Programming Tutorials

Ternary operator in python

By: Python Team in Python Tutorials on 2012-04-07  

p>C language's ternary operator equivalent was added in Python 2.5. The syntax would be as follows:

[on_true] if [expression] else [on_false]
x, y = 50, 25
small = x if x < y else y

For versions previous to 2.5 there was no ternary operator in python.

In many cases you can mimic a ? b : c with a and b or c, but there's a flaw: if b is zero (or empty, or None - anything that tests false) then c will be selected instead. In many cases you can prove by looking at the code that this can't happen (e.g. because b is a constant or has a type that can never be false), but in general this can be a problem.

Tim Peters (who wishes it was Steve Majewski) suggested the following solution: (a and [b] or [c])[0]. Because [b] is a singleton list it is never false, so the wrong path is never taken; then applying [0] to the whole thing gets the b or c that you really wanted. Ugly, but it gets you there in the rare cases where it is really inconvenient to rewrite your code using 'if'.

The best course is usually to write a simple if...else statement. Another solution is to implement the ?: operator as a function:

def q(cond, on_true, on_false):
if cond:
if not isfunction(on_true):
return on_true
return on_true()
if not isfunction(on_false):
return on_false
return on_false()

In most cases you'll pass b and c directly: q(a, b, c). To avoid evaluating b or c when they shouldn't be, encapsulate them within a lambda function, e.g.: q(a, lambda: b, lambda: c).

It has been asked why Python has no if-then-else expression. There are several answers: many languages do just fine without one; it can easily lead to less readable code; no sufficiently "Pythonic" syntax has been discovered; a search of the standard library found remarkably few places where using an if-then-else expression would make the code more understandable.

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