END - The Next Step

Revision  2017-03-02


Forth word EXIT is used to immediately terminate execution of the definition in which it appears and to return to the
calling function. EXIT is typically found within conditional statements. An example is ELSE elimination - a technique
used in Forth to improve efficiency. It works as follows.

A definition is found to terminate with an IF ELSE THEN statement:

: WORD1 ... ( flag) IF  A  ELSE  B  THEN ;

It can be rewritten thus:

: WORD2 ... ( flag) IF  A  EXIT  THEN  B ;

The advantage of the latter is faster execution of A since the unconditional jump represented by ELSE is eliminated.
Code size is also reduced.


The sequence EXIT THEN occurs so frequently in Forth that it can outnumber other control structures such as
BEGIN WHILE REPEAT . An examination of source files supplied with several well-known Forth systems revealed
counts in the hundreds. Given the large numbers, consideration was given as to whether a new control flow word might
replace the sequence EXIT THEN - the object being simpler and clearer Forth code.

Similar optimizations already exist in Forth, for example REPEAT , which replaces the sequence AGAIN THEN . The
function of THEN in this instance is to inform the compiler where to direct the branch from WHILE. From a language
perspective only one word is necessary REPEAT to describe the action at run-time. The same is true of EXIT THEN.
THEN may be hidden since it exists only for the benefit of the compiler at compile-time. END is the suggested word to
replace EXIT THEN.

The name END was formerly used as a synonym for UNTIL in Fig-FORTH however even in the day its use was
exceptional. Importantly no current Forth system appears to use END making it available for the purpose proposed here.

Using END the previous definition would be written:

: WORD2 ... ( flag) IF  A  END  B ;

Occasionally conditional code may contain an EXIT that is not directly followed by THEN making substitution with
END problematic e.g.

( flag)  IF  A  EXIT  ELSE  B  THEN

Notice however use of ELSE here is redundant as it generates a jump that is never executed. Since it serves no purpose
the ELSE may be removed and the function then reduces to:

( flag)  IF  A  END  B

Other Uses

An important use of END is in CASE statements where it can be used to perform the equivalent of ELSE elimination.
Consider the following code fragment taken from a commercial application:

  0  KEY $20 OR  CASE
    [CHAR] n OF  ...  1-  ENDOF
    [CHAR] s OF  ...  1-  ENDOF
    [CHAR] r OF  ...  1-  ENDOF
    [CHAR] f OF  ...  1-  ENDOF

With an appropriate implementation of OF it may be replaced with:

  KEY $20 OR
  [CHAR] n OF  ...  END
  [CHAR] s OF  ...  END
  [CHAR] r OF  ...  END
  [CHAR] f OF  ...  END

By replacing ENDOF with END the need to maintain a flag and code to effect an exit is eliminated resulting in simpler
more efficient code.

The Future of EXIT

The consequence of replacing EXIT THEN with END is a dramatic reduction in the use of EXIT. Such will be the
impact that the very appearance of Forth code will change. Apart from a few specialized uses, EXIT will largely
disappear from Forth programs. Such a change should not be seen as a revolution, but rather a stepping stone in Forth's


The benefit of replacing EXIT THEN in Forth source with END is simpler and more readable code. Other word pairs
ending with THEN may also be found in Forth but none occur in such numbers as EXIT THEN . Use of END within
Case statements as a short-cut exit mechanism is both desirable and significant, avoiding the need for specialized CASE


Sample definitions

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Page updated: 2017-03-02