Control flow

In computer science, control flow (or flow of control) is the order in which individual statements, instructions or function calls of an imperative program are executed or evaluated. The emphasis on explicit control flow distinguishes an imperative programming language from a declarative programming language.

Within an imperative programming language, a control flow statement is a statement, the execution of which results in a choice being made as to which of two or more paths to follow. For non-strict functional languages, functions and language constructs exist to achieve the same result, but they are usually not termed control flow statements.

A set of statements is in turn generally structured as a block, which in addition to grouping, also defines a lexical scope.

Interrupts and signals are low-level mechanisms that can alter the flow of control in a way similar to a subroutine, but usually occur as a response to some external stimulus or event (that can occur asynchronously), rather than execution of an in-line control flow statement.

At the level of machine language or assembly language, control flow instructions usually work by altering the program counter. For some central processing units (CPUs), the only control flow instructions available are conditional or unconditional branch instructions, also termed jumps.


A flow chart showing control flow.

The kinds of control flow statements supported by different languages vary, but can be categorized by their effect:

  • Continuation at a different statement (unconditional branch or jump)
  • Executing a set of statements only if some condition is met (choice - i.e., conditional branch)
  • Executing a set of statements zero or more times, until some condition is met (i.e., loop - the same as conditional branch)
  • Executing a set of distant statements, after which the flow of control usually returns (subroutines, coroutines, and continuations)
  • Stopping the program, preventing any further execution (unconditional halt)



A label is an explicit name or number assigned to a fixed position within the source code, and which may be referenced by control flow statements appearing elsewhere in the source code. A label marks a position within source code, and has no other effect.

Line numbers are an alternative to a named label (and used in some languages such as BASIC), that are whole numbers placed at the start of each line of text in the source code. Languages which use these often impose the constraint that the line numbers must increase in value in each following line, but may not require that they be consecutive. For example, in BASIC:

10 LET X = 3

In other languages such as C and Ada, a label is an identifier, usually appearing at the start of a line and immediately followed by a colon. For example, in C:

Success: printf("The operation was successful.\n");

The language ALGOL 60 allowed both whole numbers and identifiers as labels (both linked by colons to the following statement), but few if any other ALGOL variants allowed whole numbers. Early Fortran compilers only allowed whole numbers as labels. Beginning with Fortran-90, alphanumeric labels have also been allowed.


The goto statement (a combination of the English words go and to, and pronounced accordingly) is the most basic form of unconditional transfer of control.

Although the keyword may either be in upper or lower case depending on the language, it is usually written as:

   goto label

The effect of a goto statement is to cause the next statement to be executed to be the statement appearing at (or immediately after) the indicated label.

Goto statements have been considered harmful by many computer scientists, notably Dijkstra.


The terminology for subroutines varies; they may alternatively be known as routines, procedures, functions (especially if they return results) or methods (especially if they belong to classes or type classes).

In the 1950s, computer memories were very small by current standards so subroutines were used mainly to reduce program size. A piece of code was written once and then used many times from various other places in a program.

Today, subroutines are more often used to help make a program more structured, e.g., by isolating some algorithm or hiding some data access method. If many programmers are working on one program, subroutines are one kind of modularity that can help divide the work.


In structured programming, the ordered sequencing of successive commands is considered one of the basic control structures, which is used as a building block for programs alongside iteration, recursion and choice.

Minimal structured control flow

In May 1966, Böhm and Jacopini published an article[1] in Communications of the ACM which showed that any program with gotos could be transformed into a goto-free form involving only choice (IF THEN ELSE) and loops (WHILE condition DO xxx), possibly with duplicated code and/or the addition of Boolean variables (true/false flags). Later authors showed that choice can be replaced by loops (and yet more Boolean variables).

That such minimalism is possible does not mean that it is necessarily desirable; after all, computers theoretically need only one machine instruction (subtract one number from another and branch if the result is negative), but practical computers have dozens or even hundreds of machine instructions.

What Böhm and Jacopini's article showed was that all programs could be goto-free. Other research showed that control structures with one entry and one exit were much easier to understand than any other form, mainly because they could be used anywhere as a statement without disrupting the control flow. In other words, they were composable. (Later developments, such as non-strict programming languages – and more recently, composable software transactions – have continued this strategy, making components of programs even more freely composable.)

Some academics took a purist approach to the Böhm-Jacopini result and argued that even instructions like break and return from the middle of loops are bad practice as they are not needed in the Böhm-Jacopini proof, and thus they advocated that all loops should have a single exit point. This purist approach is embodied in the language Pascal (designed in 1968–1969), which up to the mid-1990s was the preferred tool for teaching introductory programming in academia.[2] The direct application of the Böhm-Jacopini theorem may result in additional local variables being introduced in the structured chart, and may also result in some code duplication.[3] Pascal is affected by both of these problems and according to empirical studies cited by Eric S. Roberts, student programmers had difficulty formulating correct solutions in Pascal for several simple problems, including writing a function for searching an element in an array. A 1980 study by Henry Shapiro cited by Roberts found that using only the Pascal-provided control structures, the correct solution was given by only 20% of the subjects, while no subject wrote incorrect code for this problem if allowed to write a return from the middle of a loop.[2]

Control structures in practice

Most programming languages with control structures have an initial keyword which indicates the type of control structure involved. Languages then divide as to whether or not control structures have a final keyword.

  • No final keyword: ALGOL 60, C, C++, Haskell, Java, Pascal, Perl, PHP, PL/I, Python, PowerShell. Such languages need some way of grouping statements together:
    • ALGOL 60 and Pascal: begin ... end
    • C, C++, Java, Perl, PHP, and PowerShell: curly brackets { ... }
    • PL/I: DO ... END
    • Python: uses indent level (see Off-side rule)
    • Haskell: either indent level or curly brackets can be used, and they can be freely mixed
    • Lua: uses do ... end
  • Final keyword: Ada, ALGOL 68, Modula-2, Fortran 77, Mythryl, Visual Basic. The forms of the final keyword vary:
    • Ada: final keyword is end + space + initial keyword e.g., if ... end if, loop ... end loop
    • ALGOL 68, Mythryl: initial keyword spelled backwards e.g., if ... fi, case ... esac
    • Fortran 77: final keyword is END + initial keyword e.g., IF ... ENDIF, DO ... ENDDO
    • Modula-2: same final keyword END for everything
    • Visual Basic: every control structure has its own keyword. If ... End If; For ... Next; Do ... Loop; While ... Wend


If-then-(else) statements

Conditional expressions and conditional constructs are features of a programming language which perform different computations or actions depending on whether a programmer-specified boolean condition evaluates to true or false.

  • IF..GOTO. A form found in unstructured languages, mimicking a typical machine code instruction, would jump to (GOTO) a label or line number when the condition was met.
  • IF..THEN..(ENDIF). Rather than being restricted to a jump, any simple statement, or nested block, could follow the THEN key keyword. This a structured form.
  • IF..THEN..ELSE..(ENDIF). As above, but with a second action to be performed if the condition is false. This is one of the most common forms, with many variations. Some require a terminal ENDIF, others do not. C and related languages do not require a terminal keyword, or a 'then', but do require parentheses around the condition.
  • Conditional statements can be and often are nested inside other conditional statements. Some languages allow ELSE and IF to be combined into ELSEIF, avoiding the need to have a series of ENDIF or other final statements at the end of a compound statement.
Pascal: Ada: C: Shell script: Python: Lisp:
if a > 0 then
if a > 0 then
end if;
if (a > 0) { 
} else {
if [ $a -gt 0 ]; then
      echo "yes"
      echo "no"
if a > 0: 
  (if (plusp a)

Less common variations include:

  • Some languages, such as Fortran, have a three-way or arithmetic if, testing whether a numeric value is positive, negative or zero.
  • Some languages have a functional form of an if statement, for instance Lisp's cond.
  • Some languages have an operator form of an if statement, such as C's ternary operator.
  • Perl supplements a C-style if with when and unless.
  • Smalltalk uses ifTrue and ifFalse messages to implement conditionals, rather than any fundamental language construct.

Case and switch statements

Switch statements (or case statements, or multiway branches) compare a given value with specified constants and take action according to the first constant to match. There is usually a provision for a default action ("else", "otherwise") to be taken if no match succeeds. Switch statements can allow compiler optimizations, such as lookup tables. In dynamic languages, the cases may not be limited to constant expressions, and might extend to pattern matching, as in the shell script example on the right, where the *) implements the default case as a glob matching any string. Case logic can also be implemented in functional form, as in SQL's decode statement.

Pascal: Ada: C: Shell script: Lisp:
case someChar of
  'a': actionOnA;
  'x': actionOnX;
  else actionOnNoMatch;
case someChar is
  when 'a' => actionOnA;
  when 'x' => actionOnX;
  when 'y' | 'z' => actionOnYandZ;
  when others => actionOnNoMatch;
switch (someChar) {
  case 'a': actionOnA; break;
  case 'x': actionOnX; break;
  case 'y':
  case 'z': actionOnYandZ; break;
  default: actionOnNoMatch;
case $someChar in 
   a)    actionOnA ;;
   x)    actionOnX ;;
   [yz]) actionOnYandZ ;;
   *)    actionOnNoMatch  ;;
(case someChar
  ((#\a)     actionOnA)
  ((#\x)     actionOnX)
  ((#\y #\z) actionOnYandZ)
  (else      actionOnNoMatch))


A loop is a sequence of statements which is specified once but which may be carried out several times in succession. The code "inside" the loop (the body of the loop, shown below as xxx) is obeyed a specified number of times, or once for each of a collection of items, or until some condition is met, or indefinitely.

In functional programming languages, such as Haskell and Scheme, loops can be expressed by using recursion or fixed point iteration rather than explicit looping constructs. Tail recursion is a special case of recursion which can be easily transformed to iteration.

Count-controlled loops

Most programming languages have constructions for repeating a loop a certain number of times. In most cases counting can go downwards instead of upwards and step sizes other than 1 can be used.

   FOR I = 1 TO N           | for I := 1 to N do begin
       xxx                  |     xxx
   NEXT I                   | end;
   DO I = 1,N               | for ( I=1; I<=N; ++I ) {
       xxx                  |     xxx
   END DO                   | }

In these examples, if N < 1 then the body of loop may execute once (with I having value 1) or not at all, depending on the programming language.

In many programming languages, only integers can be reliably used in a count-controlled loop. Floating-point numbers are represented imprecisely due to hardware constraints, so a loop such as

   for X := 0.1 step 0.1 to 1.0 do

might be repeated 9 or 10 times, depending on rounding errors and/or the hardware and/or the compiler version. Furthermore, if the increment of X occurs by repeated addition, accumulated rounding errors may mean that the value of X in each iteration can differ quite significantly from the expected sequence 0.1, 0.2, 0.3, ..., 1.0.

Condition-controlled loops

Most programming languages have constructions for repeating a loop until some condition changes. Some variations test the condition at the start of the loop; others test it at the end. If the test is at the start, the body may be skipped completely; if it is at the end, the body is always executed at least once.

   DO WHILE (test)          | repeat 
       xxx                  |     xxx 
   LOOP                     | until test;
   while (test) {           | do
       xxx                  |     xxx
   }                        | while (test);

A control break is a value change detection method used within ordinary loops to trigger processing for groups of values. Values are monitored within the loop and a change diverts program flow to the handling of the group event associated with them.

   DO UNTIL (End-of-File)
      IF new-zipcode <> current-zipcode
         display_tally(current-zipcode, zipcount)
         current-zipcode = new-zipcode
         zipcount = 0

Collection-controlled loops

Several programming languages (e.g., Ada, D, C++11, Smalltalk, PHP, Perl, Object Pascal, Java, C#, MATLAB, Visual Basic, Ruby, Python, JavaScript, Fortran 95 and later) have special constructs which allow implicit looping through all elements of an array, or all members of a set or collection.

   someCollection do: [:eachElement |xxx].
   for Item in Collection do begin xxx end;

   foreach (item; myCollection) { xxx }

   foreach someArray { xxx }

   foreach ($someArray as $k => $v) { xxx }

   Collection<String> coll; for (String s : coll) {}

   foreach (string s in myStringCollection) { xxx }

   someCollection | ForEach-Object { $_ }
   forall ( index = first:last:step... )

Scala has for-expressions, which generalise collection-controlled loops, and also support other uses, such as asynchronous programming. Haskell has do-expressions and comprehensions, which together provide similar function to for-expressions in Scala.

General iteration

General iteration constructs such as C's for statement and Common Lisp's do form can be used to express any of the above sorts of loops, and others, such as looping over some number of collections in parallel. Where a more specific looping construct can be used, it is usually preferred over the general iteration construct, since it often makes the purpose of the expression clearer.

Infinite loops

Infinite loops are used to assure a program segment loops forever or until an exceptional condition arises, such as an error. For instance, an event-driven program (such as a server) should loop forever, handling events as they occur, only stopping when the process is terminated by an operator.

Infinite loops can be implemented using other control flow constructs. Most commonly, in unstructured programming this is jump back up (goto), while in structured programming this is an indefinite loop (while loop) set to never end, either by omitting the condition or explicitly setting it to true, as while (true) .... Some languages have special constructs for infinite loops, typically by omitting the condition from an indefinite loop. Examples include Ada (loop ... end loop),[4] Fortran (DO ... END DO), Go (for { ... }), and Ruby (loop do ... end).

Often, an infinite loop is unintentionally created by a programming error in a condition-controlled loop, wherein the loop condition uses variables that never change within the loop.

Continuation with next iteration

Sometimes within the body of a loop there is a desire to skip the remainder of the loop body and continue with the next iteration of the loop. Some languages provide a statement such as continue (most languages), skip, or next (Perl and Ruby), which will do this. The effect is to prematurely terminate the innermost loop body and then resume as normal with the next iteration. If the iteration is the last one in the loop, the effect is to terminate the entire loop early.

Redo current iteration

Some languages, like Perl and Ruby, have a redo statement that restarts the current iteration from the start.

Restart loop

Ruby has a retry statement that restarts the entire loop from the initial iteration.

Early exit from loops

When using a count-controlled loop to search through a table, it might be desirable to stop searching as soon as the required item is found. Some programming languages provide a statement such as break (most languages), Exit (Visual Basic), or last (Perl), which effect is to terminate the current loop immediately, and transfer control to the statement immediately after that loop. Another term for early-exit loops is loop-and-a-half.

The following example is done in Ada which supports both early exit from loops and loops with test in the middle. Both features are very similar and comparing both code snippets will show the difference: early exit must be combined with an if statement while a condition in the middle is a self-contained construct.

with Ada.Text IO;
with Ada.Integer Text IO;

procedure Print_Squares is 
    X : Integer;
    Read_Data : loop
        Ada.Integer Text IO.Get(X);
    exit Read_Data when X = 0;
        Ada.Text IO.Put (X * X);
        Ada.Text IO.New_Line;
    end loop Read_Data;
end Print_Squares;

Python supports conditional execution of code depending on whether a loop was exited early (with a break statement) or not by using an else-clause with the loop. For example,

for n in set_of_numbers:
    if isprime(n):
        print "Set contains a prime number"
    print "Set did not contain any prime numbers"

The else clause in the above example is linked to the for statement, and not the inner if statement. Both Python's for and while loops support such an else clause, which is executed only if early exit of the loop has not occurred.

Some languages support breaking out of nested loops; in theory circles, these are called multi-level breaks. One common use example is searching a multi-dimensional table. This can be done either via multilevel breaks (break out of N levels), as in bash[5] and PHP,[6] or via labeled breaks (break out and continue at given label), as in Java and Perl.[7] Alternatives to multilevel breaks include single breaks, together with a state variable which is tested to break out another level; exceptions, which are caught at the level being broken out to; placing the nested loops in a function and using return to effect termination of the entire nested loop; or using a label and a goto statement. C does not include a multilevel break, and the usual alternative is to use a goto to implement a labeled break.[8] Python does not have a multilevel break or continue – this was proposed in PEP 3136, and rejected on the basis that the added complexity was not worth the rare legitimate use.[9]

The notion of multi-level breaks is of some interest in theoretical computer science, because it gives rise to what is today called the Kosaraju hierarchy.[10] In 1973 S. Rao Kosaraju refined the structured program theorem by proving that it is possible to avoid adding additional variables in structured programming, as long as arbitrary-depth, multi-level breaks from loops are allowed.[11] Furthermore, Kosaraju proved that a strict hierarchy of programs exists: for every integer n, there exists a program containing a multi-level break of depth n that cannot be rewritten as a program with multi-level breaks of depth less than n without introducing added variables.[10]

One can also return out of a subroutine executing the looped statements, breaking out of both the nested loop and the subroutine. There are other proposed control structures for multiple breaks, but these are generally implemented as exceptions instead.

In his 2004 textbook, David Watt uses Tennent's notion of sequencer to explain the similarity between multi-level breaks and return statements. Watt notes that a class of sequencers known as escape sequencers, defined as "sequencer that terminates execution of a textually enclosing command or procedure", encompasses both breaks from loops (including multi-level breaks) and return statements. As commonly implemented, however, return sequencers may also carry a (return) value, whereas the break sequencer as implemented in contemporary languages usually cannot.[12]

Loop variants and invariants

Loop variants and loop invariants are used to express correctness of loops.[13]

In practical terms, a loop variant is an integer expression which has an initial non-negative value. The variant's value must decrease during each loop iteration but must never become negative during the correct execution of the loop. Loop variants are used to guarantee that loops will terminate.

A loop invariant is an assertion which must be true before the first loop iteration and remain true after each iteration. This implies that when a loop terminates correctly, both the exit condition and the loop invariant are satisfied. Loop invariants are used to monitor specific properties of a loop during successive iterations.

Some programming languages, such as Eiffel contain native support for loop variants and invariants. In other cases, support is an add-on, such as the Java Modeling Language's specification for loop statements in Java.

Loop sublanguage

Some Lisp dialects provide an extensive sublanguage for describing Loops. An early example can be found in Conversional Lisp of Interlisp. Common Lisp[14] provides a Loop macro which implements such a sublanguage.

Loop system cross-reference table

Programming language conditional loop early exit continuation redo retry correctness facilities
begin middle end count collection general infinite [1] variant invariant
Ada Yes Yes Yes Yes arrays No Yes deep nested No
APL Yes No Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes deep nested [3] Yes No No
C Yes No Yes No [2] No Yes No deep nested [3] deep nested [3] No
C++ Yes No Yes No [2] Yes [9] Yes No deep nested [3] deep nested [3] No
C# Yes No Yes No [2] Yes Yes No deep nested [3] deep nested [3]
COBOL Yes No Yes Yes No Yes No deep nested [15] deep nested [14] No
Common Lisp Yes Yes Yes Yes builtin only [16] Yes Yes deep nested No
D Yes No Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes[14] deep nested deep nested No
Eiffel Yes No No Yes [10] Yes Yes No one level [10] No No No [11] integer only [13] Yes
F# Yes No No Yes Yes No No No [6] No No
FORTRAN 77 Yes No No Yes No No No one level Yes
Fortran 90 Yes No No Yes No No Yes deep nested Yes
Fortran 95 and later Yes No No Yes arrays No Yes deep nested Yes
Haskell No No No No Yes No Yes No [6] No No
Java Yes No Yes No [2] Yes Yes No deep nested deep nested No non-native [12] non-native [12]
JavaScript Yes No Yes No [2] Yes Yes No deep nested deep nested No
Natural Yes Yes Yes Yes No Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes No
OCaml Yes No No Yes arrays,lists No No No [6] No No
PHP Yes No Yes No [2] [5] Yes [4] Yes No deep nested deep nested No
Perl Yes No Yes No [2] [5] Yes Yes No deep nested deep nested Yes
Python Yes No No No [5] Yes No No deep nested [6] deep nested [6] No
REBOL No [7] Yes Yes Yes Yes No [8] Yes one level [6] No No
Ruby Yes No Yes Yes Yes No Yes deep nested [6] deep nested [6] Yes Yes
Standard ML Yes No No No arrays,lists No No No [6] No No
Visual Basic .NET Yes No Yes Yes Yes No Yes one level per type of loop one level per type of loop
PowerShell Yes No Yes No [2] Yes Yes No ? Yes
  1. a while (true) does not count as an infinite loop for this purpose, because it is not a dedicated language structure.
  2. a b c d e f g h C's for (init; test; increment) loop is a general loop construct, not specifically a counting one, although it is often used for that.
  3. a b c Deep breaks may be accomplished in APL, C, C++ and C# through the use of labels and gotos.
  4. a Iteration over objects was added in PHP 5.
  5. a b c A counting loop can be simulated by iterating over an incrementing list or generator, for instance, Python's range().
  6. a b c d e Deep breaks may be accomplished through the use of exception handling.
  7. a There is no special construct, since the while function can be used for this.
  8. a There is no special construct, but users can define general loop functions.
  9. a The C++11 standard introduced the range-based for. In the STL, there is a std::for_each template function which can iterate on STL containers and call a unary function for each element.[15] The functionality also can be constructed as macro on these containers.[16]
  10. a Count-controlled looping is effected by iteration across an integer interval; early exit by including an additional condition for exit.
  11. a Eiffel supports a reserved word retry, however it is used in exception handling, not loop control.
  12. a Requires Java Modeling Language (JML) behavioral interface specification language.
  13. a Requires loop variants to be integers; transfinite variants are not supported. [1]
  14. a D supports infinite collections, and the ability to iterate over those collections. This does not require any special construct.
  15. a Deep breaks can be achieved using GO TO and procedures.
  16. a Common Lisp predates the concept of generic collection type.

Structured non-local control flow

Many programming languages, especially those favoring more dynamic styles of programming, offer constructs for non-local control flow. These cause the flow of execution to jump out of a given context and resume at some predeclared point. Conditions, exceptions and continuations are three common sorts of non-local control constructs; more exotic ones also exist, such as generators, coroutines and the async keyword.


PL/I has some 22 standard conditions (e.g., ZERODIVIDE SUBSCRIPTRANGE ENDFILE) which can be raised and which can be intercepted by: ON condition action; Programmers can also define and use their own named conditions.

Like the unstructured if, only one statement can be specified so in many cases a GOTO is needed to decide where flow of control should resume.

Unfortunately, some implementations had a substantial overhead in both space and time (especially SUBSCRIPTRANGE), so many programmers tried to avoid using conditions.

Common Syntax examples:

 ON condition GOTO label


Modern languages have a specialized structured construct for exception handling which does not rely on the use of GOTO or (multi-level) breaks or returns. For example, in C++ one can write:

try {
    xxx1                                  // Somewhere in here
    xxx2                                  //     use: '''throw''' someValue;
} catch (someClass& someId) {             // catch value of someClass
} catch (someType& anotherId) {           // catch value of someType
} catch (...) {                           // catch anything not already caught

Any number and variety of catch clauses can be used above. If there is no catch matching a particular throw, control percolates back through subroutine calls and/or nested blocks until a matching catch is found or until the end of the main program is reached, at which point the program is forcibly stopped with a suitable error message.

Via C++'s influence, catch is the keyword reserved for declaring a pattern-matching exception handler in other languages popular today, like Java or C#. Some other languages like Ada use the keyword exception to introduce an exception handler and then may even employ a different keyword (when in Ada) for the pattern matching. A few languages like AppleScript incorporate placeholders in the exception handler syntax to automatically extract several pieces of information when the exception occurs. This approach is exemplified below by the on error construct from AppleScript:

    set myNumber to myNumber / 0
on error e  number n  from f  to t  partial result pr
    if ( e = "Can't divide by zero" ) then display dialog "You must not do that"
end try

David Watt's 2004 textbook also analyzes exception handling in the framework of sequencers (introduced in this article in the section on early exits from loops). Watt notes that an abnormal situation, generally exemplified with arithmetic overflows or input/output failures like file not found, is a kind of error that "is detected in some low-level program unit, but [for which] a handler is more naturally located in a high-level program unit". For example, a program might contain several calls to read files, but the action to perform when a file is not found depends on the meaning (purpose) of the file in question to the program and thus a handling routine for this abnormal situation cannot be located in low-level system code. Watts further notes that introducing status flags testing in the caller, as single-exit structured programming or even (multi-exit) return sequencers would entail, results in a situation where "the application code tends to get cluttered by tests of status flags" and that "the programmer might forgetfully or lazily omit to test a status flag. In fact, abnormal situations represented by status flags are by default ignored!" Watt notes that in contrast to status flags testing, exceptions have the opposite default behavior, causing the program to terminate unless the programmer explicitly deals with the exception in some way, possibly by adding explicit code to ignore it. Based on these arguments, Watt concludes that jump sequencers or escape sequencers aren't as suitable as a dedicated exception sequencer with the semantics discussed above.[17]

In Object Pascal, D, Java, C#, and Python a finally clause can be added to the try construct. No matter how control leaves the try the code inside the finally clause is guaranteed to execute. This is useful when writing code that must relinquish an expensive resource (such as an opened file or a database connection) when finished processing:

FileStream stm = null;                    // C# example
try {
    stm = new FileStream ("logfile.txt", FileMode.Create);
    return ProcessStuff(stm);             // may throw an exception
} finally {
    if (stm != null)

Since this pattern is fairly common, C# has a special syntax:

using (FileStream stm = new FileStream ("logfile.txt", FileMode.Create)) {
    return ProcessStuff(stm);             // may throw an exception

Upon leaving the using-block, the compiler guarantees that the stm object is released, effectively binding the variable to the file stream while abstracting from the side effects of initializing and releasing the file. Python's with statement and Ruby's block argument to are used to similar effect.

All the languages mentioned above define standard exceptions and the circumstances under which they are thrown. Users can throw exceptions of their own; in fact C++ allows users to throw and catch almost any type, including basic types like int, whereas other languages like Java aren't as permissive.


C# 5.0 introduced the async keyword for supporting asynchronous I/O in a "direct style".


Generators, also known as semicoroutines, allow control to be yielded to a consumer method temporarily, typically using a yield keyword. Like the async keyword, this supports programming in a "direct style".


Coroutines are functions that can yield control to each other - a form of co-operative multitasking without threads.

Coroutines can be implemented as a library if the programming language provides either continuations or generators - so the distinction between coroutines and generators in practice is a technical detail.

Non-local control flow cross reference

Programming language conditions exceptions generators/coroutines async
Ada No Yes ? ?
C No No No No
C++ No Yes yes, by using BOOST ?
C# No Yes Yes Yes
COBOL Yes Yes No No
Common Lisp Yes No ? ?
D No Yes Yes ?
Eiffel No Yes ? ?
Erlang No Yes Yes ?
F# No Yes Yes Yes
Go No Yes Yes ?
Haskell No Yes Yes No
Java No Yes No No
Javascript ? Yes Yes, ES6 Yes, Stage 3
Objective-C No Yes No ?
PHP No Yes Yes ?
PL/I Yes No No No
Python No Yes Yes ?
REBOL Yes Yes No ?
Ruby No Yes Yes ?
Scala No Yes via experimental extension[18] via experimental extension
Tcl via traces Yes Yes via event loop
Visual Basic .NET Yes Yes No ?
PowerShell No Yes No ?

Proposed control structures

In a spoof Datamation article[19] in 1973, R. Lawrence Clark suggested that the GOTO statement could be replaced by the COMEFROM statement, and provides some entertaining examples. COMEFROM was implemented in one esoteric programming language named INTERCAL.

Donald Knuth's 1974 article "Structured Programming with go to Statements",[20] identifies two situations which were not covered by the control structures listed above, and gave examples of control structures which could handle these situations. Despite their utility, these constructs have not yet found their way into mainstream programming languages.

Loop with test in the middle

The following was proposed by Dahl in 1972:[21]

   loop                           loop
       xxx1                           read(char);
   while test;                    while not atEndOfFile;
       xxx2                           write(char);
   repeat;                        repeat;

If xxx1 is omitted, we get a loop with the test at the top (a traditional while loop). If xxx2 is omitted, we get a loop with the test at the bottom, equivalent to a do while loop in many languages. If while is omitted, we get an infinite loop. The construction here can be thought of as a do loop with the while check in the middle. Hence this single construction can replace several constructions in most programming languages.

Languages lacking this construct generally emulate it using an equivalent infinite-loop-with-break idiom:

while (true) {
    if (not test)

A possible variant is to allow more than one while test; within the loop, but the use of exitwhen (see next section) appears to cover this case better.

In Ada, the above loop construct (loop-while-repeat) can be represented using a standard infinite loop (loop - end loop) that has an exit when clause in the middle (not to be confused with the exitwhen statement in the following section).

with Ada.Text_IO;
with Ada.Integer_Text_IO;

procedure Print_Squares is 
    X : Integer;
    Read_Data : loop
    exit Read_Data when X = 0;
        Ada.Text IO.Put (X * X);
        Ada.Text IO.New_Line;
    end loop Read_Data;
end Print_Squares;

Naming a loop (like Read_Data in this example) is optional but permits leaving the outer loop of several nested loops.

Multiple early exit/exit from nested loops

This was proposed by Zahn in 1974.[22] A modified version is presented here.

   exitwhen EventA or EventB or EventC;
       EventA: actionA
       EventB: actionB
       EventC: actionC

exitwhen is used to specify the events which may occur within xxx, their occurrence is indicated by using the name of the event as a statement. When some event does occur, the relevant action is carried out, and then control passes just after endexit. This construction provides a very clear separation between determining that some situation applies, and the action to be taken for that situation.

exitwhen is conceptually similar to exception handling, and exceptions or similar constructs are used for this purpose in many languages.

The following simple example involves searching a two-dimensional table for a particular item.

   exitwhen found or missing;
       for I := 1 to N do
           for J := 1 to M do
               if table[I,J] = target then found;
       found:   print ("item is in table");
       missing: print ("item is not in table");


One way to attack a piece of software is to redirect the flow of execution of a program. A variety of control-flow integrity techniques, including stack canaries, buffer overflow protection, shadow stacks, and vtable pointer verification, are used to defend against these attacks.[23][24][25]

See also


  1. ^ Böhm, Jacopini. "Flow diagrams, turing machines and languages with only two formation rules" Comm. ACM, 9(5):366-371, May 1966.
  2. ^ a b Roberts, E. [1995] “Loop Exits and Structured Programming: Reopening the Debate,” ACM SIGCSE Bulletin, (27)1: 268–272.
  3. ^ David Anthony Watt; William Findlay (2004). Programming language design concepts. John Wiley & Sons. p. 228. ISBN 978-0-470-85320-7.
  4. ^ Ada Programming: Control: Endless Loop
  5. ^ Advanced Bash Scripting Guide: 11.3. Loop Control
  6. ^ PHP Manual: "break"
  7. ^ perldoc: last
  8. ^ comp.lang.c FAQ list · "Question 20.20b"
  9. ^ [Python-3000] Announcing PEP 3136, Guido van Rossum
  10. ^ a b Kozen, Dexter (2008). The Böhm–Jacopini Theorem Is False, Propositionally (PDF). Lecture Notes in Computer Science. 5133. pp. 177–192. CiteSeerX doi:10.1007/978-3-540-70594-9_11. ISBN 978-3-540-70593-2.
  11. ^ Kosaraju, S. Rao. "Analysis of structured programs," Proc. Fifth Annual ACM Syrup. Theory of Computing, (May 1973), 240-252; also in J. Computer and System Sciences, 9, 3 (December 1974). cited by Donald Knuth (1974). "Structured Programming with go to Statements". Computing Surveys. 6 (4): 261–301. CiteSeerX doi:10.1145/356635.356640.
  12. ^ David Anthony Watt; William Findlay (2004). Programming language design concepts. John Wiley & Sons. pp. 215–221. ISBN 978-0-470-85320-7.
  13. ^ Meyer, Bertrand (1991). Eiffel: The Language. Prentice Hall. pp. 129–131.
  14. ^ "Common Lisp LOOP macro".
  15. ^ for_each. Retrieved on 2010-11-09.
  16. ^ Chapter 1. Boost.Foreach. (2009-12-19). Retrieved on 2010-11-09.
  17. ^ David Anthony Watt; William Findlay (2004). Programming language design concepts. John Wiley & Sons. pp. 221–222. ISBN 978-0-470-85320-7.
  18. ^
  19. ^ We don't know where to GOTO if we don't know where we've COME FROM. This (spoof) linguistic innovation lives up to all expectations. By R. Lawrence Clark* From Datamation, December, 1973
  20. ^ Knuth, Donald E. "Structured Programming with go to Statements" ACM Computing Surveys 6(4):261-301, December 1974.
  21. ^ Dahl & Dijkstra & Hoare, "Structured Programming" Academic Press, 1972.
  22. ^ Zahn, C. T. "A control statement for natural top-down structured programming" presented at Symposium on Programming Languages, Paris, 1974.
  23. ^ Payer, Mathias; Kuznetsov, Volodymyr. "On differences between the CFI, CPS, and CPI properties". Retrieved 2016-06-01.
  24. ^ "Adobe Flash Bug Discovery Leads To New Attack Mitigation Method". Dark Reading. Retrieved 2016-06-01.
  25. ^ Endgame. "Endgame to Present at Black Hat USA 2016". Retrieved 2016-06-01.

Further reading

  • Hoare, C. A. R. "Partition: Algorithm 63," "Quicksort: Algorithm 64," and "Find: Algorithm 65." Comm. ACM 4, 321-322, 1961.

External links

Apache Oozie

Apache Oozie is a server-based workflow scheduling system to manage Hadoop jobs.

Workflows in Oozie are defined as a collection of control flow and action nodes in a directed acyclic graph. Control flow nodes define the beginning and the end of a workflow (start, end, and failure nodes) as well as a mechanism to control the workflow execution path (decision, fork, and join nodes). Action nodes are the mechanism by which a workflow triggers the execution of a computation/processing task. Oozie provides support for different types of actions including Hadoop MapReduce, Hadoop distributed file system operations, Pig, SSH, and email. Oozie can also be extended to support additional types of actions.

Oozie workflows can be parameterised using variables such as ${inputDir} within the workflow definition. When submitting a workflow job, values for the parameters must be provided. If properly parameterized (using different output directories), several identical workflow jobs can run concurrently.

Oozie is implemented as a Java web application that runs in a Java servlet container and is distributed under the Apache License 2.0.

Branch (computer science)

A branch is an instruction in a computer program that can cause a computer to begin executing a different instruction sequence and thus deviate from its default behavior of executing instructions in order. Branch (or branching, branched) may also refer to the act of switching execution to a different instruction sequence as a result of executing a branch instruction. Branch instructions are used to implement control flow in program loops and conditionals (i.e., executing a particular sequence of instructions only if certain conditions are satisfied).

A branch instruction can be either an unconditional branch, which always results in branching, or a conditional branch, which may or may not cause branching depending on some condition. Also, depending on how it specifies the address of the new instruction sequence (the "target" address), a branch instruction is generally classified as direct, indirect or relative, meaning that the instruction contains the target address, or it specifies where the target address is to be found (e.g., a register or memory location), or it specifies the difference between the current and target addresses.

Control-flow diagram

A control-flow diagram (CFD) is a diagram to describe the control flow of a business process, process or review

Control-flow diagrams were developed in the 1950s, and are widely used in multiple engineering disciplines. They are one of the classic business process modeling methodologies, along with flow charts, drakon-charts, data flow diagrams, functional flow block diagram, Gantt charts, PERT diagrams, and IDEF.

Control-flow graph

In computer science, a control-flow graph (CFG) is a representation, using graph notation, of all paths that might be traversed through a program during its execution. The control-flow graph is due to Frances E. Allen, who notes that Reese T. Prosser used boolean connectivity matrices for flow analysis before.The CFG is essential to many compiler optimizations and static-analysis tools.

Control flow analysis

In computer science, control-flow analysis (CFA) is a static-code-analysis technique for determining the control flow of a program. The control flow is expressed as a control-flow graph (CFG). For both functional programming languages and object-oriented programming languages, the term CFA, and elaborations such as k-CFA, refer to specific algorithms that compute control flow.For many imperative programming languages, the control flow of a program is explicit in a program's source code. As a result, interprocedural control-flow analysis implicitly usually refers to a static analysis technique for determining the receiver(s) of function or method calls in computer programs written in a higher-order programming language. For example, in a programming language with higher-order functions like Scheme, the target of a function call may not be explicit: in the isolated expression

it is unclear to which procedure f may refer. To determine the possible targets, a control-flow analysis must consider where this expression could be invoked, and what argument it may receive.

Techniques such as abstract interpretation, constraint solving, and type systems may be used for control-flow analysis.

Data-flow analysis

Data-flow analysis is a technique for gathering information about the possible set of values calculated at various points in a computer program. A program's control flow graph (CFG) is used to determine those parts of a program to which a particular value assigned to a variable might propagate. The information gathered is often used by compilers when optimizing a program. A canonical example of a data-flow analysis is reaching definitions.

A simple way to perform data-flow analysis of programs is to set up data-flow equations for each node of the control flow graph and solve them by repeatedly calculating the output from the input locally at each node until the whole system stabilizes, i.e., it reaches a fixpoint. This general approach was developed by Gary Kildall while teaching at the Naval Postgraduate School.

Dataflow architecture

Dataflow architecture is a computer architecture that directly contrasts the traditional von Neumann architecture or control flow architecture. Dataflow architectures do not have a program counter (in concept): the executability and execution of instructions is solely determined based on the availability of input arguments to the instructions, so that the order of instruction execution is unpredictable, i.e. behavior is nondeterministic.

Although no commercially successful general-purpose computer hardware has used a dataflow architecture, it has been successfully implemented in specialized hardware such as in digital signal processing, network routing, graphics processing, telemetry, and more recently in data warehousing. It is also very relevant in many software architectures today including database engine designs and parallel computing frameworks.Synchronous dataflow architectures tune to match the workload presented by real-time data path applications such as wire speed packet forwarding. Dataflow architectures that are deterministic in nature enable programmers to manage complex tasks such as processor load balancing, synchronization and accesses to common resources.Meanwhile, there is a clash of terminology, since the term dataflow is used for a subarea of parallel programming: for dataflow programming.

Do while loop

In most computer programming languages, a do while loop is a control flow statement that executes a block of code at least once, and then repeatedly executes the block, or not, depending on a given boolean condition at the end of the block.

The do while construct consists of a process symbol and a condition. First, the code within the block is executed, and then the condition is evaluated. If the condition is true the code within the block is executed again. This repeats until the condition becomes false. Because do while loops check the condition after the block is executed, the control structure is often also known as a post-test loop. Contrast with the while loop, which tests the condition before the code within the block is executed, the do-while loop is an exit-condition loop. This means that the code must always be executed first and then the expression or test condition is evaluated. If it is true, the code executes the body of the loop again. This process is repeated as long as the expression evaluates to true. If the expression is false, the loop terminates and control transfers to the statement following the do-while loop. In other words, whereas a while loop sets the truth of a statement as a condition precedent for the code's execution, a do-while loop provides for the action's ongoing execution subject to defeasance by the condition's falsity, which falsity (i.e., the truth of the condition's negation) is set as a condition subsequent.

It is possible, and in some cases desirable, for the condition to always evaluate to true, creating an infinite loop. When such a loop is created intentionally, there is usually another control structure (such as a break statement) that allows termination of the loop.

Some languages may use a different naming convention for this type of loop. For example, the Pascal language has a "repeat until" loop, which continues to run until the control expression is true (and then terminates) — whereas a "while" loop runs while the control expression is true (and terminates once the expression becomes false).

Fiber (computer science)

In computer science, a fiber is a particularly lightweight thread of execution.

Like threads, fibers share address space. However, fibers use cooperative multitasking while threads use preemptive multitasking. Threads often depend on the kernel's thread scheduler to preempt a busy thread and resume another thread; fibers yield themselves to run another fiber while executing.


GoTo (goto, GOTO, GO TO or other case combinations, depending on the programming language) is a statement found in many computer programming languages. It performs a one-way transfer of control to another line of code; in contrast a function call normally returns control. The jumped-to locations are usually identified using labels, though some languages use line numbers. At the machine code level, a goto is a form of branch or jump statement. Many languages support the goto statement, and many do not (see language support).

The structured program theorem proved that the goto statement is not necessary to write programs; some combination of the three programming constructs of sequence, selection/choice, and repetition/iteration are sufficient for any computation that can be performed by a Turing machine, with the caveat that code duplication and additional variables may need to be introduced.In the past there was considerable debate in academia and industry on the merits of the use of goto statements. Use of goto was formerly common, but since the advent of structured programming in the 1960s and 1970s its use has declined significantly. The primary criticism is that code that uses goto statements is harder to understand than alternative constructions. Goto remains in use in certain common usage patterns, but alternatives are generally used if available. Debates over its (more limited) uses continue in academia and software industry circles.

Hardware register

In digital electronics, especially computing, hardware registers are circuits typically composed of flip flops, often with many characteristics similar to memory, such as:

The ability to read or write multiple bits at a time, and

Using an address to select a particular register in a manner similar to a memory address.Their distinguishing characteristic, however, is that they also have special hardware-related functions beyond those of ordinary memory. So, depending on the point of view, hardware registers are like memory with additional hardware-related functions; or, memory circuits are like hardware registers that just store data.

Hardware registers are used in the interface between software and peripherals. Software writes them to send information to the device, and reads them to get information from the device. Some hardware devices also include registers that are not visible to software, for their internal use.

Depending on their complexity, modern hardware devices can have many registers. Standard integrated circuits typically document their externally-exposed registers as part of their electronic component datasheet.

Index register

An index register in a computer's CPU is a processor register used for modifying operand addresses during the run of a program, typically for doing vector/array operations.

The contents of an index register is added to (in some cases subtracted from) an immediate address (one that is part of the instruction itself) to form the "effective" address of the actual data (operand). Special instructions are typically provided to test the index register and, if the test fails, increments the index register by an immediate constant and branches, typically to the start of the loop. Some instruction sets allow more than one index register to be used; in that case additional instruction fields specify which index registers to use. While normally processors that allow an instruction to specify multiple index registers add the contents together, IBM had a line of computers in which the contents were or'd together.In early computers without any form of indirect addressing, array operations had to be performed by modifying the instruction address, which required several additional program steps and used up more computer memory, a scarce resource in computer installations of the early era (as well as in early microcomputers two decades later).

Instruction-level parallelism

Instruction-level parallelism (ILP) is a measure of how many of the instructions in a computer program can be executed simultaneously.

There are two approaches to instruction level parallelism:


SoftwareHardware level works upon dynamic parallelism, whereas the software level works on static parallelism. Dynamic parallelism means the processor decides at run time which instructions to execute in parallel, whereas static parallelism means the compiler decides which instructions to execute in parallel. The Pentium processor works on the dynamic sequence of parallel execution, but the Itanium processor works on the static level parallelism.

Consider the following program:

Operation 3 depends on the results of operations 1 and 2, so it cannot be calculated until both of them are completed. However, operations 1 and 2 do not depend on any other operation, so they can be calculated simultaneously. If we assume that each operation can be completed in one unit of time then these three instructions can be completed in a total of two units of time, giving an ILP of 3/2.

A goal of compiler and processor designers is to identify and take advantage of as much ILP as possible. Ordinary programs are typically written under a sequential execution model where instructions execute one after the other and in the order specified by the programmer. ILP allows the compiler and the processor to overlap the execution of multiple instructions or even to change the order in which instructions are executed.

How much ILP exists in programs is very application specific. In certain fields, such as graphics and scientific computing the amount can be very large. However, workloads such as cryptography may exhibit much less parallelism.

Micro-architectural techniques that are used to exploit ILP include:

Instruction pipelining where the execution of multiple instructions can be partially overlapped.

Superscalar execution, VLIW, and the closely related explicitly parallel instruction computing concepts, in which multiple execution units are used to execute multiple instructions in parallel.

Out-of-order execution where instructions execute in any order that does not violate data dependencies. Note that this technique is independent of both pipelining and superscalar execution. Current implementations of out-of-order execution dynamically (i.e., while the program is executing and without any help from the compiler) extract ILP from ordinary programs. An alternative is to extract this parallelism at compile time and somehow convey this information to the hardware. Due to the complexity of scaling the out-of-order execution technique, the industry has re-examined instruction sets which explicitly encode multiple independent operations per instruction.

Register renaming which refers to a technique used to avoid unnecessary serialization of program operations imposed by the reuse of registers by those operations, used to enable out-of-order execution.

Speculative execution which allows the execution of complete instructions or parts of instructions before being certain whether this execution should take place. A commonly used form of speculative execution is control flow speculation where instructions past a control flow instruction (e.g., a branch) are executed before the target of the control flow instruction is determined. Several other forms of speculative execution have been proposed and are in use including speculative execution driven by value prediction, memory dependence prediction and cache latency prediction.

Branch prediction which is used to avoid stalling for control dependencies to be resolved. Branch prediction is used with speculative execution.It is known that the ILP is exploited by both the compiler and hardware support but the compiler also provides inherent and implicit ILP in programs to hardware by compilation optimization. Some optimization techniques for extracting available ILP in programs would include scheduling, register allocation/renaming, and memory access optimization.

Dataflow architectures are another class of architectures where ILP is explicitly specified, for a recent example see the TRIPS architecture.

In recent years, ILP techniques have been used to provide performance improvements in spite of the growing disparity between processor operating frequencies and memory access times (early ILP designs such as the IBM System/360 Model 91 used ILP techniques to overcome the limitations imposed by a relatively small register file). Presently, a cache miss penalty to main memory costs several hundreds of CPU cycles. While in principle it is possible to use ILP to tolerate even such memory latencies, the associated resource and power dissipation costs are disproportionate. Moreover, the complexity and often the latency of the underlying hardware structures results in reduced operating frequency further reducing any benefits. Hence, the aforementioned techniques prove inadequate to keep the CPU from stalling for the off-chip data. Instead, the industry is heading towards exploiting higher levels of parallelism that can be exploited through techniques such as multiprocessing and multithreading.

Program counter

The program counter (PC), commonly called the instruction pointer (IP) in Intel x86 and Itanium microprocessors, and sometimes called the instruction address register (IAR), the instruction counter, or just part of the instruction sequencer,

is a processor register that indicates where a computer is in its program sequence.In most processors, the PC is incremented after fetching an instruction, and holds the memory address of ("points to") the next instruction that would be executed. (In a processor where the incrementation precedes the fetch, the PC points to the current instruction being executed.)

Processors usually fetch instructions sequentially from memory, but control transfer instructions change the sequence by placing a new value in the PC. These include branches (sometimes called jumps), subroutine calls, and returns. A transfer that is conditional on the truth of some assertion lets the computer follow a different sequence under different conditions.

A branch provides that the next instruction is fetched from elsewhere in memory. A subroutine call not only branches but saves the preceding contents of the PC somewhere. A return retrieves the saved contents of the PC and places it back in the PC, resuming sequential execution with the instruction following the subroutine call.


The semicolon or semi colon (;) is a punctuation mark that separates major sentence elements. A semicolon can be used between two closely related independent clauses, provided they are not already joined by a coordinating conjunction. Semicolons can also be used in place of commas to separate items in a list, particularly when the elements of that list contain commas.

Single instruction, multiple threads

Single instruction, multiple thread (SIMT) is an execution model used in parallel computing where single instruction, multiple data (SIMD) is combined with multithreading.

Stack register

A stack register is a computer central processor register whose purpose is to keep track of a call stack. On an accumulator-based architecture machine, this may be a dedicated register such as SP on an Intel x86 machine. On a general register machine, it may be a register which is reserved by convention, such as on the PDP-11 or RISC machines. Some designs such as the Data General Eclipse had no dedicated register, but used a reserved hardware memory address for this function.

Machines before the late 1960s—such as the PDP-8 and HP 2100—did not have compilers which supported recursion. Their subroutine instructions typically would save the current location in the jump address, and then set the program counter to the next address. While this is simpler than maintaining a stack, since there is only one return location per subroutine code section, there cannot be recursion without considerable effort on the part of the programmer.

A stack machine has 2 or more stack registers — one of them keeps track of a call stack, the other(s) keep track of other stack(s).


Weblocks is an advanced web framework for Common Lisp. Web pages are built from simple widgets which are analogous to GUI widgets used in most application toolkits.

The widgets are written in lisp, using the cl-who meta-language. The framework supports "delimited continuations" for control flow. It is a full-stack framework, since it comes with built-in database and persistence systems.

Programming in weblocks is very similar to other continuation-passing style frameworks like Seaside. All HTML and HTTP level details are abstracted, especially with regard to Ajax and form parameters (although access to these is easily available).

Weblocks has an active development and user community. The other major Lisp web-framework is UnCommon Web with extensions such as Lisp on Lines that are built atop it.

While loop

In most computer programming languages, a while loop is a control flow statement that allows code to be executed repeatedly based on a given Boolean condition. The while loop can be thought of as a repeating if statement.

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