Use switch() instead of ifelse() to return a NULL

February 21, 2017

(This article was first published on, and kindly contributed to R-bloggers)

Have you ever tried to return a NULL with the ifelse() function? This function is a simple vectorized workflow for conditional statements. However, one can’t just return a NULL value as a result of this evaluation. Check a tricky workaround solution in this post.

Imagine a simple R logical statement like

statement <- length(character()) > 0

and depending on that logical value you would like to create a new variable called res. You can follow a regular if conditional statement

if (statement) {
   res <- "message"
} else {
   res <- NULL

or use simplified interface with ifelse() function

ifelse(statement, "message", NULL)
Error in ifelse(statement, "message", NULL): replacement has length zero

However it looks like one is not able to return the NULL as a result of this operation.

A solution is to jump to the other conditional function called switch(), which for the first parameter takes number (n) and returns the value passed as the n-th parameter. If one treats logical values as TRUE is 1 and FALSE is 0 then primary ifelse() statement can be rebuild to switch() call like

switch(statement + 1, NULL, "message")

What do you think about such workaround? Do you use other solutions for such a situation?

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