Elvis operator

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In certain computer programming languages, the Elvis operator, often written ?:, or or ||, is a binary operator that returns its first operand if that operand evaluates to a true value, and otherwise evaluates and returns its second operand. This is identical to a short-circuit or with "last value" semantics. The notation of the Elvis operator was inspired by the ternary conditional operator, ? : since the Elvis operator expression A ?: B is approximately equivalent to the ternary conditional A ? A : B.

The name "Elvis operator" refers to the fact that when its common notation, ?:, is viewed sideways, it resembles an emoticon of Elvis Presley with his signature hairstyle.[1]

A similar operator is the null coalescing operator, where the boolean truth check is replaced with a check for non-null instead. This is usually written ??, and can be seen in languages like C#.[2]


Boolean variant[edit]

In a language that supports the Elvis operator, something like this:

x = f() ?: g()

will set x equal to the result of f() if that result is a true value, and to the result of g() otherwise.

It is equivalent to this example, using the conditional ternary operator:

x = f() ? f() : g()

except that it does not evaluate the f() twice if it is true.

Object reference variant[edit]

This code will result in a reference to an object that is guaranteed to not be null. Function f() returns an object reference instead of a boolean, and may return null:

x = f() ?: "default value"

Languages supporting the Elvis operator[edit]

  • In GNU C and C++ (that is: in C and C++ with GCC extensions), the second operand of the ternary operator is optional.[3] This has been the case since at least GCC 2.95.3 (March 2001), and seems to be the original elvis operator.[4]
  • In Apache Groovy, the "Elvis operator" ?: is documented as a distinct operator;[5] this feature was added in Groovy 1.5[6] (December 2007). Groovy, unlike GNU C and PHP, does not simply allow the second operand of ternary ?: to be omitted; rather, binary ?: must be written as a single operator, with no whitespace in between.
  • In PHP, it is possible to leave out the middle part of the ternary operator since PHP 5.3.[7] (June 2009).
  • The Fantom programming language has the ?: binary operator that compares its first operand with null.
  • In Kotlin, the Elvis operator returns its left-hand side if it is not null, and its right-hand side otherwise.[8] A common pattern is to use it with return, like this: val foo = bar() ?: return
  • In Gosu, the ?: operator returns the right operand if the left is null as well.
  • In C#, the null-conditional operator, ?. is referred to as the "Elvis operator",[9] but it does not perform the same function. Instead, the null-coalescing operator ?? does.
  • In ColdFusion and CFML, the Elvis operator was introduced using the ?: syntax.
  • The Xtend programming language has an Elvis operator.[10]
  • In Google's Closure Templates, the Elvis operator is a null coalescing operator, equivalent to isNonnull($a) ? $a : $b.[11]
  • Swift supports this concept with its Nil-coalescing operator ??,[12] e.g. (a ?? b).
  • SQL supports this concept with its COALESCE function, e.g. COALESCE(a, b).
  • In Ballerina, the Elvis operator L ?: R returns the value of L if it's not nil. Otherwise, return the value of R.[13]
  • Clojure supports this concept with the or[14] macro, e.g. (or a b). In the case of Clojure, it is var-arg, and not binary, e.g. (or a b c d e) will return the first non false value.
  • Dart language provides ?? operator which returns right side value if left side value is null
  • JavaScript supports this concept, with its nullish-coalescing operator ??, e.g. (a ?? b) [15]
  • TypeScript supports this concept, same as JavaScript, since v3.7.[16]
  • Visual Basic supports this concept, though with the use of the If operator like this If(first, second).[1]
  • Lua supports this concept with the or[17] logical operator, e.g. (a or b).
  • In Ceylon there are two kind of Elvis operators. One when the condition evaluates to true (then) and other when it evaluates to false (else)[18][19]

Analogous use of the short-circuiting OR operator[edit]

In several languages, such as Common Lisp, Clojure, Lua, Object Pascal, Perl, Python, Ruby, and JavaScript, the OR operator (typically || or or) has the same behavior as the above: returning its first operand if it would evaluate to true in a boolean environment, and otherwise evaluating and returning its second operand. When the left hand side is true, the right hand side is not even evaluated; it is "short-circuited." This is different than the behavior in other languages such as C/C++, where the result of || will always be a boolean.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Joyce Farrell (7 February 2013). Java Programming. p. 276. ISBN 978-1285081953. The new operator is called Elvis operator because it uses a question mark and a colon together (?:); if you view it sideways, it reminds you of Elvis Presley.
  2. ^ "?? Operator". C# Reference. Microsoft. Retrieved 5 December 2018.
  3. ^ "Using the GNU Compiler Collection (GCC): Conditionals". gcc.gnu.org.
  4. ^ "Using and Porting the GNU Compiler Collection (GCC): C Extensions". gcc.gnu.org.
  5. ^ "Elvis Operator (?: )".
  6. ^ "The Apache Groovy programming language - Groovy 1.5 release notes". groovy-lang.org.
  7. ^ "PHP: Comparison Operators - Manual". PHP website. Retrieved 2014-02-17.
  8. ^ "Null Safety - Kotlin Programming Language". Kotlin.
  9. ^ Albahari, Joseph; Albahari, Ben (2015). C# 6.0 in a Nutshell (6 ed.). O'Reilly Media. p. 59. ISBN 978-1491927069.
  10. ^ Efftinge, Sven. "Xtend - Expressions". eclipse.org.
  11. ^ "Closure Templates - Expressions". GitHub. 29 October 2021.
  12. ^ "The Swift Programming Language (Swift 4.1): Basic Operators". developer.apple.com.
  13. ^ "Elvis Operator - Ballerina Programming Language". Ballerina. Archived from the original on 2018-12-20. Retrieved 2018-12-19.
  14. ^ "clojure.core or macro API reference".
  15. ^ "Nullish coalescing operator (??)". mozilla. Retrieved 2021-01-28.
  16. ^ "nullish coalescing commit by Kingwl · Pull Request #32883 · microsoft/TypeScript". GitHub. Retrieved 2019-10-08.
  17. ^ "Lua or operator Reference".
  18. ^ Language specifications, Operator then, https://ceylon-lang.org/documentation/1.3/reference/operator/else/
  19. ^ Language specifications, Operator else https://ceylon-lang.org/documentation/1.3/reference/operator/else/