3.9. Not using Return ValuesΒΆ

Some functions return a value, and get used as an expression in a larger calling statement. The calling statement uses the value returned. Usually the only effect of such a value-returning function is from the value returned.

Some functions are void, and get used as a whole instruction in your code: Without returning a value, the only way to be useful is to do something that leaves some lasting side effect: make some change to the system that persists after the termination of the function and its local variables disappear. The only such effect that we have seen so far is to print something that remains on the console screen. Later we will talk about other persistent changes to values in objects, locations in files, ....

Usually there is this division in the behavior of functions, returning a value or not:

  1. void: do something as a whole instruction, with a side effect in the larger system.
  2. Return a value to use in a larger calling statement

It is legal to do both: accomplish something with a side effect in the system, and return a value. Sometimes you care about both, and sometimes you use the function only for its side effect. We will see examples of that later, like in Sets.

This later advanced use will mean that the compiler needs to permit the programmer to ignore a returned value, and use a function returning a value as a whole statement.


This means that the compiler cannot catch a common logical error: forgetting to immediately use a returned value that your program logic really needs.

For example with this definition:

static int CalcResult(int param)
   int result;
   // ....
   result = ....;
   return result;

you might try to use CalcResult in this bad code, intending to use the result from CalcResult:

static void BadUseResult(int x)
   int result = 0;

In fact you would always print 0, ignoring the result calculated in CalcResult. The reason is the Local Scope rules: The local variable name result disappears when the CalcResult function returns. It is not used in the calling function, BadUseResult, and the separately declared result of BadUseResult retains its original 0 value.

Here we set up the worst situation: where there is a logical error, but not an error shown by the compiler. More commonly a student leaves out the int result = 0; line, incorrectly relying on the declaration of result in CalcResult. At least in that situation a compiler error brings attention to the problem: The last line would try to use the variable result without it being declared.

You can use the result from CalcResult, like with any other value-returning function, with either

int value = CalcResult(x);  //store the returned value in an assignment!
Console.WriteLine(value);   //  and then use the remembered value


Console.WriteLine(CalcResult(x)); // immediately use the returned value

This second version works as long as you do not need the returned value later, in another place, since you do not remember it past that one statement!