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A program must sometimes make choices, choosing between different instructions to execute. Sometimes it must also execute the same instructions several times. All this is done using various control structures. We will start by looking at the different ways of choosing between alternatives.

Pike has three facilities for choosing between alternatives: the if statement, the switch statement, and the ? : operator.

The if statement

The if statement comes in two flavors. The first and simplest one follows this pattern or template:

if( expression )
  statement

As usual in this tutorial, words in a fixed-width font are supposed to be written verbatim in the program, while words in italics are supposed to be replaced by something else. This means that the word if and the parentheses should be kept, but you replace expression with some expression, and statement with some statement. An example, which could have been part of a control program for a stove, looks like this:

if(temperature < 200.0)
  burn();

When Pike encounters an if statement, it first calculates the value of the expression. Pike then checks if this value is true or false. The value zero (0) is considered to be false, and everything else is true. If the value is true, the statement is executed. If the value is false, nothing is done, and program execution will continue after the if statement.

An if statement can also follow this template:

if( expression )
  statement1
else
  statement2

Example:

if(this_user == file_owner)
  allow_access();
else
  deny_access();

A statement can be a block, which is several statements enclosed by curly brackets. Example:

if(this_user == file_owner)
  allow_access();
else
{
  deny_access();
  send_message(file_owner, "Warning: " + this_user +
               " tried to access your file.");
}

You can "chain" several if statements together, like this:

if(temperature < 200.0)
  burn(10);
else if(temperature < 300.0)
  burn(5);
else if(temperature < 400.0)
  burn(2);
else
  turn_off_heat();

The switch statement

If your program is choosing between a number of different actions, depending on the value of a variable or expression, you can express this using a chain of if statements:

if(command == "print")
  print(argument);
else if(command == "save")
  save(argument);
else if(command == "quit" || command == "exit")
  quit(argument);
else
  write("Unknown command.\n");

In such cases a switch statement can be a better alternative:

switch(command)
{
  case "print":
    print(argument);
    break;
  case "save":
    save(argument);
    break;
  case "quit":
  case "exit":
    quit(argument);
    break;
  default:
    write("Unknown command.\n");
    break;
}

In a switch statement, Pike first calculates the value of the expression between the parentheses, in this case command. It then compares this value with all the values given in the cases in the body (i. e., between the curly brackets) of the switch statement. If it finds a value that is equal, it jumps to that place and continues to execute the program there. If it comes to a break statement, it will skip the rest of the code in the switch body, and continue execution after the block.

It is not necessary to have a default case, but if one exists, Pike will go to that one if it finds no matching case value. The final break statement in this example isn't really necessary, since the switch statement block ends there anyway, but it won't hurt either.

You can use a range of values in a case:

case 10..14:

This case will match if the value is between 10 and 14, inclusively: 10, 11, 12, 13 or 14.

The ugly ? : operator

The operator ? : is similar to the if statement, but returns a value. Expressions that use the operator ? : follow this template:

condition ? then-expression : else-expression

Condition, then-expression and else-expression are three expressions. Pike starts by calculating the value of condition. If that value is true, it then calculates then-expression, and doesn't do anything with else-expression. If the value of condition is false, it calculates else-expression, and doesn't do anything with then-expression. The value of the whole construct is the value of the expression that was calculated: either then-expression or else-expression.

Using this operator, you can rewrite

if(a > b)
  max_value = a;
else
  max_value = b;

as

max_value = (a > b) ? a : b;

We recommend that you don't use the ? : operator, unless you have to. It can be necessary when writing function-like macros, but that is beyond the scope of this tutorial.