7.4 — Switch statement basics

Although it is possible to chain many if-else statements together, this is both difficult to read and inefficient. Consider the following program:

While this example isn’t too complex, x is evaluated three times, and the reader has to be sure that it is x being evaluated each time (not some other variable).

Because testing a variable or expression for equality against a set of different values is common, C++ provides an alternative conditional statement called a switch statement that is specialized for this purpose. Here is the same program as above using a switch:

The idea behind a switch statement is simple: an expression (sometimes called the condition) is evaluated to produce a value. If the expression’s value is equal to the value after any of the case labels, the statements after the matching case label are executed. If no matching value can be found and a default label exists, the statements after the default label are executed instead.

Compared to the original if statement, the switch statement has the advantage of only evaluating the expression once (making it more efficient), and the switch statement also makes it clearer to the reader that it is the same expression being tested for equality in each case.

Best practice

Prefer switch statements over if-else chains when there is a choice.

Let’s examine each of these concepts in more detail.

Starting a switch

We start a switch statement by using the switch keyword, followed by parenthesis with the conditional expression that we would like to evaluate inside. Often the expression is just a single variable, but it can be any valid expression.

The one restriction is that the condition must evaluate to an integral type (see lesson 4.1 -- Introduction to fundamental data types if you need a reminder which fundamental types are considered integral types). Non-fundamental types that are convertible to an integer (e.g. enumerated types and some classes) are also valid. Expressions that evaluate to floating point types, strings, and other non-integral types may not be used here.

Following the conditional expression, we declare a block. Inside the block, we use labels to define all of the values we want to test for equality. There are two kinds of labels.

Case labels

The first kind of label is the case label, which is declared using the case keyword and followed by a constant expression. The constant expression must either match the type of the condition or must be convertible to that type.

If the value of the conditional expression equals the expression after a case label, execution begins at the first statement after that case label and then continues sequentially.

Here’s an example of the condition matching a case label:

This code prints:


In the above program, x is evaluated to produce value 2. Because there is a case label with value 2, execution jumps to the statement underneath that matching case label. The program prints Two, and then the return statement is exited, which returns back to the caller.

There is no practical limit to the number of case labels you can have, but all case labels in a switch must be unique. That is, you can not do this:

The default label

The second kind of label is the default label (often called the default case), which is declared using the default keyword. If the conditional expression does not match any case label and a default label exists, execution begins at the first statement after the default label.

Here’s an example of the condition matching the default label:

This code prints:


The default label is optional, and there can only be one default label per switch statement. By convention, the default case is placed last in the switch block.

Best practice

Place the default case last in the switch block.

Taking a break

In the above examples, we used return statements to stop execution of the statements after our labels. However, this also exits the entire function.

A break statement (declared using the break keyword) tells the compiler that we are done executing statements within the switch, and that execution should continue with the statement after the end of the switch block. This allows us to exit a switch statement without exiting the entire function.

Here’s a slightly modified example rewritten using break instead of return:

The above example prints:

Three Ah-Ah-Ah!

Best practice

Each set of statements underneath a label should end in a break statement or a return statement.

So what happens if you don’t end a set of statements under a label with a break or return? We’ll explore that topic, and others, in the next lesson.

7.5 -- Switch fallthrough and scoping
7.3 -- Common if statement problems

446 comments to 7.4 — Switch statement basics

  • yup

    On the second quiz question, I tried using enum class instead of an enum. My compiler is C++11 compatible. It wasn't working for me, so I just decided to copy and paste the whole solution into my program to see if I could change it to enum class and see what would happen. Every subsequent use of something from the Animal enum class is "undefined" according to my compiler. How did changing it from enum to enum class make it undefined in all subsequent uses in the program? Did I just forget how enum classes work?

    • Alex

      Enum classes put enumerators in the scope of the enumeration. So if you change enum to enum class, then all enumerators need to be updated to use an Animal:: prefix.

  • rockstar_joe

    Hi, could someone tell me, if this code is allright? I used a struct for all user inputs and an enumeration for input states (good input / wrong input).
    It worked for me.

    • nascardriver


      You have repeated code in line 39, 45, ...
      You can fix that by doing only the calculation in the switch, then print after the switch. You can't use temp.baseOperator to print the operator. The rest looks good :)

  • Friedrich

    Isn't working but I don't know why

    • nascardriver

      Which errors/warnings are you getting?
      What's happening?
      What did you expect to happen?
      What have you done to try to solve it?

    • fxr

      Friedrich if you're still wondering why it doesn't work its because you have the y and the z in the wrong place you have it like this
      calculateResult(x, y, z)
      while it should be like this
      calculateResult(x, z, y)
      you're passing off the wrong values to the variables in the function

  • iReallyApreciateThisSiteGoodJob

    You mention this:

    "However, initialization of variables directly underneath a case label is disallowed and will cause a compile error. This is because initializing a variable does require execution, and the case statement containing the initialization may not be executed!"

    This implies that there is a situation inside a switch statement's block where initialization of variables is allowed, but i can't seem to find information on where it is allowed.

    Sorry if im misinterpreting it.

  • Dhruv Patwa

    I tried doing the calculator problem given in this tutorial using struct.The program is running but not giving expected results by operators, Eg.It may show 2+3=1589432.I tried a lot but could not spot the problem in the code . could you please help me out.Here is my code

    thanks in advance.

    • nascardriver

      Line 12, 14: Those '\n' don't do anything, remove them.
      Line 25 and 27 never run, you're using uninitialized variables. Define `x` and `y` before the `switch` or use `values.integer` directly.

      Make sure you enabled compiler warnings. You compiler should have warned you about both issues.

      • Dhruv Patwa

        yeah it worked! thanks. But I could still not understand what was the problem if i am defining the variables inside switch .

        • nascardriver

          Nothing outside of cases gets executed.

          This program doesn't print anything. Line 24-27 in your code never ran. You are allowed to declare variables outside of cases, but they won't be initialized.

  • Is it bad practice to put the case conditions in brackets like a so:


  • ayush jain

    but, since variables are created when the block begins why can not be intialized then only and be in scope after its declaration ..

  • Vova

    Hi there,
    In the examle concerning case labels I spotted a semicolon at the end:

    switch (x)
        case 4:
        case 4:  // illegal -- already used value 4!
        case COLOR_BLUE: // illegal, COLOR_BLUE evaluates to 4!
    };                                                              <-- this one

    Is it necessary?

  • The "Case" statement makes the programs really easy!! I performed such a program of "Weekdays" by using CASE!

  • hellmet

    Why is this a compile error? I don't see a reason why C++ doesn't allow this? I mean the 'int k' is in the switch's block right?

    • `k` is visible in `case 1`, but the initialization of `k` is never performed. Control flow jumps from line 1 to line 8, ignoring everything in between. If you were to access `k` in `case 1`, it'd cause undefined behavior, because `k` is uninitialized.

      `a` is legal, because it doesn't have an initializer. It's immediately obvious that accessing `a` without writing first causes undefined behavior.

      `y` is legal for the same reason as `a`. `y` is accessible to all cases after `case 1`, but it's uninitialized. It's only `4` if `case 1` was matched and fell through.

      • hellmet

        I'm just confused as to why C++ would allow declaration but not definition in the block. I assumed that since the compiler can 'allocate space', why can't it just assign the value in the binary (I tried it with uniform initialization too)?

        • > I'm just confused as to why C++ would allow declaration but not definition in the block.

          Prints "3", right? No. This would be extremely confusing, so it's illegal. If a variable has an initializer, we should be safe to assume that the variable gets initialized. Variables get initialized when their definition is reached. `switch` is just a bunch of labels, all in the same scope. `x` is visible in the scope of the case, but control flow never reached `x` so it was never initialized.

          > why can't it just assign the value in the binary
          The value might be unknown at compile-time.
          The initialization might depend on something else to run first.

          If you need a variable in the `switch`'s scope, define it in the `switch`'s header.

  • DD-Hash

    Why is Using range in switch case in C/C++  not mentioned here. We can easily rewrite isDigit(char c) code above using ' ... '.

  • nibar

    Maybe this is already in the lesson but if not. You should include that switch statements can't be used with strings. Tried it on question2 and realised it didn't work so had to look at the answer to question 2.

  • Johnnie Rando

    Just the function (practicing using headers and .cpp files)
    What would be the difference in declaring/initializing int x, y and char z in the function parameters versus within the function itself, like I have it?  

    • You decreased reusability. Now you can't use `calculate` with values that came from somewhere else, they'll always be requested from the user.

      - Line 16 is useless, you're validating the operator in the `switch`-statement.
      - `calculate`'s return value is unused. Declare it `void`.

    • Johnnie Rando

      Thank you for the prompt reply. I was guessing it was something along the lines of re-application of the calculate statement. So my 'if' statement is just doing what the default statement within the switch statement is doing? Okay gotcha. Thank you for the help.

  • learning

    Any suggestions? (Question #1):

    And this is for question #2:

    • - If your program prints anything, the last thing it prints should be a line feed.
      - Use single quotation marks for characters ('2' instead of "2").

      Both solutions looks good otherwise, I like your name style :-)

  • Sam

    Here is my solution for Question #2.

  • Benur21

    What about using break; in the default case?

    • Sam

      The break; statement isn't required to be used in the default case. You can use it if you feel satisfied doing so, but it isn't required.

      • The `default` case doesn't have to be the last case.

        The last case doesn't need a `break`, but it should be added to allow the cases to be shuffled.

  • Parsa

    When using the modulus operator, both the operands must be an integral type.

    So I used static_cast to turn the operands from a double to an int (they were a double) but the compiler still gives me an error and tells me that the operands are still of type double.

  • Phuong

    I have a question in your code. I don't think the command line std :: cout in main () can be used to export the command line std :: cout in calculator (), which will cause an error, but I don't understand why on my machine at times Show this error, sometimes not, please help me?

    /#include <iostream>

    int calculate(int x, int y, char op)
        switch (op)
            case '+':
                return x + y;
            case '-':
                return x - y;
            case '*':
                return x * y;
            case '/':
                return x / y;
            case '%':
                return x % y;
                std::cout << "calculate(): Unhandled case\n";
                return 0;

    int main()
        std::cout << "Enter an integer: ";
        int x;
        std::cin >> x;

        std::cout << "Enter another integer: ";
        int y;
        std::cin >> y;

        std::cout << "Enter a mathematical operator (+, -, *, /, or %): ";
        char op;
        std::cin >> op;

        std::cout << x << " " << op << " " << y << " is " << calculate(x, y, op) << "\n";

        return 0;

  • SamiraFerdi

    Hi, Alex and Nascardriver! This is my code for quiz no.2.
    I think it's more readable if getAnimalName() is void type than Alex did. What do you think?
    Second, I think function call getAnimalName() inside printNumberOfLegs() make function less modular and less independent. What do you think?

    • `getAnimalName` doesn't get an animal's name anymore, it prints it. The function name should be adjusted, eg. to `printAnimalName`. Same for `printNumberOfLegs`.
      You're right, your code is less modular.
      The code looks good otherwise!

  • BP

    I have a question about the first solution, or rather a question about my solution.

    The way I'm getting the inputs I know can enter the sum direct as 1+1 or 34%6 and it takes the seperate number/chars to the right variable.

    I was just wondering if this is the smart thing to do, are there downsides with this take?
    Are there better ways to do this?


    • Hi!

      - You'll learn about good alternatives to `exit` later, until then, use `std::exit`.
      - Inconsistent formatting. Use your editor's auto-formatting feature.
      - "printNumberOfLegs" is a bad name, the function doesn't print the number of legs.
      - There's no need to manually set `Animal::COW`.

  • noobmaster

    In your example of multiple cases

    no break after return true?

  • hiep

    my issue is whenever I execute my program with num2=0 and choose division option, i will get the statement " cant do the operation because num2 = 0\n" but after that I also get a sequence of number like 26900(something else). Can anyone one explain why to me ? thank you

  • This is a nice post. I have no idea how to create the swich statement in c++ but after reading this post I really got the solution. Thanks for this post. Thanks!!


    it was very interesting!! static_cast....


    the default row of switch in both of two functions, not possible to execute. I have to send wrong animal but compiler has stop me. so how to send wrong animal to active default of switch?
    it is possible if we have a wrong member in enum. like car.
    Is that right?


    hello and thank you.
    please your advice.
    thank's again.

    • * Line 21, 31: Don't pass 32767 to @std::cin.ignore. Pass @std::numeric_limits<std::streamsize>::max().
      * Your forward declarations can be prevented by moving @main below the other functions.
      * Declare 1 variable per line.
      * @retCode should be a bool.
      * Line 17+: Should be do-while.

  • This post is really good I also beginner in the coding world so I have no idea about c++, I also tried to create switch statement but after reading this post I get an idea how to write switch statement without facing an error.

  • Gav

    I confused myself so much, finally realised in the Animals struct I had put string name;
    instead of using AnimalType Type;

    After 30 mins of swearing at myself, I realised and felt so dumb ha ha.

    Is this okay?

    Sorry the formatting messed up while copying it over, but I'm too lazy to adjust it , it's not too bad haha.

    • * Don't use "using namespace", it can lead to name collisions.
      * Line 36, 37: Initialize your variables with brace initializers.

      > realised in the Animals struct I had put string name
      Nope, there's not supposed to be a struct in this quiz.

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