Operators and expressions

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Assignment and Typing


Assignment is setting a value to a variable. Like common mathematics, most languages use a simple equals sign (there are exceptions, e.g. in Pascal, the ":=" operator is used for assignment)

a = 5
blah = "A string"

Note that, in statically typed languages, you cannot change the type of a declared variable at run-time, e.g. :

int a = 5 // We declare a variable "a" of type integer
a = "Blah" // ERROR ! "a" type can't be changed to a String !

is invalid in C, C++ and Java.

Dynamically typed languages, such as Python, Ruby, and most scripting languages (e.g. Lua) don't have this limitation, and allow automatic conversions between strings and numbers according to defined rules. "Traditional" programmers sometimes think that dynamically typed languages leads to a worse design, but in the end which language you should use is a matter of personal tastes and the requirements for your project.

Arithmetic Operations


The simple operations like additions and subtraction are exactly the same as in common math.

a = 2 + 5
(a equals 7)

b = 4 - 3
(b equals 1)

For operations like multiplication and division, the operators are slightly different than standard mathematics, to avoid confusion with other symbols. Multiplication is denoted by an asterisk (*), division by a slash (/), and modulus by a percent sign (%).

m = 3 * 5
(m equals 15)

d = 20 / 5
(d equals 4)

r = 16 % 3
(r equals 1, since 16 / 3 = 5 with remainder of 1.) 

While some rare languages may use different symbols for some operations (e.g. BASIC uses the keyword MOD), these symbols are the most well known.

Most popular programming languages interpret arithmetic operators in the same way they are interpreted mathematically (notable exceptions being Smalltalk and APL). Often, the order can be explicitly set using parentheses, as well.

x = 1 + 2 * 3
(x equals 7)

x = 1 + (2 * 3)
(the same as above, but using parentheses)

x = (1 + 2) * 3
(x equals 9, since 1 + 2 is performed before the multiplication by 3)

Boolean Expressions


Boolean refers to expressions that can take either a "true" or a "false" value. Since computers are electrical in nature, true usually takes on the value of flowing current, or the numeric value 1, while false is the absence of current, denoted as a 0.

The following table illustrates how the values can be combined to achieve results. In an AND expression, both expressions must be true for the evaluation to be true, while in an OR expression either or both values being true will cause the evaluation to be true. XOR means "exclusive OR", it will be true only if one OR the other, but NOT both are true.

Logic table
Input A Input B AND result OR result XOR result
0 0 0 0 0
1 0 0 1 1
0 1 0 1 1
1 1 1 1 0

NOT is the inversion, or opposite, of the input value. This makes a true value false, and a false value true. Common operators for NOT in programming languages are "!" and "~".

!0 == 1
!1 == 0

By combining these elements in various ways, we are able to make fairly complex decisions break down to true or false values.