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Learning the name of things: Ternary Operators

A paper tag tied together to a metal piece

One thing that I always say that is hard from learning computer science by yourself, is not knowing what you don’t know. I learned the name of a couple of concepts that I am going to share, so people know they exist 😊

When I started studying Python, if a new variable depended on another variable, I would write something like this:

a_boolean_variable = True
if a_boolean_variable:
    new_variable = 1
    new_variable = 2

When I started to learn Scala, every time I found myself in this position, trying to create a new variable that depended on another condition, I tried to follow a similar structure. After some time, I discovered I could do this:

val aBooleanVariable = true
val newVariable = if (aBooleanVariable) 1 else 2

Then I discovered that in JavaScript (and Ruby), I could this:

val aBooleanVariable = true
val newVariable = aBooleanVariable ? "return if true" : "return if false" 

The ? symbol will check if the expression before is true or false. If it is true it will return the first value after it, if it is false it will return the value after the : symbol.

I had absolutely no idea that this type of one-line, boolean check expression has a name: Ternary Operators.

I know it sounds super simple to write a whole post about it, but one of the main problems of not knowing how something is called is how to look for it in a new language! Now, next programming language I start studying, I can look for “ternary operators in X”. Knowing the name makes it so much easier to understand the concept and extrapolate it!

To my complete surprise, I found that Python also have a way of implementing ternary operators!

new_variable = 1 if a_boolean_variable else 2

Hope you learned something new today!

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