Optional types in Onyx represent something that may or may not contain a value. They are simply written as ? T, where T is the type that they optional may contain.

You may wonder why its written as ? T instead of T?. This is to prevent ambiguity. For example, if you see [] T?, is this an optional slice of T (([] T)?)? or a slice of optional T ([] (T?))? To avoid this problem the optional specifier is placed in the same place as the pointer/slice/etc. specifiers.

Internally, Optional types are simply defined as a polymorphic union called Optional in the builtin package. They are just given the special ? T syntax to mean Optional(T). These are equivalent.

Using Optionals

Optionals have been designed to be used ergonomically within your codebase, without much overhead.

Here is an incorrect example of function that gets the last element of an array. It is incorrect because it does not correctly handle the case where the array is empty.

array_last :: (arr: [] $T) -> T {
    return arr[arr.count - 1];

array_last(.[1, 2, 3]) // returns 3
array_last(.[])        // undefined behavior

The only change we need to make to make this correct, all we need to change is the return type to ? T, and add a check for an empty array. The correct code would look like so.

array_last :: (arr: [] $T) -> ? T {
    // If the array is empty. Equivalent to arr.count == 0
    if !arr {
        // Return an empty instance of ? T, which is a None.
        return .{};

    // This will implicitly cast from a T to a ? T.
    return arr[arr.count - 1];

array_last(.[1, 2, 3]); // returns Some(3)
array_last(.[]);        // returns None

If we wanted to get the value stored in an optional, we have a couple of options. We could,

  • Use one of the builtin methods on Optional, like unwrap, value_or, or or_else.
  • Use the try operator (?) force getting the value, or returning .{} from the nearest block.
  • Use the coalese operator (??).
  • Use a switch statement with a capture
// `o` is an optional i32.
o: ? i32 = 123;

v1 := o->unwrap();         // Cause an assertion failure if it doesn't exist
v2 := o->value_or(0);      // Provide a default value
v3 := o->or_else(() => 0); // Provide a default value, wrapped in a function

v4 := o?;     // If no value exists, execute `return .{}`;
v5 := o ?? 0; // Equivalent to `->value_or(0)`;

switch o {
    case .None {
        // No value

    case .Some as v6 {
        // v6 is the value