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10.2 The switch Statement

It is very common to take different actions depending on the value of one variable. This is possible using the if statement in the following way

 
if (X == 1)
  do_something ();
elseif (X == 2)
  do_something_else ();
else
  do_something_completely_different ();
endif

This kind of code can however be very cumbersome to both write and maintain. To overcome this problem Octave supports the switch statement. Using this statement, the above example becomes

 
switch (X)
  case 1
    do_something ();
  case 2
    do_something_else ();
  otherwise
    do_something_completely_different ();
endswitch

This code makes the repetitive structure of the problem more explicit, making the code easier to read, and hence maintain. Also, if the variable X should change its name, only one line would need changing compared to one line per case when if statements are used.

The general form of the switch statement is

 
switch expression
  case label
    command_list
  case label
    command_list
  …

  otherwise
    command_list
endswitch

where label can be any expression. However, duplicate label values are not detected, and only the command_list corresponding to the first match will be executed. For the switch statement to be meaningful at least one case label command_list clause must be present, while the otherwise command_list clause is optional.

If label is a cell array the corresponding command_list is executed if any of the elements of the cell array match expression. As an example, the following program will print ‘Variable is either 6 or 7’.

 
A = 7;
switch A
  case { 6, 7 }
    printf ("variable is either 6 or 7\n");
  otherwise
    printf ("variable is neither 6 nor 7\n");
endswitch

As with all other specific end keywords, endswitch may be replaced by end, but you can get better diagnostics if you use the specific forms.

One advantage of using the switch statement compared to using if statements is that the labels can be strings. If an if statement is used it is not possible to write

 
if (X == "a string") # This is NOT valid

since a character-to-character comparison between X and the string will be made instead of evaluating if the strings are equal. This special-case is handled by the switch statement, and it is possible to write programs that look like this

 
switch (X)
  case "a string"
    do_something
  …
endswitch

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