The ? : operator in Java

The value of a variable often depends on whether a particular boolean expression is or is not true and on nothing else. For instance one common operation is setting the value of a variable to the maximum of two quantities. In Java you might write

if (a > b) {
  max = a;
else {
  max = b;

Setting a single variable to one of two states based on a single condition is such a common use of if-else that a shortcut has been devised for it, the conditional operator, ?:. Using the conditional operator you can rewrite the above example in a single line like this:

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

(a > b) ? a : b; is an expression which returns one of two values, a or b. The condition, (a > b), is tested. If it is true the first value, a, is returned. If it is false, the second value, b, is returned. Whichever value is returned is dependent on the conditional test, a > b. The condition can be any expression which returns a boolean value.

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Copyright 1997 Elliotte Rusty Harold
Last Modified December 14, 1997