switch ExamplesUse switch, and the case, default and break statements, to run code based on a variable.
This page was last reviewed on Mar 1, 2023.
Switch. In Java a switch acts upon a variable and selects the case-statement that matches. Switch has limits, but has also advantages and elegance.
In a switch, control flow falls through to the next case. We must be careful to use breaks (or returns) to prevent incorrect behavior.
Switch, for example. We loop over the number range 0 through 2 inclusive with a for-loop. On each integer, we use a switch statement.
Info The switch has no case for 0, so the default block is reached. We print out a message to the console with System.out.
Detail For 1 the first case matches. A break exits the switch statement at the end of case 1, and then the loop continues.
Detail For 2, the second case block is matched. This would match 3 as well. No break occurs, so it then matches default.
public class Program { public static void main(String[] args) { // Loop through 0, 1, and 2. for (int i = 0; i <= 2; i++) { // Switch on number. switch (i) { case 1: { System.out.println("One: " + i); break; } case 2: case 3: { System.out.println("Two or three: " + i); } default: { System.out.println("Default case: " + i); } } } } }
Default case: 0 One: 1 Two or three: 2 Default case: 2
String switch. This program uses String literals within a switch-statement. If we pass "Max" or "Elle" to getValue, these literals are detected. We return from the switch statement.
String switch
public class Program { static int getValue(String name) { // Switch on a String argument. switch (name) { case "Max": return 1; case "Elle": return 2; } return 0; } public static void main(String[] args) { // Call method that uses switch. String name = "Max"; int result = getValue(name); System.out.println(result); System.out.println(getValue("Elle")); } }
1 2
Nested switch. We sometimes nest a switch within another one. This program uses two switches. It first checks the first letter of a string (with charAt) and then tests the second char.
Tip We can check for possible string matches this way. A switch can check all possible characters at each position.
public class Program { public static void main(String[] args) { String value = "hi"; // Switch on first letter. switch (value.charAt(0)) { case 'h': // Switch on second letter. switch (value.charAt(1)) { case 'i': System.out.println("Values are h, i"); break; case 'e': System.out.println("?"); break; } break; case 'e': System.out.println("?"); break; } } }
Values are h, i
Constant expressions. A switch cannot have variables in its cases. It must have constants. But we can use compile-time, constant expressions as cases. This can make code clearer.
Note The compiler evaluates the constant expressions (like 10 * 10) at compile-time. They are the same as constant values (like 100).
public class Program { public static void main(String[] args) { int value = 100; // Match constant-value expressions in cases. switch (value) { case 10 * 1: System.out.println("A"); break; case 10 * 10: System.out.println("B"); break; case 10 * 100: System.out.println("C"); break; } } }
Duplicate cases. A switch cannot have duplicate cases. This error sometimes occur in large switches that are harder to remember. The program does not compile.
Note Constant expressions are checked for duplication as well. This helps ensure program quality.
public class Program { public static void main(String[] args) { int value = 100; // This switch causes compilation problems. switch (value) { case 100: System.out.println(true); break; case 100: System.out.println(true); break; } } }
Exception in thread "main" java.lang.Error: Unresolved compilation problems: Duplicate case Duplicate case at program.Program.main(Program.java:9)
Type mismatch. Cases in a switch must match the type of the value being switched upon. Java provides this checking to ensure program quality—switch cases are valid based on the type.
public class Program { public static void main(String[] args) { byte value = 100; // A byte can never equal 1000 so an error occurs. switch (value) { case 1000: System.out.println(false); return; } } }
Exception in thread "main" java.lang.Error: Unresolved compilation problem: Type mismatch: cannot convert from int to byte at program.Program.main(Program.java:8)
Continue. Statements like continue and return can be used within a switch. But these affect the enclosing block, not the switch itself.
Detail A continue in a switch moves to the next iteration in an enclosing loop. A return acts on the enclosing method.
public class Program { public static void main(String[] args) { for (int i = 0; i < 5; i++) { switch (i) { case 0: case 1: // The continue moves to the next iteration in the loop. continue; default: // This breaks the switch, not the loop. break; } System.out.println(i); } } }
2 3 4
Benchmark, switch. Switch sometimes has clear performance advantages over an if-statement. Consider this example. The values 0 through 4 are tested many times.
Version 1 This version of the code uses a switch-statement to test for the values 0 through 4.
Version 2 Here we use an if-else chain to test for the values 0 through 4. We can use more complex expressions here.
Result The switch statement is faster. But switch can slow down a method—try checking for the most common case in an if-statement.
public class Program { public static void main(String[] args) { long t1 = System.currentTimeMillis(); // Version 1: use switch. int total = 0; for (int i = 0; i < 100000000; i++) { switch (i) { case 0: total--; break; case 1: total -= 2; break; case 2: case 3: case 4: total++; break; } } long t2 = System.currentTimeMillis(); // Version 2: use if-else. int total2 = 0; for (int i = 0; i < 100000000; i++) { if (i == 0) { total2--; } else if (i == 1) { total2 -= 2; } else if (i >= 2 && i <= 4) { total2++; } } long t3 = System.currentTimeMillis(); // ... Times. System.out.println(t2 - t1); System.out.println(t3 - t2); } }
234 ms, switch 281 ms, if/else if
Guide. A switch is best used only when the input is unknown. The example does not follow this guideline. We use the System.out.println method to write the console.
Warning With switch, problems can occur because of incorrect fall-through cases. Be careful to check that are used when needed.
Also An alternative control structure is the if-statement. This may be clearer in many places.
A review. We use switch to rewrite, and clarify, this code. We benchmarked and tested this construct. Switch supports Strings and constant expressions.
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Sam Allen is passionate about computer languages. In the past, his work has been recommended by Apple and Microsoft and he has studied computers at a selective university in the United States.
This page was last updated on Mar 1, 2023 (edit).
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