There are a lot of opinions on how return statements should work.

  • Some say that there should be a single point of return in a function,
  • Some day we should return as early as possible,
  • Some day multiple return statements are fine,
  • And some say that, when applicable, return as early as possible.

I’m sure I’m missing some, but all of these are ones I’m sure the majority of you have seen. And though I don’t hold either of these to be law, I think there’s a time and a place for each.

I’m a fan of the early return statement. In my mind, the sooner we can determine we don’t need to do the work of a function, the better we just leave.

For example, say we know if we’re not on a certain page, we can go ahead and leave the function:

In this case, it makes sense because:

  1. You only want to perform work on the plugins.php page,
  2. The amount of work to be done in the function is larger than what should ever fit within a conditional.

But there’s an alternative when the amount of work is less than what’s above.

Don’t Perform an Early Return

Say for example you’re working with the activate_plugin or deactivate_plugins hooks. Further, you have a class responsible for managing the cache.

When this is the case, the code may look something like this:

But it’s longer than it needs to be, returns early when it doesn’t have to do, and can be consolidated into something that’s easier to read and makes for a smaller function.

For example:

The gist of it is this:

  1. The conditional can be negated,
  2. The work that was to be done after the early return can be moved into the conditional,
  3. And we get smaller, clearer code.

This is but one example as to when/or this can be used; however, it’s worth considering if your could couldn’t be abstracted even further. That is, if you have code that could be wrapped in a function that creates a higher level of conhesion, maybe you should do that and then remove the early return statement. Or maybe not.

I don’t know the use case for your specific code or what you’re trying to build. But the point is that I recommend don’t perform an early return unless it makes the code easier to follow.