Flow Control

But First, The Word Of The Day

equifinality (n): the property of allowing or having the same effect or result from different events

I think of this as multiple paths that end up at the same point or place or result.

The result we are aiming for today is a functioning piece of software that forks or branches based on one or more conditions, and this lesson will show you a few of the logical tools that can help us arrive there.

Learning Goals

  • explain the flow of execution through a chunk of code
  • use if statements to control execution
  • use an else statement to create an alternative path
  • combine if, elsif, and else to create multiple branches
  • use while and until to repeat instructions
  • apply the times method to repeat instructions
  • use loop and break to repeat instructions
  • break out of an infinite loop in both IRB and regular Ruby


  • condition
  • boolean
  • conditional branching
  • flow control
  • if/elsif/else
  • loop
  • while
  • until
  • times
  • infinite loop


You’re going to learn different ways to accomplish the same thing in this lesson. Remember that these are tools, and as you learn to be a software developer, you’ll get a better idea of which tool to use for which job. For now, just try to understand how the tool works, and at least one use for that tool.


In programming, we refer to something that is either true or false as a Boolean.

A condition is something that evaluates to a Boolean. This can be as simple as a variable that holds a Boolean value:

play_again = false
#=> false

We can also use comparison operators to create a condition by comparing two values. The important comparison operators are:

  • == equal to
    • Be careful not to mix this up with = which is used for variable assignment
  • > greater than
  • >= greater than or equal to
  • < less than
  • <= less than or equal to
  • != not equal

We can use them like so:

mood = "hungry"
mood == "hungry"
#=> true
mood == "sleepy"
#=> false
mood.length > 5
#=> true
mood != "grumpy"
#=> true

You can also use the negation operator ! (also known as a “bang”) to reverse something from true to false. The “bang” will always return the opposite boolean of the boolean that is returned from a method or variable. I use the word not in my head in conjunction with the negation operator.

#=> true
play_again = true
#=> false
def hungry?
#=> false

not play_again translates to not true which translates to false

not hungry? translates to not true which translates to false

There are also built-in ruby methods that can be used as conditions. Although it’s not a rule, Rubyists typically end these methods with a ? to imply that a boolean will be returned:

#=> false
"hello".include? "h"
#=> true
"hello".end_with? 'o'
#=> true

|| and &&

We can use the “or” operator || and the “and” operator && to combine two conditions into a single condition. || evaluates to true if one of the conditions is true. && evaluates to true if both are true:

breed = "Corgi"
age = 2
breed == "Corgi" || age == 3
#=> true
breed == "Corgi" && age == 3
#=> false

Be careful… a common mistake is to try to use || with two possible values. If we want to say “the length is either equal to 0 or 10”, you may try something like this:

length = "letters".length
length == 0 || 10

This won’t give us an error, but it isn’t working like we expect. This condition will always evaluate to true, which probably isn’t what we expect, and thus is not a very useful condition. If we read this as “length is equal to zero or ten”, it makes sense to us, but that’s not how Ruby reads it. Ruby evaluates each condition on the left and right independently and then combines them. So Ruby reads it as “Length is equal to zero; or ten.”. The important point here is that both sides of an || or && are valid conditions. This statement would be correctly written as:

length = 5
length == 0 || length == 10
#=> false

Bonus: What is the return value of:

length = "letters".length
length == 0 || 10


Conditional Branching

In programming, branching refers to a choice that is made depending on whether or not a condition is true or false. Think of branching as “choose your own adventure”.


  • If a student earns a 3.8 GPA or higher, then they are invited to the honor roll ceremony. (One branch)
if gpa >= 3.8


  • If you want to spend a lot of money for dinner, go to a fancy restaurant. Otherwise, cook at home. (Two branches)
if spend_that_money == true



All of our conditional branches will begin with an if. The code following the if will run if the condition is true.

if condition
  # code to execute if condition is true


Use an elsif to create more branches.

if condition1
  # code to execute if above condition1 evaluates to true
elsif condition2
  # code to execute if above condition2 evaluates to true
elsif condition3
  # code to execute if above condition3 evaluates to true


Code inside an else will run when none of the previous conditions are true.

if condition1
  # code to execute if above condition1 evaluates to true
elsif condition2
  # code to execute if above condition2 evaluates to true
elsif condition3
  # code to execute if above condition3 evaluates to true
  # code to execute if all previous conditions evaluate to false

Other rules

  • Conditional branches have exactly one if
  • The if can be following by any number of elsifs
  • A conditional branch will have either zero or one else
  • The else comes after the if/elsifs
  • The conditional branch always ends with an end
  • Only one branch can be taken.
  • Conditions are evaluated in order.

Check for Understanding

What will the following code print to the screen?

play_again = true
lives = 3
if lives == 0
  puts "You Lose!"
elsif !play_again
  puts "Game Over!"
elsif play_again && lives > 0
  puts "Welcome back!"
  puts "invalid input"

What values would play_again and lives need to be assigned to in order to print each of the following to your terminal:

  • “You Lose!”
  • “Game Over!”
  • “Welcome back!”
  • “Invalid input


A loop is a set of instructions that is executed repeatedly until some condition is met. This condition may be a certain number of times that the loop is executed, for example:

  • After baking cookies, you pull the cookie sheet out of the oven which holds 24 cookies. One by one, you remove each of the cookies from the sheet and place them on a cooling rack. (24.times do…) (Set of instructions that executes 24 times)

or it may be a question that returns a true/false (boolean) answer. For example:

  • While looking for a parking spot at a crowded sporting event, a car continues to drive up and down the rows until an empty spot is found (full == false).
    (Loop that executes until a question returns true or false)


A times loop executes code an exact number of times.

5.times do
  # code to execute a given number of times. This code block will run 5 times before exiting

We can also include a Block Variable that tells us which iteration of the loop is running.

This code

5.times do |number|
 puts number

will print out



while condition
 # code to execute as long as condition evaluates to true
while parking_spot.full?

The above code does not run. Why is this?


until condition
  # code to execute if above condition evaluates to false, stop when condition evaluates to true  
until parking_spot.empty?  

loop do

loop do allows you to run code in an infinite loop.

loop do
  # code will run forever

You can use the break keyword to end a loop do:

count = 0
loop do
  count += 1
  if count == 3

If you accidentally get stuck in an infinite loop, use control + c to stop it.

Check for Understanding

Using times, while, until and loop, print “Beetlejuice” to the terminal 3 times. 🐝

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