# Comparison operators

## Table of contents

## Overview

Carbon provides equality and relational comparison operators, each with a standard mathematical meaning:

Category | Operator | Example | Mathematical meaning | Description |
---|---|---|---|---|

Equality | `==` | `x == y` | = | Equality or equal to |

Equality | `!=` | `x != y` | ≠ | Inequality or not equal to |

Relational | `<` | `x < y` | < | Less than |

Relational | `<=` | `x <= y` | ≤ | Less than or equal to |

Relational | `>` | `x > y` | > | Greater than |

Relational | `>=` | `x >= y` | ≥ | Greater than or equal to |

Comparison operators all return a `bool`

; they evaluate to `true`

when the indicated comparison is true. All comparison operators are infix binary operators.

These operators have predefined meanings for some of Carbon’s built-in types, as well as for simple “data” types like structs and tuples.

User-defined types can define the meaning of these operations by implementing an interface provided as part of the Carbon standard library.

## Details

### Precedence

The comparison operators are all at the same precedence level. This level is lower than operators used to compute (non-`bool`

) values, higher than the logical operators `and`

and `or`

, and incomparable with the precedence of `not`

.

For example:

```
// ✅ Valid: precedence provides order of evaluation.
if (n + m * 3 < n * n and 3 < m and m < 6) {
...
}
// The above is equivalent to:
if (((n + (m * 3)) < (n * n)) and ((3 < m) and (m < 6))) {
...
}
// ❌ Invalid due to ambiguity: `(not a) == b` or `not (a == b)`?
if (not a == b) {
...
}
// ❌ Invalid due to precedence: write `a == (not b)`.
if (a == not b) {
...
}
// ❌ Invalid due to precedence: write `not (f < 5.0)`.
if (not f < 5.0) {
....
}
```

### Associativity

The comparison operators are non-associative. For example:

```
// ❌ Invalid: write `3 < m and m < 6`.
if (3 < m < 6) {
...
}
// ❌ Invalid: write `a == b and b == c`.
if (a == b == c) {
...
}
// ❌ Invalid: write `(m > 1) == (n > 1)`.
if (m > 1 == n > 1) {
...
}
```

### Built-in comparisons and implicit conversions

Built-in comparisons are permitted in three cases:

- When both operands are of standard Carbon integer types (
`Int(n)`

or`Unsigned(n)`

). - When both operands are of standard Carbon floating-point types (
`Float(n)`

). - When one operand is of floating-point type and the other is of integer type, if all values of the integer type can be exactly represented in the floating-point type.

In each case, the result is the mathematically-correct answer. This applies even when comparing `Int(n)`

with `Unsigned(m)`

.

For example:

```
// ✅ Valid: Fits case #1. The value of `compared` is `true` because `a` is less
// than `b`, even though the result of a wrapping `i32` or `u32` comparison
// would be `false`.
fn Compare(a: i32, b: u32) -> bool { return a < b; }
let compared: bool = Compare(-1, 4_000_000_000);
// ❌ Invalid: Doesn't fit case #3 because `i64` values in general are not
// exactly representable in the type `f32`.
let float: f32 = 1.0e18;
let integer: i64 = 1_000_000_000_000_000_000;
let eq: bool = float == integer;
```

Comparisons involving integer and floating-point constants are not covered by these rules and are discussed separately.

#### Consistency with implicit conversions

We support the following implicit conversions:

- From
`Int(n)`

to`Int(m)`

if`m > n`

. - From
`Unsigned(n)`

to`Int(m)`

or`Unsigned(m)`

if`m > n`

. - From
`Float(n)`

to`Float(m)`

if`m > n`

. - From
`Int(n)`

to`Float(m)`

if`Float(m)`

can represent all values of`Int(n)`

.

These rules can be summarized as: a type `T`

can be converted to `U`

if every value of type `T`

is a value of type `U`

.

Implicit conversions are also supported from certain kinds of integer and floating-point constants to `Int(n)`

and `Float(n)`

types, if the constant can be represented in the type.

All built-in comparisons can be viewed as performing implicit conversions on at most one of the operands in order to reach a suitable pair of identical or very similar types, and then performing a comparison on those types. The target types for these implicit conversions are, for each suitable value `n`

:

`Int(n)`

versus`Int(n)`

`Unsigned(n)`

versus`Unsigned(n)`

`Int(n)`

versus`Unsigned(n)`

`Unsigned(n)`

versus`Int(n)`

`Float(n)`

versus`Float(n)`

There will in general be multiple combinations of implicit conversions that will lead to one of the above forms, but we will arrive at the same result regardless of which is selected, because all comparisons are mathematically correct and all implicit conversions are lossless. Implementations are expected to do whatever is most efficient: for example, for `u16 < i32`

it is likely that the best choice would be to promote the `u16`

to `i32`

, not `u32`

.

Because we only ever convert at most one operand, we never use an intermediate type that is larger than both input types. For example, both `i32`

and `f32`

can be implicitly converted to `f64`

, but we do not permit comparisons between `i32`

and `f32`

even though we could perform those comparisons in `f64`

. If such comparisons were permitted, the results could be surprising:

```
// `i32` can exactly represent this value.
var integer: i32 = 2_000_000_001;
// This value is within the representable range for `f32`, but will be rounded
// to 2_000_000_000.0 due to the limited precision of `f32`.
var float: f32 = 2_000_000_001.0;
// ❌ Invalid: `f32` cannot exactly represent all values of `i32`.
if (integer == float) {
...
}
// ✅ Valid: An explicit cast to `f64` on either side makes the code valid, but
// will compare unequal because `float` was rounded to 2_000_000_000.0
// but `integer` will convert to exactly 2_000_000_001.0.
if (integer == float as f64) {
...
}
if (integer as f64 == float) {
...
}
```

The two kinds of mixed-type comparison may be less efficient than the other kinds due to the slightly wider domain.

Note that this approach diverges from C++, which would convert both operands to a common type first, sometimes performing a lossy conversion potentially giving an incorrect result, sometimes converting both operands, and sometimes using a wider type than either of the operand types.

#### Comparisons with constants

We permit the following comparisons involving constants:

- A constant can be compared with a value of any type to which it can be implicitly converted.
- Any two constants can be compared, even if there is no type that can represent both.

As described in implicit conversions, integer constants can be implicitly converted to any integer or floating-point type that can represent their value, and floating-point constants can be implicitly converted to any floating-point type that can represent their value.

Note that this disallows comparisons between, for example, `i32`

and an integer literal that cannot be represented in `i32`

. Such comparisons would always be tautological. This decision should be revisited if it proves problematic in practice, for example in templated code where the literal is sometimes in range.

### Extensibility

User-defined types can extend the behavior of the comparison operators by implementing interfaces. In this section, various properties are specified that such implementations “should” satisfy. These properties are not enforced in general, but the standard library might detect violations of some of them in some circumstances. These properties may be assumed by checked-generic code, resulting in unexpected behavior if they are violated.

#### Equality

Comparison operators can be provided for user-defined types by implementing the `EqWith`

and `OrderedWith`

interfaces.

The `EqWith`

interface is used to define the semantics of the `==`

and `!=`

operators for a given pair of types:

```
interface EqWith(U:! type) {
fn Equal[self: Self](u: U) -> bool;
default fn NotEqual[self: Self](u: U) -> bool {
return not (self == u);
}
}
constraint Eq {
extend EqWith(Self);
}
```

Given `x: T`

and `y: U`

:

- The expression
`x == y`

calls`x.(EqWith(U).Equal)(y)`

. - The expression
`x != y`

calls`x.(EqWith(U).NotEqual)(y)`

.

```
class Path {
private var drive: String;
private var path: String;
private fn CanonicalPath[self: Self]() -> String;
impl as Eq {
fn Equal[self: Self](other: Self) -> bool {
return (self.drive, self.CanonicalPath()) ==
(other.drive, other.CanonicalPath());
}
}
}
```

The `EqWith`

overload is selected without considering possible implicit conversions. To permit implicit conversions in the operands of an `==`

overload, the `like`

operator can be used:

```
class MyInt {
var value: i32;
fn Value[self: Self]() -> i32 { return self.value; }
}
impl i32 as ImplicitAs(MyInt);
impl like MyInt as EqWith(like MyInt) {
fn Equal[self: Self](other: Self) -> bool {
return self.Value() == other.Value();
}
}
fn CompareBothWays(a: MyInt, b: i32, c: MyInt) -> bool {
// OK, calls above implementation three times.
return a == a and a != b and b == c;
}
```

The behavior of `NotEqual`

can be overridden separately from the behavior of `Equal`

to support cases like floating-point NaN values, where two values can compare neither equal nor not-equal, and thus both functions would return `false`

. However, an implementation of `EqWith`

should *not* allow both `Equal`

and `NotEqual`

to return `true`

for the same pair of values. Additionally, these operations should have no observable side-effects.

```
impl like MyFloat as EqWith(like MyFloat) {
fn Equal[self: MyFloat](other: MyFloat) -> bool {
if (self.IsNaN() or other.IsNaN()) {
return false;
}
return self.Representation() == other.Representation();
}
fn NotEqual[self: MyFloat](other: MyFloat) -> bool {
if (self.IsNaN() or other.IsNaN()) {
return false;
}
return self.Representation() != other.Representation();
}
}
```

Heterogeneous comparisons must be defined both ways around:

```
impl like MyInt as EqWith(like MyFloat);
impl like MyFloat as EqWith(like MyInt);
```

**TODO:** Add an adapter to the standard library to make it easy to define the reverse comparison.

#### Ordering

The `OrderedWith`

interface is used to define the semantics of the `<`

, `<=`

, `>`

, and `>=`

operators for a given pair of types.

```
choice Ordering {
Less,
Equivalent,
Greater,
Incomparable
}
interface OrderedWith(U:! type) {
fn Compare[self: Self](u: U) -> Ordering;
default fn Less[self: Self](u: U) -> bool {
return self.Compare(u) == Ordering.Less;
}
default fn LessOrEquivalent[self: Self](u: U) -> bool {
let c: Ordering = self.Compare(u);
return c == Ordering.Less or c == Ordering.Equivalent;
}
default fn Greater[self: Self](u: U) -> bool {
return self.Compare(u) == Ordering.Greater;
}
default fn GreaterOrEquivalent[self: Self](u: U) -> bool {
let c: Ordering = self.Compare(u);
return c == Ordering.Greater or c == Ordering.Equivalent;
}
}
constraint Ordered {
extend OrderedWith(Self);
}
// Ordering.Less < Ordering.Equivalent < Ordering.Greater.
// Ordering.Incomparable is incomparable with all three.
impl Ordering as Ordered;
```

**TODO:** Revise the above when we have a concrete design for enumerated types.

Given `x: T`

and `y: U`

:

- The expression
`x < y`

calls`x.(OrderedWith(U).Less)(y)`

. - The expression
`x <= y`

calls`x.(OrderedWith(U).LessOrEquivalent)(y)`

. - The expression
`x > y`

calls`x.(OrderedWith(U).Greater)(y)`

. - The expression
`x >= y`

calls`x.(OrderedWith(U).GreaterOrEquivalent)(y)`

.

For example:

```
class MyWidget {
var width: i32;
var height: i32;
fn Size[self: Self]() -> i32 { return self.width * self.height; }
// Widgets are normally ordered by size.
impl as Ordered {
fn Compare[self: Self](other: Self) -> Ordering {
return self.Size().(Ordered.Compare)(other.Size());
}
}
}
fn F(a: MyWidget, b: MyWidget) -> bool {
return a <= b;
}
```

As for `EqWith`

, the `like`

operator can be used to permit implicit conversions when invoking a comparison, and heterogeneous comparisons must be defined both ways around:

```
fn ReverseOrdering(o: Ordering) -> Ordering {
return Ordering.Equivalent.(Ordered.Compare)(o);
}
impl like MyInt as OrderedWith(like MyFloat);
impl like MyFloat as OrderedWith(like MyInt) {
fn Compare[self: Self](other: Self) -> Ordering {
return Reverse(other.(OrderedWith(Self).Compare)(self));
}
}
```

The default implementations of `Less`

, `LessOrEquivalent`

, `Greater`

, and `GreaterOrEquivalent`

can be overridden if a more efficient version can be implemented. The behaviors of such overrides should follow those of the above default implementations, and the members of an `OrderedWith`

implementation should have no observable side-effects.

`OrderedWith`

implementations should be *transitive*. That is, given `V:! type`

, `U:! OrderedWith(V)`

, `T:! OrderedWith(U) & OrderedWith(V)`

, `a: T`

, `b: U`

, `c: V`

, then:

- If
`a <= b`

and`b <= c`

then`a <= c`

, and moreover if either`a < b`

or`b < c`

then`a < c`

. - If
`a >= b`

and`b >= c`

then`a >= c`

, and moreover if either`a > b`

or`b > c`

then`a > c`

. - If
`a`

and`b`

are equivalent, then`a.Compare(c) == b.Compare(c)`

. Similarly, if`b`

and`c`

are equivalent, then`a.Compare(b) == a.Compare(c)`

.

`OrderedWith`

implementations should also be *consistent under reversal*. That is, given types `T`

and `U`

where `T impls OrderedWith(U)`

and `U impls OrderedWith(T)`

, and values `a: T`

and `b: U`

:

- If
`a.(OrderedWith.Compare)(b)`

is`Ordering.Greater`

, then`b.(OrderedWith.Compare)(a)`

is`Ordering.Less`

, and the other way around. - Otherwise,
`a.(OrderedWith.Compare)(b)`

returns the same value as`b.(OrderedWith.Compare)(a)`

.

There is no expectation that an `Ordered`

implementation be a total order, a weak order, or a partial order, and in particular the implementation for floating-point types is none of these because NaN values do not compare less than or equivalent to themselves.

**TODO:** The standard library should provide a way to specify that an ordering is a weak, partial, or total ordering, and a way to request such an ordering in a checked generic.

#### Compatibility of equality and ordering

There is no requirement that a pair of types that implements `OrderedWith`

also implements `EqWith`

. If a pair of types does implement both, however, the equality relation provided by `x.(EqWith.Equal)(y)`

should be a refinement of the equivalence relation provided by `x.(OrderedWith.Compare)(y) == Ordering.Equivalent`

.

#### Custom result types

**TODO:** Support a lower-level extensibility mechanism that allows a result type other than `bool`

.

### Default implementations for basic types

In addition to being defined for standard Carbon numeric types, equality and relational comparisons are also defined for all “data” types:

Relational comparisons for these types provide a lexicographical ordering. In each case, the comparison is only available if it is supported by all element types.

Because implicit conversions between data classes can reorder fields, the implementations for data classes do not permit implicit conversions on their arguments in general. Instead:

- Equality comparisons are permitted between any two data classes that have the same
*unordered set*of field names, if each corresponding pair of fields has an`EqWith`

implementation. Fields are compared in the order they appear in the left-hand operand. - Relational comparisons are permitted between any two data classes that have the same
*ordered sequence*of field names, if each corresponding pair of fields has an`OrderedWith`

implementation. Fields are compared in order.

Comparisons between tuples permit implicit conversions for either operand, but not both.

## Open questions

The `bool`

type should be treated as a choice type, and so should support equality comparisons and relational comparisons if and only if choice types do in general. That decision is left to a future proposal.

## Alternatives considered

- Alternative symbols
- Chained comparisons
- Convert operands like C++
- Provide a three-way comparison operator
- Allow comparisons as the operand of
`not`

- Rename
`OrderedWith`

to`ComparableWith`

## References

- Proposal #702: Comparison operators
- Proposal #1178: Rework operator interfaces
- Issue #710: Default comparison for data classes