GOTO still considered harmful?


Everyone is aware of Dijkstra's Letters to the editor: go to statement considered harmful (also here .html transcript and here .pdf) and there has been a formidable push since that time to eschew the goto statement whenever possible. While it's possible to use goto to produce unmaintainable, sprawling code, it nevertheless remains in modern programming languages. Even the advanced continuation control structure in Scheme can be described as a sophisticated goto.

What circumstances warrant the use of goto? When is it best to avoid?

As a followup question: C provides a pair of functions, setjmp and longjmp, that provide the ability to goto not just within the current stack frame but within any of the calling frames. Should these be considered as dangerous as goto? More dangerous?

Dijkstra himself regretted that title, for which he was not responsible. At the end of EWD1308 (also here .pdf) he wrote:

Finally a short story for the record.
In 1968, the Communications of the ACM
published a text of mine under the
title "The goto statement considered
", which in later years would
be most frequently referenced,
regrettably, however, often by authors
who had seen no more of it than its
title, which became a cornerstone of
my fame by becoming a template: we
would see all sorts of articles under
the title "X considered harmful" for
almost any X, including one titled
"Dijkstra considered harmful". But
what had happened? I had submitted a
paper under the title "A case against
the goto statement
", which, in order
to speed up its publication, the
editor had changed into a "letter to
the Editor", and in the process he had
given it a new title of his own
invention! The editor was Niklaus

A well thought out classic paper about this topic, to be matched to that of Dijkstra, is Structured Programming with go to Statements, by Donald E. Knuth. Reading both helps to reestablish context and a non-dogmatic understanding of the subject. In this paper, Dijkstra's opinion on this case is reported and is even more strong:

Donald E. Knuth: I believe that by presenting such a
view I am not in fact disagreeing
sharply with Dijkstra's ideas, since
he recently wrote the following:
"Please don't fall into the trap of
believing that I am terribly
dogmatical about [the go to
statement]. I have the uncomfortable
feeling that others are making a
religion out of it, as if the
conceptual problems of programming
could be solved by a single trick, by
a simple form of coding discipline!

Best Answer


A coworker of mine said the only reason to use a GOTO is if you programmed yourself so far into a corner that it is the only way out. In other words, proper design ahead of time and you won't need to use a GOTO later.

I thought this comic illustrates that beautifully "I could restructure the program's flow, or use one little 'GOTO' instead." A GOTO is a weak way out when you have weak design. Velociraptors prey on the weak.

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