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Control Flow

Deciding whether or not to run some code depending on if a condition is true and deciding to run some code repeatedly while a condition is true are basic building blocks in most programming languages. The most common constructs that let you control the flow of execution of Rust code are if expressions and loops.

if Expressions

An if expression allows you to branch your code depending on conditions. You provide a condition and then state, “If this condition is met, run this block of code. If the condition is not met, do not run this block of code.”

Create a new project called branches in your projects directory to explore the if expression. In the src/main.rs file, input the following:

Filename: src/main.rs

fn main() {
    let number = 3;

    if number < 5 {
        println!("condition was true");
    } else {
        println!("condition was false");
    }
}

All if expressions start with the keyword if, which is followed by a condition. In this case, the condition checks whether or not the variable number has a value less than 5. The block of code we want to execute if the condition is true is placed immediately after the condition inside curly brackets. Blocks of code associated with the conditions in if expressions are sometimes called arms, just like the arms in match expressions that we discussed in the “Comparing the Guess to the Secret Number” section of Chapter 2.

Optionally, we can also include an else expression, which we chose to do here, to give the program an alternative block of code to execute should the condition evaluate to false. If you don’t provide an else expression and the condition is false, the program will just skip the if block and move on to the next bit of code.

Try running this code; you should see the following output:

$ cargo run
   Compiling branches v0.1.0 (file:///projects/branches)
    Finished dev [unoptimized + debuginfo] target(s) in 0.31 secs
     Running `target/debug/branches`
condition was true

Let’s try changing the value of number to a value that makes the condition false to see what happens:

let number = 7;

Run the program again, and look at the output:

$ cargo run
   Compiling branches v0.1.0 (file:///projects/branches)
    Finished dev [unoptimized + debuginfo] target(s) in 0.31 secs
     Running `target/debug/branches`
condition was false

It’s also worth noting that the condition in this code must be a bool. If the condition isn’t a bool, we’ll get an error. For example, try running the following code:

Filename: src/main.rs

fn main() {
    let number = 3;

    if number {
        println!("number was three");
    }
}

The if condition evaluates to a value of 3 this time, and Rust throws an error:

error[E0308]: mismatched types
 --> src/main.rs:4:8
  |
4 |     if number {
  |        ^^^^^^ expected bool, found integer
  |
  = note: expected type `bool`
             found type `{integer}`

The error indicates that Rust expected a bool but got an integer. Unlike languages such as Ruby and JavaScript, Rust will not automatically try to convert non-Boolean types to a Boolean. You must be explicit and always provide if with a Boolean as its condition. If we want the if code block to run only when a number is not equal to 0, for example, we can change the if expression to the following:

Filename: src/main.rs

fn main() {
    let number = 3;

    if number != 0 {
        println!("number was something other than zero");
    }
}

Running this code will print number was something other than zero.

Handling Multiple Conditions with else if

You can have multiple conditions by combining if and else in an else if expression. For example:

Filename: src/main.rs

fn main() {
    let number = 6;

    if number % 4 == 0 {
        println!("number is divisible by 4");
    } else if number % 3 == 0 {
        println!("number is divisible by 3");
    } else if number % 2 == 0 {
        println!("number is divisible by 2");
    } else {
        println!("number is not divisible by 4, 3, or 2");
    }
}

This program has four possible paths it can take. After running it, you should see the following output:

$ cargo run
   Compiling branches v0.1.0 (file:///projects/branches)
    Finished dev [unoptimized + debuginfo] target(s) in 0.31 secs
     Running `target/debug/branches`
number is divisible by 3

When this program executes, it checks each if expression in turn and executes the first body for which the condition holds true. Note that even though 6 is divisible by 2, we don’t see the output number is divisible by 2, nor do we see the number is not divisible by 4, 3, or 2 text from the else block. That’s because Rust only executes the block for the first true condition, and once it finds one, it doesn’t even check the rest.

Using too many else if expressions can clutter your code, so if you have more than one, you might want to refactor your code. Chapter 6 describes a powerful Rust branching construct called match for these cases.

Using if in a let Statement

Because if is an expression, we can use it on the right side of a let statement, as in Listing 3-2.

Filename: src/main.rs

fn main() {
    let condition = true;
    let number = if condition {
        5
    } else {
        6
    };

    println!("The value of number is: {}", number);
}

Listing 3-2: Assigning the result of an if expression to a variable

The number variable will be bound to a value based on the outcome of the if expression. Run this code to see what happens:

$ cargo run
   Compiling branches v0.1.0 (file:///projects/branches)
    Finished dev [unoptimized + debuginfo] target(s) in 0.30 secs
     Running `target/debug/branches`
The value of number is: 5

Remember that blocks of code evaluate to the last expression in them, and numbers by themselves are also expressions. In this case, the value of the whole if expression depends on which block of code executes. This means the values that have the potential to be results from each arm of the if must be the same type; in Listing 3-2, the results of both the if arm and the else arm were i32 integers. If the types are mismatched, as in the following example, we’ll get an error:

Filename: src/main.rs

fn main() {
    let condition = true;

    let number = if condition {
        5
    } else {
        "six"
    };

    println!("The value of number is: {}", number);
}

When we try to compile this code, we’ll get an error. The if and else arms have value types that are incompatible, and Rust indicates exactly where to find the problem in the program:

error[E0308]: if and else have incompatible types
 --> src/main.rs:4:18
  |
4 |       let number = if condition {
  |  __________________^
5 | |         5
6 | |     } else {
7 | |         "six"
8 | |     };
  | |_____^ expected integer, found &str
  |
  = note: expected type `{integer}`
             found type `&str`

The expression in the if block evaluates to an integer, and the expression in the else block evaluates to a string. This won’t work because variables must have a single type. Rust needs to know at compile time what type the number variable is, definitively, so it can verify at compile time that its type is valid everywhere we use number. Rust wouldn’t be able to do that if the type of number was only determined at runtime; the compiler would be more complex and would make fewer guarantees about the code if it had to keep track of multiple hypothetical types for any variable.

Repetition with Loops

It’s often useful to execute a block of code more than once. For this task, Rust provides several loops. A loop runs through the code inside the loop body to the end and then starts immediately back at the beginning. To experiment with loops, let’s make a new project called loops.

Rust has three kinds of loops: loop, while, and for. Let’s try each one.

Repeating Code with loop

The loop keyword tells Rust to execute a block of code over and over again forever or until you explicitly tell it to stop.

As an example, change the src/main.rs file in your loops directory to look like this:

Filename: src/main.rs

fn main() {
    loop {
        println!("again!");
    }
}

When we run this program, we’ll see again! printed over and over continuously until we stop the program manually. Most terminals support a keyboard shortcut, ctrl-c, to interrupt a program that is stuck in a continual loop. Give it a try:

$ cargo run
   Compiling loops v0.1.0 (file:///projects/loops)
    Finished dev [unoptimized + debuginfo] target(s) in 0.29 secs
     Running `target/debug/loops`
again!
again!
again!
again!
^Cagain!

The symbol ^C represents where you pressed ctrl-c . You may or may not see the word again! printed after the ^C, depending on where the code was in the loop when it received the interrupt signal.

Fortunately, Rust provides another, more reliable way to break out of a loop. You can place the break keyword within the loop to tell the program when to stop executing the loop. Recall that we did this in the guessing game in the “Quitting After a Correct Guess” section of Chapter 2 to exit the program when the user won the game by guessing the correct number.

Returning Values from Loops

One of the uses of a loop is to retry an operation you know might fail, such as checking whether a thread has completed its job. However, you might need to pass the result of that operation to the rest of your code. To do this, you can add the value you want returned after the break expression you use to stop the loop; that value will be returned out of the loop so you can use it, as shown here:

fn main() {
    let mut counter = 0;

    let result = loop {
        counter += 1;

        if counter == 10 {
            break counter * 2;
        }
    };

    println!("The result is {}", result);
}

Before the loop, we declare a variable named counter and initialize it to 0. Then we declare a variable named result to hold the value returned from the loop. On every iteration of the loop, we add 1 to the counter variable, and then check whether the counter is equal to 10. When it is, we use the break keyword with the value counter * 2. After the loop, we use a semicolon to end the statement that assigns the value to result. Finally, we print the value in result, which in this case is 20.

Conditional Loops with while

It’s often useful for a program to evaluate a condition within a loop. While the condition is true, the loop runs. When the condition ceases to be true, the program calls break, stopping the loop. This loop type could be implemented using a combination of loop, if, else, and break; you could try that now in a program, if you’d like.

However, this pattern is so common that Rust has a built-in language construct for it, called a while loop. Listing 3-3 uses while: the program loops three times, counting down each time, and then, after the loop, it prints another message and exits.

Filename: src/main.rs

fn main() {
    let mut number = 3;

    while number != 0 {
        println!("{}!", number);

        number -= 1;
    }

    println!("LIFTOFF!!!");
}

Listing 3-3: Using a while loop to run code while a condition holds true

This construct eliminates a lot of nesting that would be necessary if you used loop, if, else, and break, and it’s clearer. While a condition holds true, the code runs; otherwise, it exits the loop.

Looping Through a Collection with for

You could use the while construct to loop over the elements of a collection, such as an array. For example, let’s look at Listing 3-4.

Filename: src/main.rs

fn main() {
    let a = [10, 20, 30, 40, 50];
    let mut index = 0;

    while index < 5 {
        println!("the value is: {}", a[index]);

        index += 1;
    }
}

Listing 3-4: Looping through each element of a collection using a while loop

Here, the code counts up through the elements in the array. It starts at index 0, and then loops until it reaches the final index in the array (that is, when index < 5 is no longer true). Running this code will print every element in the array:

$ cargo run
   Compiling loops v0.1.0 (file:///projects/loops)
    Finished dev [unoptimized + debuginfo] target(s) in 0.32 secs
     Running `target/debug/loops`
the value is: 10
the value is: 20
the value is: 30
the value is: 40
the value is: 50

All five array values appear in the terminal, as expected. Even though index will reach a value of 5 at some point, the loop stops executing before trying to fetch a sixth value from the array.

But this approach is error prone; we could cause the program to panic if the index length is incorrect. It’s also slow, because the compiler adds runtime code to perform the conditional check on every element on every iteration through the loop.

As a more concise alternative, you can use a for loop and execute some code for each item in a collection. A for loop looks like the code in Listing 3-5.

Filename: src/main.rs

fn main() {
    let a = [10, 20, 30, 40, 50];

    for element in a.iter() {
        println!("the value is: {}", element);
    }
}

Listing 3-5: Looping through each element of a collection using a for loop

When we run this code, we’ll see the same output as in Listing 3-4. More importantly, we’ve now increased the safety of the code and eliminated the chance of bugs that might result from going beyond the end of the array or not going far enough and missing some items.

For example, in the code in Listing 3-4, if you removed an item from the a array but forgot to update the condition to while index < 4, the code would panic. Using the for loop, you wouldn’t need to remember to change any other code if you changed the number of values in the array.

The safety and conciseness of for loops make them the most commonly used loop construct in Rust. Even in situations in which you want to run some code a certain number of times, as in the countdown example that used a while loop in Listing 3-3, most Rustaceans would use a for loop. The way to do that would be to use a Range, which is a type provided by the standard library that generates all numbers in sequence starting from one number and ending before another number.

Here’s what the countdown would look like using a for loop and another method we’ve not yet talked about, rev, to reverse the range:

Filename: src/main.rs

fn main() {
    for number in (1..4).rev() {
        println!("{}!", number);
    }
    println!("LIFTOFF!!!");
}

This code is a bit nicer, isn’t it?

Summary

You made it! That was a sizable chapter: you learned about variables, scalar and compound data types, functions, comments, if expressions, and loops! If you want to practice with the concepts discussed in this chapter, try building programs to do the following:

  • Convert temperatures between Fahrenheit and Celsius.
  • Generate the nth Fibonacci number.
  • Print the lyrics to the Christmas carol “The Twelve Days of Christmas,” taking advantage of the repetition in the song.

When you’re ready to move on, we’ll talk about a concept in Rust that doesn’t commonly exist in other programming languages: ownership.

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