Flow Control

  • if
  • cond
  • Boolean logic

What is flow control?

“Flow control” is the programming term for deciding how to react to a given circumstance. We make decisions like this all the time. If it’s a nice day out, then we should visit the park; otherwise we should stay inside and play board games. If your car’s tank is empty, then you should visit a gas station; otherwise you should continue to your destination.

Software is also full of these decisions. If the user’s input is valid, then we should save their data; otherwise we show an error message. The common pattern here is that you test some condition and react differently based on whether the condition is true or false.


In Clojure, the most basic tool we have for the flow control is the if operator. It allows you to choose between two options depending upon a condition.

Reference: Conditional if

(if (< age legal-drinking-age)
  ["water" "soda"]
  ["water" "soda" "beer" "wine"])
(if conditional-expression

When testing the truth of an expression, Clojure considers the values nil and false to be false and everything else to be true. Here are some examples:

Reference: Truthiness

(if "anything other than nil or false is considered true"
  "A string is considered true"
  "A string is not considered true")
;=> "A string is considered true"
(if nil
  "nil is considered true"
  "nil is not considered true")
;=> "nil is not considered true"
(if (get {:a 1} :b)
  "expressions which evaluate to nil are considered true"
  "expressions which evaluate to nil are not considered true")
;=> "expressions which evaluate to nil are not considered true"


  • write a function ordinal that takes a number n as an argument
  • start from the template on this slide
  • if n equals 1, then the function should return "1st", otherwise it should return the number + "th"
  • you will have to use the str function
  • don’t worry yet about “2nd” or “3rd”
(defn ordinal [n]
  (if ;; condition
      ;; then
      ;; else
;; usage of ordinal function
(ordinal 1)    ;=> "1st"
(ordinal 5)    ;=> "5th"


  • extend the ordinal function to correctly generate “2nd” and “3rd”
  • hint: you can use an if inside another if
;; usage of the new ordinal function
(ordinal 1)    ;=> "1st"
(ordinal 2)    ;=> "2nd"
(ordinal 3)    ;=> "3rd"
(ordinal 4)    ;=> "4th"


The if operator takes only one predicate. When we want to use multiple predicates, if is not a good option. We have to write nested, nested, … and nested if conditions. To branch to multiple situations, cond operator works well.

Reference: Conditional cond

(if (= n 1)
  (if (= n 2)
    (if (= n 3)
      (str n "th"))))

In this case cond comes in handy.

  (= n 1) "1st"
  (= n 2) "2nd"
  (= n 3) "3rd"
  :else   (str n "th"))

General form of cond operator

  predicate1 expression-to-evaluate-when-predicate1-is-true
  predicate2 expression-to-evaluate-when-predicate2-is-true
  :else      expression-to-evaluate-when-all-above-are-false)

cond example

  (< x 10)    "x is smaller than 10"
  (< 10 x 20) "x is between 10 and 20"
  (< 20 x 30) "x is between 20 and 30"
  (< 30 x 40) "x is between 30 and 40"
  :else       "x is bigger than 40")

EXERCISE 3 [BONUS]: Temperature conversion with cond

Write a function that can convert degrees Celcius, Fahrenheit, or Kelvin to Celcius

Here is how it should work

(to-celcius 32.0 :F)         ;=> 0.0
(to-celcius 300 :K)          ;=> 26.85
(to-celcius 22.5 :C)         ;=> 22.5
(to-celcius 22.5 :gibberish) ;=> "Unknown scale: :gibberish"

Starting point:

(defn to-celcius [degrees scale]
    ;; ...


  • (°F - 32) x 5/9 = °C
  • °K + 273.15 = °C

EXERCISE 3: Solution

Write a function that can convert degrees Celcius, Fahrenheit, or Kelvin to Celcius

(defn to-celcius [degrees scale]
    (= scale :C) degrees
    (= scale :F) (* (- degrees 32) 5/9)
    (= scale :K) (- degrees 273.15)
    :else        (str "Unknown scale: " scale)))
(to-celcius 32.0 :F)         ;=> 0.0
(to-celcius 300 :K)          ;=> 26.85
(to-celcius 22.5 :C)         ;=> 22.5
(to-celcius 22.5 :gibberish) ;=> "Unknown scale: :gibberish"

Boolean logic with and, or, and not

if statements are not limited to testing only one thing. You can test multiple conditions using boolean logic. Boolean logic refers to combining and changing the results of predicates using and, or, and not.

If you’ve never seen this concept in programming before, remember that it follows the common sense way you look at things normally. Is this and that true? Only if both are true. Is this or that true? Yes, if either – or both! – are. Is this not true? Yes, if it’s false.

and, or, and not work like other functions (they aren’t exactly functions, but work like them), so they are in prefix notation, like we’ve seen with arithmetic.

x y (and x y) (or x y) (not x) (not y)
false false false false true true
true false false true false true
true true true true false false
false true false true true false

and, or, and not can be combined. This can be hard to read. Here’s an example:

(defn leap-year?
  "Every four years, except years divisible by 100, but yes for years divisible by 400."
  (and (zero? (mod year 4))
       (or (zero? (mod year 400))
           (not (zero? (mod year 100))))))

Return to the first slide, or go to the curriculum outline.