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Learning C# 2005, 2nd Edition by Brian MacDonald, Jesse Liberty

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Relational Operators

Relational operators compare two values and then return a Boolean value (true or false). The greater than operator (>), for example, returns true if the value on the left of the operator is greater than the value on the right. Thus, 5>2 returns the value true, while 2>5 returns the value false.

The relational operators for C# are shown in Table 4-1. This table assumes two variables: bigValue and smallValue, in which bigValue has been assigned the value 100, and smallValue the value 50.

Table 4-1. C# relational operators (assumes bigValue = 100 and smallValue = 50)



Given this statement

The expression evaluates to



bigValue == 100

bigValue == 80



Not Equals


bigValue != 100

bigValue != 80



Greater than


bigValue > smallValue


Greater than or equal to


bigValue >= smallValue

smallValue >= bigValue



Less than


bigValue < smallValue


Less than or equal to


smallValue <= bigValue

bigValue <= smallValue



Each of these relational operators acts as you might expect. Notice that most of these operators are composed of two characters. For example, the greater than or equal to operator (>=) is created with the greater than symbol (>) and the equals sign (=). Notice also that the equals operator is created with two equals signs (==) because the single equals sign alone (=) is reserved for the assignment operator.


It is not uncommon to confuse the assignment operator (=) with the equals operator (==). Just remember that the latter has two equals signs, and the former only one.

The C# equals operator (==) tests for equality between the objects on either side of the operator. This operator evaluates to a Boolean value (true or false). Thus, the statement:

    myX == 5;

evaluates to true if and only if the myX variable has a value of 5.

Use of Logical Operators with Conditionals

As you program, you’ll often want to test whether a condition is true; for example, using the if statement, which you’ll see in the next chapter. Often you will want to test whether two conditions are both true, only one is true, or neither is true. C# provides a set of logical operators for this, shown in Table 4-2.

Table 4-2. Logical operators



Given this statement

The expression evaluates to




(x == 3) &&

(y == 7)


Both must be true.



(x == 3) ||

(y == 7)


Either or both must be true.



! (x == 3)


Expression must be false.

The examples in this table assume two variables, x and y, in which x has the value 5 and y has the value 7.

The and operator tests whether two statements are both true. The first line in Table 4-2 includes an example that illustrates the use of the and operator:

    (x == 3) && (y == 7)

The entire expression evaluates false because one side (x == 3) is false. (Remember that x has the value 5 and y has the value 7.)

With the or operator, either or both sides must be true; the expression is false only if both sides are false. So, in the case of the example in Table 4-2:

    (x == 3) || (y == 7)

the entire expression evaluates true because one side (y==7) is true.

With a not operator, the statement is true if the expression is false, and vice versa. So, in the accompanying example:

    ! (x == 3)

the entire expression is true because the tested expression (x==3) is false. (The logic is: “it is true that it is not true that x is equal to 3.”)

The Conditional Operator

Although most operators are unary (they require one term, such as myValue++) or binary (they require two terms, such as a+b), there is one ternary operator, which requires three terms: the conditional operator (?:):

cond-expr ? expression1 :expression2

This operator evaluates a conditional expression (an expression that returns a value of type bool) and then invokes either expression1 if the value returned from the conditional expression is true, or expression2 if the value returned is false. The logic is: “if this is true, do the first; otherwise do the second.” Example 4-5 illustrates this concept.

Example 4-5. The ternary operator

using System;
class Values
   static void Main(  )
      int valueOne = 10;
      int valueTwo = 20;

      int maxValue = valueOne > valueTwo ? valueOne : valueTwo;

      Console.WriteLine( "ValueOne: {0}, valueTwo: {1}, maxValue: {2}",
      valueOne, valueTwo, maxValue );


The output looks like this:

    ValueOne: 10, valueTwo: 20, maxValue: 20

In Example 4-5, the ternary operator is being used to test whether valueOne is greater than valueTwo. If so, the value of valueOne is assigned to the integer variable maxValue; otherwise, the value of valueTwo is assigned to maxValue.

Operator Precedence

The compiler must know the order in which to evaluate a series of operators. For example, if I write:

    myVariable = 5 + 7 * 3;

there are three operators for the compiler to evaluate (=, +, and *). It could, for example, operate left to right, which would assign the value 5 to myVariable, then add 7 to the 5 (12) and multiply by 3 (36)—but of course, then it would throw that 36 away. This is clearly not what is intended.

The rules of precedence tell the compiler which operators to evaluate first. As is the case in algebra, multiplication has higher precedence than addition, so 5+7*3 is equal to 26 rather than 36. Both addition and multiplication have higher precedence than assignment, so the compiler will do the math and then assign the result (26) to myVariable only after the math is completed.

In C#, parentheses are also used to change the order of precedence much as they are in algebra. Thus, you can change the result by writing:

    myVariable = (5+7) * 3;

Grouping the elements of the assignment in this way causes the compiler to add 5+7, multiply the result by 3, and then assign that value (36) to myVariable.

Table 4-3 summarizes operator precedence in C#, using x and y as possible terms to be operated upon.[1]

Table 4-3. Precedence




(x) x.y x->y f(x) a[x] x++ x−− new typeof sizeof checked unchecked stackalloc


+ - ! ~ ++x −−x (T)x *x &x


* / %


+ -


<< >>


< > <= >= is as


== !=

Logical AND


Logical XOR


Logical OR


Conditional AND


Conditional OR





= *= /= %= += -= <<= >>= &= ^= |=

The operators are listed in precedence order according to the category in which they fit. That is, the primary operators (such as x++) are evaluated before the unary operators (such as !). Multiplication is evaluated before addition.

In some complex equations, you might need to nest parentheses to ensure the proper order of operations. For example, assume I want to know how many seconds my family wastes each morning. The adults spend 20 minutes over coffee each morning and 10 minutes reading the newspaper. The children waste 30 minutes dawdling and 10 minutes arguing.

Here’s my algorithm:

    (((minDrinkingCoffee + minReadingNewspaper )* numAdults ) +
    ((minDawdling + minArguing) * numChildren)) * secondsPerMinute.


An algorithm is a well-defined series of steps to accomplish a task.

Although this works, it is hard to read and hard to get right. It’s much easier to use interim variables:

    wastedByEachAdult = minDrinkingCoffee + minReadingNewspaper;
    wastedByAllAdults = wastedByEachAdult * numAdults;
    wastedByEachKid = minDawdling + minArguing;
    wastedByAllKids = wastedByEachKid * numChildren;
    wastedByFamily = wastedByAllAdults + wastedByAllKids;
    totalSeconds = wastedByFamily * 60;

The latter example uses many more interim variables, but it is far easier to read, understand, and (most importantly) debug. As you step through this program in your debugger, you can see the interim values and make sure they are correct. See Chapter 9 for more information.

[1] This table includes operators that are so esoteric as to be beyond the scope of this book. For a fuller explanation of each, please see Programming C#, Fourth Edition, by Jesse Liberty (O’Reilly, 2005).

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