Use Ternary Operators

The benefit of the ternary operator is debatable (there’s only one, by the

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way). Here is a line of code from an audit we performed recently:

<?php $host = strlen($host) > 0 ? $host : htmlentities($host); ?>

Oops! The author actually means to escape $host if the string length is greater than zero, but instead accidentally does the opposite. Easy mistake to make? Maybe. Easy to miss during a code audit? Certainly. Concision doesn’t necessarily make the code

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The ternary operator may be fine for one-liners, prototypes, and templates, but we strongly

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believe that an ordinary conditional statement is

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almost always better. PHP is descriptive and verbose. We think code should be, too.

This entry was posted on Wednesday, February 16th, 2011 at 2:35 am and is filed under Tips. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

6 Responses to “Use Ternary Operators”

Travis Black

May 19, 2011 at 7:16 pm

I think ternary is great in templates.

<div id="post" class="isFlagged) ? ‘flagged’ : ‘unflagged'; ?>”>
getBody(); ?>

Travis Black

May 19, 2011 at 7:17 pm

lol… your replies don’t allow php tags… which makes it hard to discuss php code…


May 19, 2011 at 7:52 pm

You can now post code in comments by wrapping code in [ code ] [/ code ] minus the spacing of course.

$foo = &#8220;Code in Comment&#8221;;
echo $foo;
Owen Byrne

May 19, 2011 at 8:07 pm

I’m not sure why you wouldn’t just do:

$host = htmlentities($host);

May 19, 2011 at 9:49 pm

The ternary operator is like a gun – if you don’t know how it works, you shouldn’t use it. The example you gave doesn’t strike me as confusing in the least, but I do agree that it would be clearer with something like

if(!empty($host)) $host = htmlentities($host);

That said, I do like to use the ternary for dealing with default values, e.g.:

$host = isset($row['host']) ? $row['host'] : 'localhost';

and I really like the ability to leave out the middle condition since 5.3, much like the “or equal” ruby operator.


June 1, 2011 at 4:24 pm

Personally I use them when ever possible, like most tools of the trade it has its uses, but can be abused.

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