Ternary operators and boolean assignations

Part of the Series:

Hey developers of the future, welcome, in this article I'm going to help you improve your coding technique by teaching you how to use ternary operators, I'm also going to explain to you why it is good and when you should and shoudln't use it so let's get started.

Ternary Operator

I know I know, “ternary operator” sounds fancy and complicated, but believe me, this time the name makes a lot of sense and it’s not hard to understand at all, let’s take some time and analyze it a bit.

It’s called Ternary Operator because it’s composed of three arguments, the first one is a comparison/conditional argument, the second one is what happens when the conditional argument evaluates to true and the third one is what happens when it evaluates to false, you can think of ternary operators like a short way of writing conditional statements, here is how to implement it:

Conditional_Argument ? True_Argument : False_Argument;

Very simple right?, now a more realistic example:

1 + 1 === 2 ? 'Correct' : 'Incorrect';

In the example above we’re evaluating the super complicated expression 1 + 1 === 2, in case this is true (which it is of course) it would return the string Correct, if it was false it would have returned Incorrect, easy, now let me show you when it really comes in handy.

Give age a number and suppose we have a variable canDrive that needs to be defined based on a condition (Something that happens all the time in real-world applications):

let canDrive;

if (age >= 18) {
    canDrive = 'Yes';
} else {
    canDrive = 'No';


A very simple condition but still feels redundant, we’re declaring a variable out of the if statement, we’re defining its value based on the if conditional so we’re repeating it for the if and the else case, hmm… there has to be a better way, let’s now see the ternary operator do this exact same thing:

const canDrive = age >= 18 ? 'Yes' : 'No'; // parenthesis are optional

Wait, what?, one line?, Holy CSS Sheet…

Let me explain why this is so good, I can think of at least 3 things right away:

  1. in the first example using the if statement we had to declare canDrive using let because we needed to console.log the value out of the if’s block-scope (Don’t know what block-scope means?, read this article where I explain it better), in the Ternary Operator’s case we were able to use const because the variable is not limited by any block, which means we have more flexibility.
  2. Less redundant, look at the if’s statement case again and check how many times do you see the canDrive variable named?, 3 times right?, now look at the Ternary Operator implementation, just once…
  3. Fewer lines, Easy and faster to read.

In the explanation above I didn’t mention that the Ternary Operator’s implementation is cleaner (and most importantly, it makes you feel badass the first times you use it).

Recommendations: When you get used to writing code with ternary operators it’s very easy to write bad code just because “it has fewer lines of code”, to avoid making these mistakes I recommend you to:

  • Use parenthesis to differentiate arguments when they look confusing.Notice how in the example we were analyzing before I made use of parenthesis around the conditional argument, the reason why I did it is to avoid the visual confusion of having the operators = and >= too close together, so, as a general rule, if you’re using operators that make a statement uncomfortable to read then use parenthesis.
  • Don’t over-complicate just for the sake of writing ternary operators. Learn how to identify if using it is a wise choice, many times using the classic if statement is better.

Ok, now, for the end, I’m gonna push your logic one step further and I’m gonna try to help you understand that programming is all about abstraction. What would happen if the canDrive variable that we saw before had assigned a boolean (true or false) instead of the strings 'Yes' or 'No', I mean something like:

const canDrive = age >= 18 ? true : false;

looks good right?, but wait… now look at this:

const canDrive = age >= 18;

Wouldn’t this have the same result?, the answer is YES, why?, because the value being assigned is the result of a boolean evaluation which can only end up either in true or false depending on the result of the condition, this is something I’m pretty sure most of you already knew, but still wanted to show this example and say: Yes, there are many things in a programming language that can help us write better and concise code, but what matters the most at the end is our capacity to reason about problems, so first take your time to analyze them and then use the things you’ve learned alongside with your logic, I’m pretty sure you’ll write great code after that.

I Hope that you have enjoyed this article, if that was the case please share it and comment on twitter or facebook if you want to contribute with anything related to this topic, thank you guys, see you in the next one.

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