default branch placement in switch

Brian Goetz brian.goetz at
Thu Dec 14 19:39:56 UTC 2017

Here's where I think we should come down on this.

First, we should appeal to the general rule about pattern ordering; if 
pattern X dominates Y (that is, everything that matches Y also matches 
X), X can't come before Y.

This gives us:
  - "case null" must precede any non-constant case label
  - "default" must come at the end.

Now, we carve out special dispensation for existing switches:
  - For switches whose static argument type is one of the legacy switch 
types (primitives, boxes, string, enum) *and* which have only constant 
case labels (and "default"), we relax the above rule regarding default.

On 12/11/2017 2:15 PM, Brian Goetz wrote:
> The middle is surely awful.  Though in the JDK, we have a fair number 
> of uses where default is the _first_ case, which isn't unreasonable, 
> and some might argue is even clearer in some cases.
> The reason to tread lightly on forcing reorganization of existing 
> switches is that it is allowable to fall into *and out of* the default 
> case.  So if someone has:
>     switch (x) {
>         default:  S;   // fall through
>         case COMMON: T; break;
>         case UNCOMMON: U; break;
>     }
> then eventually getting to an error when default is not last for 
> "legacy" switches (those where all labels are type-restating 
> constants) means some uncomfortable refactoring just to "make the 
> compiler happy."  So while I agree on warnings, I'm not sure if we can 
> ever get to error in all cases without picking some fights with users.
> On 12/11/2017 1:16 PM, Kevin Bourrillion wrote:
>> On Fri, Nov 3, 2017 at 5:25 PM, Brian Goetz <brian.goetz at 
>> <mailto:brian.goetz at>> wrote:
>>     or plan to eventually get to a place where default always comes
>>     last, even for "int" switches. If we want to get to the latter,
>>     we should start warning on this construct now.
>> I favor starting to warn and eventually forbidding default in any 
>> position but last for all constructs that have it.
>> A switch with the default in the middle is extremely weird and 
>> confusing. If I'm reading code to understand what happens when i == 
>> 3, and I read as far as
>>     switch (i) {
>>       case 1:
>>         justOneStuff(); break();
>>       case 2:
>>         justTwoStuff(); break();
>>       default:
>> ... then I immediately assume that this must be where execution is 
>> continuing. Worse, even if I do notice that there are more case 
>> labels to follow, and I resume searching for a `case 3:`, then when I 
>> don't find one I now risk making /another/ error and forgetting to 
>> jump /back/ to the default.
>> This is kind of insane. At first I was less worried because I thought 
>> "surely no one is actually doing this"... then I browsed our 
>> codebase.... yikes.
>> We should at least strongly consider this.
>>     On 11/3/2017 5:10 PM, Tagir Valeev wrote:
>>         Hello!
>>         Currently the default branch can be placed in any place
>>         inside the
>>         switch operator, e.g. like this:
>>         switch(i) {
>>         case 1: System.out.println("one");break;
>>         default: System.out.println("other");break;
>>         case 2: System.out.println("two");break;
>>         }
>>         In this case behavior does not change on the order of case
>>         blocks.
>>         However in pattern matching the order of cases usually
>>         matters: if
>>         some pattern matches, this means that the subsequent patterns
>>         will not
>>         be checked. Does this mean that with pattern matching the default
>>         branch makes all the subsequent case blocks unreachable? Or
>>         default
>>         can still be located anywhere and is checked only after any other
>>         pattern?
>>         With best regards,
>>         Tagir Valeev
>> -- 
>> Kevin Bourrillion | Java Librarian | Google, Inc. |kevinb at 
>> <mailto:kevinb at>

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