:

mygcd(a, b) = if a == 0
    mygcd(b % a, a)

The if...else form in Julia is actually an expression, and has a value; the value is the expression in tail position (that is, the last expression) on the branch that is taken. Consider the following sample input:

julia> mygcd(0, -10)

Here, a is 0 and b is -10. The condition a == 0 is true, so the first branch is taken. The returned value is abs(b) which is 10.

julia> mygcd(2, 3)

Here, a is 2 and b is 3. The condition a == 0 is false, so the second branch is taken, and we compute mygcd(b % a, a), which is mygcd(3 % 2, 2). The % operator returns the remainder when 3 is divided by 2, in this case 1. Thus we compute mygcd(1, 2), and this time a is 1 and b is 2. Once again, a == 0 is false, so the second branch is taken, and we compute mygcd(b % a, a), which is mygcd(0, 1). This time, a == 0 at last and so abs(b) is returned, which gives the result 1.

if...else statement

name = readline()
if startswith(name, "A")
    println("Your name begins with A.")
    println("Your name does not begin with A.")

Any expression, such as the if...else expression, can be put in statement position. This ignores its value but still executes the expression for its side effects.

if statement

Like any other expression, the return value of an if...else expression can be ignored (and hence discarded). This is generally only useful when the body of the expression has side effects, such as writing to a file, mutating variables, or printing to the screen.

Furthermore, the else branch of an if...else expression is optional. For instance, we can write the following code to output to screen only if a particular condition is met:

second = Dates.second(now())
if iseven(second)
    println("The current second, $second, is even.")

In the example above, we use time and date functions to get the current second; for instance, if it is currently 10:55:27, the variable second will hold 27. If this number is even, then a line will be printed to screen. Otherwise, nothing will be done.

Ternary conditional operator

pushunique!(A, x) = x in A ? A : push!(A, x)

The ternary conditional operator is a less wordy if...else expression.

The syntax specifically is:

[condition] ? [execute if true] : [execute if false]

In this example, we add x to the collection A only if x is not already in A. Otherwise, we just leave A unchanged.

Ternary operator References:

Short-circuit operators: && and ||

For branching

The short-circuiting conditional operators && and || can be used as lightweight replacements for the following constructs:

  • x && y is equivalent to x ? y : x
  • x || y is equivalent to x ? x : y

One use for short-circuit operators is as a more concise way to test a condition and perform a certain action depending on that condition. For instance, the following code uses the && operator to throw an error if the argument x is negative:

function mysqrt(x)
    x < 0 && throw(DomainError("x is negative"))
    x ^ 0.5

The || operator can also be used for error checking, except that it triggers the error unless a condition holds, instead of if the condition holds:

function halve(x::Integer)
    iseven(x) || throw(DomainError("cannot halve an odd number"))
    x รท 2

Another useful application of this is to supply a default value to an object, only if it is not previously defined:

isdefined(:x) || (x = NEW_VALUE)

Here, this checks if the symbol x is defined (i.e. if there is an value assigned to the object x). If so, then nothing happens. But, if not, then x will be assigned NEW_VALUE. Note that this example will only work at toplevel scope.

In conditions

The operators are also useful because they can be used to test two conditions, the second of which is only evaluated depending on the result of the first condition. From the Julia documentation:

In the expression a && b, the subexpression b is only evaluated if a evaluates to true

In the expression a || b, the subexpression b is only evaluated if a evaluates to false

Thus, while both a & b and a && b will yield true if both a and b are true, their behavior if a is false is different.

For instance, suppose we wish to check if an object is a positive number, where it is possible that it might not even be a number. Consider the differences between these two attempted implementations:

CheckPositive1(x) = (typeof(x)<:Number) & (x > 0) ? true : false
CheckPositive2(x) = (typeof(x)<:Number) && (x > 0) ? true : false


CheckPositive1() will yield an error if a non-numeric type is supplied to it as an argument. This is because it evaluates both expressions, regardless of the result of the first, and the second expression will yield an error when one tries to evaluate it for a non-numeric type.

CheckPositive2(), however, will yield false (rather than an error) if a non-numeric type is supplied to it, since the second expression is only evaluated if the first is true.

More than one short-circuit operator can be strung together. E.g.:

1 > 0 && 2 > 0 && 3 > 5

if statement with multiple branches

d = Dates.dayofweek(now())
if d == 7
    println("It is Sunday!")
elseif d == 6
    println("It is Saturday!")
elseif d == 5
    println("Almost the weekend!")
    println("Not the weekend yet...")

Any number of elseif branches may be used with an if statement, possibly with or without a final else branch. Subsequent conditions will only be evaluated if all prior conditions have been found to be false.

The ifelse function

shift(x) = ifelse(x > 10, x + 1, x - 1)


julia> shift(10)

julia> shift(11)

julia> shift(-1)

The ifelse function will evaluate both branches, even the one that is not selected. This can be useful either when the branches have side effects that must be evaluated, or because it can be faster if both branches themselves are cheap.