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Conditions ยป Tips and style

This article is simply an unordered collection of tips and tricks to help you improve how you write your conditional code. If you have been following this course in order, many of the concepts used here have not been covered yet. Do not worry if you don't understand some of the stuff in this article, they will come in later lessons.

Always include the curly bracketsโ€‹

Most C++ constructs you may come across actually have optional curly brackets. If you omit the curly brackets, then it is assumed the next line of code is in the body of the if statement, and anything else after that is outside of the if statement.

This can sometimes make for shorter, slightly easier to read code. For example:

๐Ÿ”น Omitting the curly brackets
if (A and B)
std::cout << "They're both true!\n";

std::cout << "Goodbye!";

However, this is a very common beginner trap as this can quickly lead to the wrong behavior. Especially upon editing the code, it is common to accidentally forget to add the braces when expanding the if statement body. Remember, C++ does not care about whitespace or indentation, so if you try to do:

โš ๏ธ Misleading indentation
if (A and B)
std::cout << "They're both true!\n";
std::cout << "That's cool that they are both true.\n";

std::cout << "Goodbye!";

The highlighted line will always be run, as it is not a part of the if statement. It is equivalent to putting the curly braces only after the line that immediately follows the if statement. Due to the frequency that beginners get bitten by this mistake, it is recommended to always put braces on your if statements. Mistakes like this have even caused caused major security vulnerabilities in real-world codebases.

Keep bracket style consistentโ€‹

More on the topic of curly brackets... spending any amount of time in online programming communities will probably expose you to the long-fought battle between "inline" vs "new-line" braces. This is the debate that centers on the very cosmetic decision of whether you should put opening curly brackets { on the same line as if statements, functions, loops, etc., or if it should be on a new line. The two styles and pros/cons are illustrated below:

int main() {

int x = 10;

if (x == 10) {
std::cout << "X is 10!";
} else {
std::cout << "X is not 10!";

for (int i = 0; i < 5; i++) {
std::cout << "i: " << i << "\n";


  • Code is more compact
  • Organization via empty lines is easier


  • Opening and closing braces do not line up
  • Too dense for some people
  • Can become messy under some formatting styles

Note that this example was spaced out with extra empty lines to make it line up with the next example. These extra lines are not relevant to the comparison of brace styles.

Ultimately, it is up to you what style you stick with. There is roughly an even split between the popularity of the two choices. The main takeaway is that you should only use one style per project. Do not mix styles within the same code.

However, don't get too attached to one style. Once you find a professional programming job, you will be expected to keep with the style that already exists at that company. Consistent code is more important than your own personal preferences!

Keep indentation consistentโ€‹

One of the most common gripes with advanced programmers helping beginners is that their code is super messy! This makes it difficult to read and even harder if you're trying to help them figure out errors. One of the best ways to make your code cleaner and easier to understand is by keeping your indentation consistent. Thankfully, this is very easy.

Every time you enter a scope, you should indent your code one more level with the tab key. Every time you exit a scope, you should unindent one level. A scope is basically one "block" of C++. Inside a function is a single scope, inside an if statement is a single scope, inside a for loop is a single scope, etc. Below are examples of what good and bad indentation looks like.

// The parts of the functions are always unindented
// While immediately inside the function, it is indented at one level
bool checkValue(int x) {
// The parts of the if statement are indented one level
// because it is immediately inside the function
if (x < 50) {
// Inside the if statement, we indent another level
return true;
} else {
return false;
} // The braces line up with what started the scope

int main() {
// Everything in the root scope of the function is indented one level
int value;
std::cin >> value;

// The outer parts of this while loop are indented one level
while (true) {
// Inside the while loop, we indent another level
if (checkValue(value)) {
// Inside another scope, so we indent a third level
std::cout << "You have entered a good value.\n";

// We drop one indent level after exiting the if statement scope
std::cout << "You have entered a bad value.\n";
std::cout << "Try again.\n";
} // This brace lines up with the while loop that started this scope

// We return to a single level of indentation after exiting the while loop scope
std::cout << "Goodbye!";
} // This brace lines up with the beginning of the function

You can see how all of the code in the first example is neatly aligned. We follow consistent rules of when to indent based off how deep of a scope we are in. Each level of nesting a scope warrants an extra level of indentation. Additionally, all of our braces are lined up with the parent that "started" the scope, which makes it easy to find what construct a brace belongs to.

On the other hand, the code in the second example is significantly more confusing and frustrating to read. It's very difficult to find what code belongs to what scope, where scopes end, and what should be executed when. Additionally, it's just generally very messy to read and is a pain to try to look through.

It may seem like extra work to keep indentation clean and consistent, especially if you are making changes to existing code. But, follow these guidelines and I promise that you will thank yourself later. It is far too common for beginners to be misled by poor indentation, and fixing it at the source is the best way to prevent this.

If you find dealing with indentation to be difficult, consider using hotkeys to your advantage. In most code editors, you can indent multiple lines at once by selecting what you want to indent and pressing the Tab key. Conversely, you can unindent multiple lines at once with Shift+Tab.

Avoid complicated boolean expressionsโ€‹

If you're trying to build a condition that requires the validation of multiple boolean expressions, it can be very easy to make confusing code by using too many and's, or's, and not's. The best way to prevent this is to make a bool returning function that computes this complicated expression for you. That way, the code becomes more readable and more maintainable. You may also find the methods from the next section to be helpful.

Avoid deep nesting of conditionsโ€‹

It is very easy to make complicated logic with if statements, especially if you excessively nest them inside of each other. For example, try to figure out what the following snippet actually does:

โš ๏ธ Confusing if statements
if (A or B) {
if (not B and C) {
if (A or D) {
if (A and not B) {
std::cout << "Hello!";
} else {
std::cout << "Will this line ever be run?";
} else if (not D) {
std::cout << "What about this one?";
} else {
std::cout << "It's starting to get pretty weird now...";
} else if (B) {
std::cout << "I don't think this one will ever run.";
} else if (not A and not b) {
std::cout << "Surely, this one will be called eventually.";
} else {
std::cout << "Goodbye!";

It may take you several minutes to figure out under what cases each of these print statements activates, especially if you're working in large and potentially very complicated code bases.

There are two good ways to improve this. First, you can break out the inner nested conditions into their own functions. That way, the complexity gets hidden away behind a layer of abstraction, and you are forced to create a descriptive name for each function you create.

The second method applies if you have a clear "happy path" and "sad path". You can reorganize the if statements such that the happy path is the least indented, and the sad path escapes early. Study this example to see what this may look like:

using std::string;

string loginAsAdmin(string user, string pass) {
if (not doesUserExist(user)) {
return "User does not exist";

if (not isPasswordCorrect(user, pass)) {
return "Password is incorrect";

if (not tryLogin(user, pass)) {
return "Failed to login";

if (not isAdmin(user)) {
return "User is not admin";

return "Success";

You can see how the confusing example has a tell-tale triangular shape. This is a very common indicator that you are nesting your logic too deep, and you should apply one of the two clean-up methods to fix it. Here, we inverted the conditions to check the sad path first. The happy path continues at the bottom once we have passed all of the checks.