PHP: BREAK and CONTINUE from Nested Routines (Such as loops and switch statements)

One of the most frequent “gotchas” that I run into are breaking out of loops properly.

Its one of those things that I don’t really think about when I’m banging out code,  and that I can miss when I go back to see why things aren’t working.

I’m currently working on a project that requires me to parse through comments entered into our Meditech Hospital Information System,  looking for key phrases and performing certain actions based on these key phrases.

The issue is that the comments are a single string (meaning that users may enter several things into the same field (its a Meditech thing),  and that this is free text.

I won’t bore you with the details, but suffice it to say, “Yay Reg Ex!” 🙂

The routine I’m working on looks to see if the user entered a month if a particular code (EDD) has been entered into the field.

That was easy enough,  but what I found that some users would enter a numeric month day,  or day month.

So I did a preg_match to find that.   I found that the script would hit this every time,  even though I placed it where it should only run if the month string wasn’t found.

I quickly realized that the break statement I placed to break out of the month search loop was only breaking out of the case statement!  So when it went looking for the next month,  it wouldn’t find it and as such would run the digit match routine!

The way to handle this is really easy…both the break and continue statements in PHP have optional integer arguments where you can specify how many structures to break out of!

Don’t worry,  I’m not going to paste in my whole solution and let you find the interesting bits.  You can always contact me if you’d like more detail on the project I describe.

In this example I’ll show you how to use continue from loops and nested loops.
You can use the same logic for breaks.

foreach($results as $row) {

 if ($row['text'] == 'EDD') {
 continue; //this will skip to the next $results;

 foreach($pattern as $check) {
 if ($check['action'] == 'edd') {
 //do something here
 continue; // continue to the next $pattern
 } else {
 if ($something == $thathing) {
 continue 2; // continue to the next $results
 } else {
 break 2; //breaks out of $results


In this example I’ll show you how to break out of a switch case statement

foreach($results as $row) {
 switch($row['text']) {
 case 'edd':
 if ($datacheck == 'yes') { //something indicating that you're finished processing $results
 //some code here
 break 2; //breaks out of both switch and $results
 } else {
 continue; //jumps to next $results
 break; // case break
 //switch value wasn't handled

Hopefully you found this useful. Please feel free to ask questions or suggest improvements in the comments section!


6 thoughts on “PHP: BREAK and CONTINUE from Nested Routines (Such as loops and switch statements)

    • There are a lot of coders who think that needing to use break or continue makes you bad.

      Its a to each their own thing.

      Working in a hospital environment pulling from different data sources of varying quality, fault tolerance is my priority (especially working with patient systems).

      The comment fields I mention are fixed length, and free text.

      I have about 20 regex patterns that I search each one for (and I need to do all 20 on each comment).

      For instance, a comment might look like this:


      I need to find EDD and the MAR 15 (which could be entered as 0315 etc).

      I also need to find MEDICINE (indicating that the patient is waiting for a bed on the General Medicine Service, and the ALC (and with that the CCC).

      So, if I see EDD (estimated discharge date), I need to know the approximate date of the discharge.
      I run through a loop of regex patterns that would cover every thing I can think of a user using to define a month).
      If I hit that, I want to break out of the month pattern search and move to the next pattern search.

      There are a lot of other subsearches that must be performed.

      I can’t use an NLP library because of terminology and string format.

      If there is an easier way, I’d love to hear any suggestions.


      • Thanks!

        That’s a good idea!

        I confess that regex is something I struggle with, but I forced myself to start learning it for this task.

        Good thing too, as the task I’m working on right now involves parsing street addresses from free text fields with no rhyme or reason as to their format.

        Question to make sure I understand your suggestion…

        I would do a quick match on a pattern string containing all patterns I’m looking for, and if there’s a match, I would run the current process?

        Hopefully that doesn’t sound as dumb as it did when I typed it.


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