Javascript shorthand for if/else statements explained

Updated Oct 22, 2023 ⤳ 3 min read

If you’re looking for Javascript shorthand for if/else statements, you’re probably looking for the ternary – a.k.a the conditional – operator.

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JavaScript ternary operator takes three operands: a condition followed by a question mark (?), and two JavaScript expressions separated by a colon (:). 

The expression on the left side of the colon will be executed if the condition is true (or more precisely truthy). But if the condition is false (falsy), the right-side expression will be executed:

condition ? exprIfConditionIsTruthy : exprIfConditionIsFalsy

The result of a ternary operator can be assigned to a variable, and used in another expression. You can also use it when returning a value in a function.

Let's see some use cases.

Initializing variables: The most common use case of ternary operators is initializing variables:

let backgroundColor = isChrismas ? 'red' : 'yellow'

With a JavaScript if/else statement, you'd achieve the same thing like so:

let backgroundColor = ''

if (isChristmas) {
   backgroundColor = 'red'
} else {
  backgroundColor = 'yellow'

Not bad either.

Ternary operator in functions: You can use the ternary operator to return a value from a function.

The following function determines whether a number is even or not:

function isEven  (value) {
   return value % 2 === 0 ? true : false

Ternary operator in strings: You can also use the ternary operator when generating strings:

let greeting = 'Welcome dear ' + user ? : 'user'

In the above example, if the user is authenticated, we'll greet them by name, otherwise 'Welcome dear user' would be displayed.

Ternary operators can be nested

The ternary operator is right-associative, meaning it can be nested - just like having consequent if/else blocks.

On the other hand exprIfConditionIsTruthy and exprIfConditionIsFalsy operands can be a ternary operator:

let someVariable = condition1 ? value1 
: condition2 ? value2
: condition3 : value 3 : value 4

Readability of the ternary operator in JavaScript

Even though the ternary operator is short and sweet, it doesn't make other conditional statements a bad choice.

Sometimes a simple if/else statement is more readable than a ternary operator, regardless of the number of lines.

Which one would you choose for nested conditions:

The ternary apporach

function someFunction() {
    return condition1 ? value1 
        : condition2 ? value2 : value3

The if/else approach:

function someFunction () {
    if (condition1) {
        return value1
    } else if (condition2) {
        return value2

    // If none of the above are truthy
    return value3

Although the latter approach needs a few more lines, it's closer to human language. As a rule of thumb, the ternary operator is handy for one-liners. For other flow control scenarios, use a simple Javascript if statement.

Alright, I think that does it for today! I hope you found this quick guide helpful!

Thanks for reading.

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