Rehabilitating switch -- a scorecard

John Rose john.r.rose at
Mon May 17 23:57:10 UTC 2021

In May 17, 2021, at 4:36 PM, Brian Goetz <brian.goetz at> wrote:
> I think we've done a remarkable job at rehabilitating this monster.  

+100, especially after re-reading your 2017 document.

> *Someone actually suggested using the syntax "new switch", on the basis that new was already a keyword.  Would not have aged well. 

Yeah, and we can have as many switches as we want if we
use hyphenated keywords:  switch-jdk16, switch-jdk17, …

It looks to me like we anticipated the design space pretty
accurately in 2017.  We have apparently returned to the
“&&” guard syntax, after some discussion, which makes
me happy.  And we have avoided the need for “||” pattern

There are a few roads not taken:  “switch ()” with boolean
case expressions has not showed itself worthy yet.   The
“break x;” syntax, meaning “return value x from the switch,”
is obviated by doubling down on lambda-inspired “return x;”.

I’d also like to point out “switch (a, b)” as a possible area
of future work for switch, where the thing after “switch” is a
more generalized argument expression, and the machinery
of method binding could be applied to the list of values
to be matched (as if they were actual arguments) and
the case labels would (somehow) correspond to method
formal argument lists.  Having said that, I don’t think it
is urgent, at all.

That said, I will take the opportunity to mention a few
small items of “fit and finish”, mostly anticipated in the
2017 document, which are still (IMO) useful proposals,
and are currently on the back burner.

1. Allow certain simple statements after “->” without
requiring “{ … }” wrappers.  This is not just luxury
but improves readability.  I have reached for the
sequence “->break;” in my IDE and been disappointed
after going back to the fine print of the language.
I had to write “->{break;}”, which is IMO noisy enough to
be harder to read than “->break;”.  As both writer and reader
of code, I would rather have the use of “{}” be reserved for
stuff that is truly a block or other composite (while-loop, etc.).
This issue wasn’t raised with lambdas because lambdas
cannot complete with control flow, but switch cases
often do that.

For consistency, I suggest that any type of statement
that does not have sub-statements be allowed immediately
after the “->”.  (Of switch, and lambda if applicable.)
In addition to the statement expressions already allowed,
these are return, break, continue.  They are also the
empty statement (“;”), and assert statements.  Not allowed
would be declarations, labeled statements, conditionals,
loops, and other nested things like try and synchronized.

2. Allow a way to add a given case to the “remainder”
set, to be treated similarly to “built-in” remainder
processing.  Proposed syntax:  “throw;” as in
“case null->throw;”.  (Raises the question of whether
to support such a notation outside of switch,
but we could just say “no”.  Or spell it “throw default;”
or “throw assert”.)

The idea of a remainder (nulls, maybe, or new enums
or sealed class subtypes) is probably useful enough
that users should be given a way to opt into remainder
processing explicitly.  (I don’t see this in the 2017
document; we hadn’t yet generalized the idea of
a “remainder”.)

3. Allow a way for imperative case logic to branch
to the next applicable case.  Proposed syntax:
“continue switch;”, as in “case Foo f->{ if (f.bad)
continue switch; }”.  The purpose for this would
be to allow refactoring of guards from the
compact form (“case P && G:”) to a more
general imperative form (“case P: if(!G)
continue switch;”).  Such refactoring is
sometimes important in practice, if a
guard G needs a temporary variable.
Today’s workaround is building a helper
method nearby, which hurts readability.

(The “continue switch” syntax suggests
other kinds of tags for break and continue,
and the symmetry between switch and
if/else chains suggests “continue if” as
a way to branch after the next “else”.
None of these require follow-up to
gain value for switch.)

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