Users and applications
Formal description
Use in data structures
Architectural roots
Making pointers safer
Simulation using an array index
Project partners & contact details
Switch statement
In computer programming languages, a switch statement is a type of selection control mechanism used to allow the value of a variable or expression to change the control flow of program execution via search and map.
Switch statements come in two main variants: a structured switch, as in Pascal, which takes exactly one branch, and an unstructured switch, as in C, which functions as a type of goto. The main reasons for using a switch include improving clarity, by reducing otherwise repetitive coding, and (if the heuristics permit) also offering the potential for faster execution through easier compiler optimization in many cases.
Each alternative begins with the particular value, or list of values (see below), that the control variable may match and which will cause the control to go to the corresponding sequence of statements. The value (or list/range of values) is usually separated from the corresponding statement sequence by a colon or by an implication arrow. In many languages, every case must also be preceded by a keyword such as case or when.
In many languages, only the matching block is executed, and then execution continues at the end of the switch statement. These include the Pascal family (Object Pascal, Modula, Oberon, Ada, etc.) as well as PL/I, modern forms of Fortran and BASIC dialects influenced by Pascal, most functional languages, and many others. To allow multiple values to execute the same code (and avoid needing to duplicate code), Pascal-type languages permit any number of values per case, given as a comma-separated list, as a range, or as a combination.
Languages derived from C language, and more generally those influenced by Fortran's computed GOTO, instead feature fallthrough, where control moves to the matching case, and then execution continues ("falls through") to the statements associated with the next case in the source text. This also allows multiple values to match the same point without any special syntax: they are just listed with empty bodies. Values can be special conditioned with code in the case body. In practice, fallthrough is usually prevented with a break keyword at the end of the matching body, which exits execution of the switch block, but this can cause bugs due to unintentional fallthrough if the programmer forgets to insert the break statement. This is thus seen by many[weasel words] as a language wart, and warned against in some lint tools. Syntactically, the cases are interpreted as labels, not blocks, and the switch and break statements explicitly change control flow. Some languages influenced by C, such as JavaScript, retain default fallthrough, while others remove fallthrough, or only allow it in special circumstances. Notable variations on this in the C-family include C#, in which all blocks must be terminated with a break or return unless the block is empty (i.e. fallthrough is used as a way to specify multiple values).
Optimizing compilers such as GCC or Clang may compile a switch statement into either a branch table or a binary search through the values in the cases. A branch table allows the switch statement to determine with a small, constant number of comparisons which branch to execute without having to go through a list of comparisons, while a binary search takes only a logarithmic number of comparisons, measured in the number of cases in the switch statement.
Additionally, an optimized implementation may execute much faster than the alternative, because it is often implemented by using an indexed branch table. For example, deciding program flow based on a single character's value, if correctly implemented, is vastly more efficient than the alternative, reducing instruction path lengths considerably. When implemented as such, a switch statement essentially becomes a perfect hash.
A number of languages implement a form of switch statement in exception handling, where if an exception is raised in a block, a separate branch is chosen, depending on the exception. In some cases a default branch, if no exception is raised, is also present. An early example is Modula-3, which use the TRY...EXCEPT syntax, where each EXCEPT defines a case. This is also found in Delphi, Python, Scala, and Visual Basic.NET.