This blog post is not about micro-optimization nor about what you have to use. Neither, it is about how compilers can optimize two common flow constructs. The knowledge may provide enough background information to sharpen the view and provides enough insights what construct to use for which usage.

The following if-else statement is compiled on x86_64 with -O6 into the following ASM sequence:

int main(int ac, char **av) {
  if (a == 0) foo();
  else if (a == 1) bar();
  else if (a == 2) shu();
   subq  $8, %rsp
   .cfi_def_cfa_offset 16
   cmpl  $0, %edi
   je  .L19
   cmpl  $1, %edi
   je  .L20
   cmpl  $2, %edi
   je  .L21
   .p2align 4,,5
   jne .L13

The if-else statement is translated into a conditional sequence of cmp and conditional jump instruction.

A identical switch/case construct can be optimized because the compiler can generate a jump table of complexity(1) compared to a complexity of O(n) where the compiler generate a ordinary conditional construct. So if you had to branch into multiple targets and the argument is a integer a switch/case statement is superior. Requirement is that labels are dense. If not the fallback is to use the conditional jump chain.

switch (ac) {
case 1: foo(ac); break;
case 2: bar(ac); break;
case 3: sho(ac); break;

L18 is the label where the jump tables is saved. The jmp instruction will jump to the right label:

  subq  $8, %rsp
  .cfi_def_cfa_offset 16
  cmpl  $5, %edi
  ja  .L12
  mov %edi, %edi
  jmp *.L18(,%rdi,8)
  .section  .rodata
  .align 8
  .align 4
  .quad .L12
  .quad .L13
  .quad .L14
  .p2align 4,,10
  .p2align 3

If you have _some_ items the if-else statement is sufficient fast and no differences are measurable. But for many entries you should definitely use a switch/case statement. And by the way: a switch/case statement is often more eye pleasant to understand and can be considered as a list of coequal options. But anyway it is a micro-optimizations and does not affect your code (exceptions are omitted). If you write code often and you are free to choose the right construct why not to pick up the more efficient one? But as always in programming: readability and maintainability are of higher interest.

Another tip: sometimes I see code something like this:

if (!strcmp(arg, "foo")) foo();
else if (!strcmp(arg, "bar")) bar();
else if (!strcmp(arg, "shu")) shu();

The delicate issue of this construct is that the key (here arg) is compared multiple time in the program - not in one place but several times arg must be considered. The key is constant and do never change and strcmp() isn't the lightweight function. The more intelligent approach is to map the key to a enum/int type at program start and use a switch/case construct afterwards:

int map(const char *arg) {
if (!strcmp(arg, "foo")) return TYPE_FOO;
else if (!strcmp(arg, "bar")) return TYPE_BAR;
else if (!strcmp(arg, "shu")) retrn TYPE_SHU;

int main(int ac, char **av) {
  const int type = map(av[0]);
  switch (type) {
    case TYPE_FOO: return foo();
    case TYPE_BAR: return bar();
    case TYPE_SHU: return shu();

A last sidenote: if you are mainly interested on the function call than another superior construct is a function pointer array where the type is the index into the array. But this is more specific but on the other hand the most efficient usage for this scenario.