when Expressions

Kotlin when expressions are like Java switch statements, but you’ll see in this lesson, they’re much more powerful. If you’re experienced with Scala, when is similar to Scala’s match expression.

Replacement for switch

In its most basic use, when can be used as a replacement for a Java switch statement:

val dayAsInt = 1

when (dayAsInt) {
    1 -> println("Sunday")
    2 -> println("Monday")
    3 -> println("Tuesday")
    4 -> println("Wednesday")
    5 -> println("Thursday")
    6 -> println("Friday")
    7 -> println("Saturday")
    else -> {
        // notice you can use a block
        println("invalid day")

when is an expression

when can also be used as an expression, meaning that it returns a value:

val dayAsInt = 1

val dayAsString = when (dayAsInt) {
    1 -> "Sunday"
    2 -> "Monday"
    3 -> "Tuesday"
    4 -> "Wednesday"
    5 -> "Thursday"
    6 -> "Friday"
    7 -> "Saturday"
    else -> "invalid day"


Matches must be exhaustive

When when is used as an expression you generally must include an else clause. If you don’t, you risk the chance of getting an error, as in this example:

val i = 0

val result = when (i) {
    1 -> "a little odd"
    2 -> "a little even"

That code produces this error message:

error: 'when' expression must be exhaustive, add necessary 'else' branch
val result = when (i) {

Multiple branch conditions

When you have multiple branch conditions with constants that should be handled the same way, they can be combined in one statement with a comma:

when (i) {
    1,2,3 -> println("got a 1, 2, or 3")
    4,5,6 -> println("got a 4, 5, or 6")
    else  -> println("something else")

Testing against ranges

You can also check a value for being in a range (in) or not in a range (!in):

val i = 1

when (i) {
    in 1..3  -> println("1, 2, or 3")
    !in 4..5 -> println("not a 4 or 5")
    else     -> println("something else")

// result: 1, 2, or 3

The order of the expressions is important. In this example I reverse the first two possible matches, and get a different result:

val i = 1

when (i) {
    !in 4..5 -> println("not a 4 or 5")
    in 1..3  -> println("1, 2, or 3")
    else     -> println("something else")

// result: not a 4 or 5

These examples also show that the when expression stops on the first statement that matches the given value.

in with listOf

Similar to ranges, you can also use in with listOf as the predicate condition:

val i = 1
when (i) {
    in listOf(1,3,5) -> println("a little odd")
    in listOf(2,4,6) -> println("a little even")
    else             -> println("something else")

Expressions as branch conditions

when expressions aren’t limited to using only constants, you can also use any sort of predicate as a branch condition. Here are some tests with Kotlin’s is operator:

val x: Any = 11.0

when (x) {
    is Boolean -> println("$x is a Boolean")
    is Double  -> println("$x is a Double")
    is String  -> println("$x is a String")
    !is String -> println("$x is not a String")
    else       -> println("$x is something else")

When you run that code as shown the result is:

11.0 is a Double

Here’s an example that demonstrates how to use a function (toUpperCase()) in a branch condition:

fun isUpperCase(s: String): Boolean {
    return when (s) {
        s.toUpperCase() -> true
        else -> false

The REPL shows how this works:

>>> isUpperCase("FOO")

>>> isUpperCase("foo")

>>> isUpperCase("Foo")

when without arguments

If you don’t give when an argument, it can be used as a replacement for an if/else expression:

val i = 1

when {
    i < 0  -> println("less than zero")
    i == 0 -> println("zero")
    else   -> println("greater than zero")

Key point: Notice that this example uses when, and not when(i).

This syntax is useful for using when as the body of a function:

fun intToString(i: Int): String = when {
    i < 0  -> "a negative number!"
    i == 0 -> "0"
    else   -> "a positive number!"

Notice in this example that when is used as the body of the intToString function, and returns a String. If you haven’t seen that approach before, it can help to see it broken down into steps:

fun intToString(i: Int): String {
    // convert the Int to a String
    val string = when {
        i < 0  -> "a negative number!"
        i == 0 -> "0"
        else   -> "a positive number!"
    // return the String
    return string

Smart casts with when

When you use an is expression as a branch condition you can check the type of the variable passed into when, and call methods on it on the right-hand side of the expression. Here’s an example:

fun getInfo (x: Any): String {
    return when (x) {
        is Int    -> "The Int plus one is ${x + 1}"
        is String -> "Got a String, length is " + x.length
        else -> "Got something else"

Here’s what the function looks like if you call it several times with different types:

println(getInfo(1))      //The Int plus one is 2
println(getInfo("foo"))  //Got a String, length is 3
println(getInfo(1L))     //Got something else

Even more!

While that covers most of when’s functionality, there are even more things you can do with it.

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