Shiphp The PHP Developer's Guide

Conditional Operators in PHP

Like any programming language, PHP supports conditional statements to execute specific blocks of code if a statement is true (or false) or some condition is met. If you’re familiar with conditional statements in other programming languages PHP should give you no trouble, but there are a couple lesser-known operators (ternary and null coalescing) that will be covered at the end.

“if” and “else”

Let’s look at a simple if statement first:

$variable = true;
if ($variable) {
    echo "Result is true";
} else {
    echo "Result is false";

Upon execution, this script will output Result is true because the variable was set to true, and if we set it to false (or any value evaluated as false) then the script will output Result is false. This simple example shows you how programs can branch using conditional statements.


But what if we have three or more possible values for our variable? We may want to test a number of conditions and take a different path for each. You can do this by nesting if — else blocks, but that gets messy really quick. The better solution is to use an elseif statement:

$number = rand(1, 3);
if ($number == 3) {
    echo "The number is three";
} elseif ($number == 2) {
    echo "The number is two";
} else {
    echo "The number must be one";

In this example, if the random integer generated is equal to 3 it will get caught in the first block, if equal to 2 it will execute the second, and if neither of the first two conditionals are met, the else block will be triggered (and we assume the number is 1).

Ternary Operators

if-else blocks tend to take up a lot of space, so PHP also has support for ternary conditionals, which can be put onto a single line. This can greatly cut down on the amount of space taken by your code, and make things faster to read. For example, we can output one of two choices by using just one line of code:

echo rand(1, 2) == 1 ? "One is the answer" : "The answer must be two";

Let’s break this down piece by piece:

So the above script will write One is the answer to the command line if the random number is equal to 1 and The answer must be two if it’s not.

Ternary Shorthand and Null Coalescing

Finally, PHP has two ways to further shorten ternaries, but one (null coalescing) is only available in PHP 7+. If we just want to output the number generated by a random number generator, then we could shorten our code like so:


$number = rand(0, 2);
echo $number ?: "None";

If the number is 1 or 2 then this script will echo the number, but if it’s 0 — which evaluates to false — then it will echo None. This can be useful if you’re not sure if a previous value has been updated or not, but it fails if a previous value is completely unset:

<?php echo $number ?: "None";

The above script will throw an error because $number is not defined, so we can instead use the null coalesce operator to first test if it’s set:

<?php echo $number ?? "None";

This script will output None but will not throw an error assuming you’re using PHP 7+.

Like this Post?

Learn to build your first Dockerized PHP application.

In this book, PHP developers will learn everything they need to know to start building their applications on Docker, including:

  • Installing dependencies using Composer.
  • Getting data from a third-party API.
  • Saving data to a MySQL database.
  • Using a web framework (SlimPHP) for routing.
  • Storing environmental variables securely.
  • And much more!

You can buy this book on Leanpub today.

Buy it Now!