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Flow control in C#

In this part of the C# tutorial, we will talk about the flow control. We will define several keywords that enable us to control the flow of a C# program.

In C# language there are several keywords that are used to alter the flow of the program. When the program is run, the statements are executed from the top of the source file to the bottom. One by one. This flow can be altered by specific keywords. Statements can be executed multiple times. Some statements are called conditional statements. They are executed only if a specific condition is met.

The if statement

The if statement has the following general form:

if (expression) 
{
    statement;
}

The if keyword is used to check if an expression is true. If it is true, a statement is then executed. The statement can be a single statement or a compound statement. A compound statement consists of multiple statements enclosed by the block. A block is code enclosed by curly brackets.

using System;

public class IfStatement
{
    static void Main()
    {
        Random r = new Random();
        int n = r.Next(-5, 5);

        Console.WriteLine(n);

        if (n > 0)
        {
            Console.WriteLine("The n variable is positive");
        }
    }
}

A random number is generated. If the number is greater than zero, we print a message to the terminal.

Random r = new Random();
int n = r.Next(-5, 5);

These two lines generate a random integer between <-5, 5>.

if (n > 0)
{
    Console.WriteLine("The n variable is positive");
}

Using the if keyword, we check if the generated number is greater than zero. The if keyword is followed by a pair of round brackets. Inside the brackets, we place an expression. The expression results in a boolean value. If the boolean value is true, then the block enclosed by two curly brackets is executed. In our case, the string "The n variable is positive" is printed to the terminal. If the random value is negative, nothing is done. The curly brackets are optional if we have only one expression.

$ ./ifstatement.exe 
-5
$ ./ifstatement.exe 
-4
$ ./ifstatement.exe 
4
The n variable is positive

When the condition is met, the message is written to the console.

We can use the else keyword to create a simple branch. If the expression inside the square brackets following the if keyword evaluates to false, the statement following the else keyword is automatically executed.

using System;

public class IfElse
{
    static void Main()
    {
        Random r = new Random();        
        int n = r.Next(-5, 5);

        Console.WriteLine(n);

        if (n > 0) 
        {            
            Console.WriteLine("The number is positive");
            
        } else 
        {            
            Console.WriteLine("The number is negative");
        }
    }
}

Either the block following the if keyword is executed, or the block following the else keyword.

if (n > 0) 
{            
    Console.WriteLine("The number is positive");
    
} else 
{            
    Console.WriteLine("The number is negative");
}

The else keyword follows the right curly bracket of the if block. It has its own block enclosed by a pair of curly brackets.

$ ./branch.exe 
3
The number is positive
$ ./branch.exe 
-5
The number is negative
$ ./branch.exe 
-2
The number is negative

We execute the program three times.

We can create multiple branches using the else if keyword. The else if keyword tests for another condition if and only if the previous condition was not met. Note that we can use multiple else if keywords in our tests.

using System;

public class MultipleBranches
{
    static void Main()
    {
        Random r = new Random();        
        int n = r.Next(-5, 5);

        Console.WriteLine(n);

        if (n < 0) 
        {
          Console.WriteLine("The n variable is negative");

        } else if (n == 0) 
        { 
          Console.WriteLine("The n variable is zero");

        } else 
        {
          Console.WriteLine("The n variable is positive");
        }
    }
}

The previous program had a slight issue. Zero was given to negative values. The following program will fix this.

if (n < 0) 
{
    Console.WriteLine("The n variable is negative");

} else if (n == 0) 
{ 
    Console.WriteLine("The n variable is zero");

} else 
{
    Console.WriteLine("The n variable is positive");
}

If the first condition evaluates to true, e.g. the entered value is less than zero, the first block is executed and the remaining two blocks are skipped. If the first condition is not met, then the second condition following the if else keywords is checked. If the second condition evaluates to true, the second block is executed. If not, the third block following the else keyword is executed. The else block is always executed if the previous conditions were not met.

$ ./mulbranch.exe 
-5
The n variable is negative
$ ./mulbranch.exe 
0
The n variable is zero
$ ./mulbranch.exe 
3
The n variable is positive

We execute the program three times. The 0 is correctly handled.

The switch statement

The switch statement is a selection control flow statement. It allows the value of a variable or expression to control the flow of program execution via a multi-way branch. It creates multiple branches in a simpler way than using the combination of if, else if statements.

We have a variable or an expression. The switch keyword is used to test a value from the variable or the expression against a list of values. The list of values is presented with the case keyword. If the values match, the statement following the case is executed. There is an optional default statement. It is executed if no other match is found.

using System;

public class SwitchStatement
{
    static void Main()
    {
        string domain = Console.ReadLine();

        domain = domain.Trim().ToLower();
    
        switch (domain) 
        {
            case "us":
                Console.WriteLine("United States");
            break;

            case "de":
                Console.WriteLine("Germany");
            break;

            case "sk":
                Console.WriteLine("Slovakia");
            break;

            case "hu":
                Console.WriteLine("Hungary");
            break;

            default:
                Console.WriteLine("Unknown");
            break;
        }
    }
}

The user is requested to enter a domain name. The domain name is read and stored in a variable. The variable is tested with the switch keyword against a list of options. In our program, we have a domain variable. We read a value for the variable from the command line. We use the case statement to test for the value of the variable. There are several options. If the value equals for example to "us" the "United States" string is printed to the console.

string domain = Console.ReadLine();

Input from the user is read from the console.

domain = domain.Trim().ToLower();

The Trim() method strips the variable from potential leading and trailing white spaces. The ToLower() converts the characters to lowercase. Now the "us", "US", "us " are viable options for the us domain name.

switch (domain) 
{
    ...
}

In the round brackets, the switch keyword takes an input which is going to be tested. The input can be of byte, short, char, int, enum, or String data type. The body of the switch keyword is placed inside a pair or curly brackets. In the body, we can place multiple case options. Each option is ended with the break keyword.

case "us":
    Console.WriteLine("United States");
break;

In this case option, we test if the domain variable is equal to "us" string. If true, we print a message to the console. The option is ended with the break keyword. If one of the options is successfully evaluated, the break keyword terminates the switch block.

default:
    Console.WriteLine("Unknown");
break;

The default keyword is optional. If none of the case options is evaluated, then the default section is executed.

$ ./switch.exe 
Enter a domain:hu
Hungary
$ ./switch.exe 
Enter a domain:HU
Hungary
$ ./switch.exe
Enter a domain: Us
United States
$ ./switch.exe
Enter a domain:pl
Unknown

We execute the program a few times.

The while statement

The while statement is a control flow statement that allows code to be executed repeatedly based on a given boolean condition.

This is the general form of the while loop:

while (expression)
{
    statement;
}

The while keyword executes the statements inside the block enclosed by the curly brackets. The statements are executed each time the expression is evaluated to true.

using System;

public class WhileStatement
{
    static void Main()
    {
        int i = 0;
        int sum = 0;

        while (i < 10)
        {
            i++;
            sum += i;   
        }

        Console.WriteLine(sum);        
    }
}

In the code example, we calculate the sum of values from a range of numbers.

The while loop has three parts. Initialization, testing and updating. Each execution of the statement is called a cycle.

int i = 0;

We initiate the i variable. It is used as a counter.

while (i < 10)
{
   ...
}

The expression inside the round brackets following the while keyword is the second phase, the testing. The statements in the body are executed until the expression is evaluated to false.

i++;

This is the last, third phase of the while loop, the updating. We increment the counter. Note that improper handling of the while loops may lead to endless cycles.

It is possible to run the statement at least once. Even if the condition is not met. For this, we can use the do while keywords.

using System;

public class DoWhile
{
    static void Main()
    {
        int count = 0;
        
        do { 
            Console.WriteLine(count);
        } while (count != 0);      
    }
}

First the block is executed and then the truth expression is evaluated. In our case, the condition is not met and the do while statement terminates.

The for statement

When the number of cycles is know before the loop is initiated, we can use the for statement. In this construct we declare a counter variable which is automatically increased or decreased in value during each repetition of the loop.

using System;

public class CSharpApp
{
    static void Main()
    {
        for (int i=0; i<10; i++)
        {
            Console.WriteLine(i);
        }
    }
}

In this example, we print numbers 0..9 to the console.

for (int i=0; i<9; i++)
{
    Console.WriteLine(i);
}

There are three phases. In the first phase, we initiate the counter i to zero. This phase is done only once. Next comes the condition. If the condition is met, the statement inside the for block is executed. In the third phase the counter is increased. Now we repeat the 2, 3 phases until the condition is not met and the for loop is left. In our case, when the counter i is equal to 10, the for loop stops executing.

A for loop can be used for easy traversal of an array. From the Length property of the array we know the size of the array.

using System;

public class ForStatement2
{
    static void Main()
    {
        string[] planets = { "Mercury", "Venus", "Earth",
            "Mars", "Jupiter", "Saturn", "Uranus", "Pluto" };

        for (int i = 0; i < planets.Length; i++) 
        {            
            Console.WriteLine(planets[i]);
        }

        Console.WriteLine("In reverse:");

        for (int i = planets.Length - 1; i >= 0; i--) 
        {            
            Console.WriteLine(planets[i]);
        }
    }
}

We have an array holding the names of planets in our Solar System. Using two for loops, we print the values in ascending and descending orders.

for (int i = 0; i < planets.Length; i++) 
{            
    Console.WriteLine(planets[i]);
}

The arrays are accessed by zero-based indexing. The first item has index 0. Therefore, the i variable is initialized to zero. The condition checks if the i variable is less than the length of the array. In the final phase, the i variable is incremented.

for (int i = planets.Length - 1; i >= 0; i--) 
{            
    Console.WriteLine(planets[i]);
}

This for loop prints the elements of the array in reverse order. The i counter is initialized to array size. Since the indexing is zero based, the last element has index array size-1. The condition ensures that the counter is greater or equal to zero. (Array indexes cannot be negative). In the third step, the i counter is decremented by one.

More expressions can be placed in the initialization and iteration phase of the for loop.

using System;

public class ForStatement3
{
    static void Main()
    {
        Random r = new Random();

        int[] values = new int[10];
        int num;
        int sum=0;
        
        for (int i = 0; i < 10; i++, sum += num) 
        {            
            num = r.Next(10);
            values[i] = num;
        }

        Console.WriteLine(string.Join(",", values));
        Console.WriteLine("The sum of the values is " + sum);
    }
}

In our example, we create an array of ten random numbers. A sum of the numbers is calculated.

for (int i = 0; i < 10; i++, sum += num) 
{            
    num = r.Next(10);
    values[i] = num;
}

In the third part of the for loop, we have two expressions separated by a comma character. The i counter is incremented and the current number is added to the sum variable.

Console.WriteLine(string.Join(",", values));

Using the Join() method of the System.String class, we print all the values of the array in one shot. They will be separated by a comma character.

$ ./forloop3.exe 
1,6,4,2,7,8,7,5,4,2
The sum of the values is 46

This is sample execution of the program.

The foreach statement

The foreach construct simplifies traversing over collections of data. It has no explicit counter. The foreach statement goes through the array or collection one by one and the current value is copied to a variable defined in the construct.

using System;

public class CSharpApp
{
    static void Main()
    {
        string[] planets = { "Mercury", "Venus", 
            "Earth", "Mars", "Jupiter", "Saturn", 
            "Uranus", "Neptune" };

        foreach (string planet in planets)
        {
            Console.WriteLine(planet);
        }
    }
}

In this example, we use the foreach statement to go through an array of planets.

foreach (string planet in planets)
{
    Console.WriteLine(planet);
}

The usage of the foreach statement is straightforward. The planets is an array that we iterate through. The planet is a temporary variable that has the current value from the array. The foreach statement goes through all the planets and prints them to the console.

$ ./planets.exe 
Mercury
Venus
Earth
Mars
Jupiter
Saturn
Uranus
Neptune

Running the program gives this output.

The break statement

The break statement can be used to terminate a block defined by while, for or switch statements.

using System;

public class CSharpApp
{
    static void Main()
    {
        Random random = new Random();

        while (true)
        {            
            int num = random.Next(1, 30);
            Console.Write(num + " ");
            
            if (num == 22)
                break;                 
        }

        Console.Write('\n');
    }
}

We define an endless while loop. We use the break statement to get out of this loop. We choose a random value from 1 to 30. We print the value. If the value equals to 22, we finish the endless while loop.

$ ./break.exe 
29 21 26 6 29 3 10 3 18 6 3 22 

We might get something like this.

The continue statement

The continue statement is used to skip a part of the loop and continue with the next iteration of the loop. It can be used in combination with for and while statements.

In the following example, we will print a list of numbers that cannot be divided by 2 without a remainder.

using System;

public class CSharpApp
{
    static void Main()
    {
        int num = 0;
         
        while (num < 1000)
        {
            num++;

            if ((num % 2) == 0)
                continue;
            
            Console.Write(num + " "); 
        }

        Console.Write('\n');
    }
}

We iterate through numbers 1..999 with the while loop.

if ((num % 2) == 0)
    continue;

If the expression num % 2 returns 0, the number in question can be divided by 2. The continue statement is executed and the rest of the cycle is skipped. In our case, the last statement of the loop is skipped and the number is not printed to the console. The next iteration is started.

In this part of the C# tutorial, we were talking about control flow structures.