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A Brief Explanation of Yoda Conditions and How They Can Help Eliminate Bugs

At some point in your programming lifetime, you will introduce a bug in your software. Bugs are unintentional, but they can cause critical damage to your application including security flaws. One common bug is when the programmer uses the assignment operator instead of the conditional operator in an “if”statement. All programming languages have conditional operations, so it’s a common mistake when you rush through your code. Here is an explanation of the “Yoda condition” and how it helps eliminate these bugs.

Standard Programming Conditions

Standard condition statements are a part of every programming language, but this article will use PHP to illustrate the problem and the solution. You can use this code in your own favorite language regardless of the foundation used here.

First, take a look at a standard condition:

//do stuff here

The first statement uses the assignment operator. The second block of code is an “if” condition that says  “Does x equal 4?” The “==” is the conditional operator that compares the left variable with the right numeric value. If the condition evaluates to true, then the statements within the code block executes. If not, then the code after the ending bracket is executed. This is the basic logic of a condition statement.

One common mistake that programmers make is accidentally using the assignment operator in the condition statement.

The result is the following code:

//do stuff here

Notice that now the condition contains “=” instead of “==” in the parenthesis. This is a simple typo, but it can have devastating results on your code. Some languages won’t compile or run the code. These languages return an error, but other languages will allow the statement to run. Two examples of languages that will allow it are JavaScript and PHP. In these languages, Yoda conditions are beneficial.

Using the Yoda Condition Statement

The Yoda condition statement is a controversial method to avoid the common bug from an assignment operator typo. Some programmers think it’s poor code organization. Others think it’s beneficial. Before you use this statement, ensure that your development team is open to the idea.

Using the Yoda condition, you can stop bugs from happening and force a compiler error. The error will force you to fix the assignment operator and change it to a condition operator. The following code shows you an example of a Yoda condition:

if (4 == $x)
//do stuff here

Notice that the variable and value positions are switched in the condition. In this example, there is no error. However, if the “x” variable contains any other value, an error is returned. The Yoda condition is given its name because it changes the way the condition reads when a developer reviews your code.

It seems like a simple, unneeded change in code, but the Yoda condition can greatly reduce the number of bugs introduced from accidentally using the wrong operation logic in your code. Just remember to implement it only if your team approves.

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