Asterisk Expression Truthiness

Stephen Colbert Sketch

Ever done any extensive Asterisk dial plan coding? If so, chances are you’ve been frustrated with Asterisk expressions at one point or another.

If you’re unfamiliar with Asterisk coding, you should read this awesome book on the subject.

NOTE: The following is written with Asterisk 1.6+ in mind. If you’re using an older version of Asterisk, this may not be completely true.

Asterisk Expression Basics

Asterisk expressions are used in various Asterisk dial plan applications, to help control the flow of your program. They are typically used as if statements to help branch logic.

Let’s look at an example from the latest version of FreePBX, an extremely popular open source Asterisk web front-end:

; Rings one or more extensions.  Handles things like call forwarding and
; DND. We don't call dial directly for anything internal anymore.
; ARGS: $TIMER, $OPTIONS, $EXT1, $EXT2, $EXT3, ...
; Use a Macro call such as the following:
;   Macro(dial,$DIAL_TIMER,$DIAL_OPTIONS,$EXT1,$EXT2,$EXT3,...)
exten => s,1,GotoIf($["${MOHCLASS}" = ""]?dial)
exten => s,n,SetMusicOnHold(${MOHCLASS})
exten => s,n(dial),AGI(dialparties.agi)
exten => s,n,NoOp(Returned from dialparties with no extensions to call and DIALSTATUS: ${DIALSTATUS})

In this short snippet, we see the Asterisk expression $["${MOHCLASS}" = ""]?dial. This short expression is the equivalent of the following pseudo code (which looks curiously like python):

def macro_dial(*args):
    global MOHCLASS

    if MOHCLASS:


Makes sense so far, right? Basically, if MOHCLASS is false, then the code will not execute the SetMusicOnHold application before performing a dial.

And of course, expressions aren’t limited to a single statement, they can be used pretty much anywhere. Here’s another snippet from the latest version of FreePBX:


exten => s,n,GosubIf($["${SCREEN}" != "" | "${DIALSTATUS}" = "ANSWER"]?${DIALSTATUS},1)

As you can see, expressions provide most common logical operators like AND, OR, NOT, etc.


In an attempt to demonstrate the truthiness of Asterisk expression, I’ll dissect the FreePBX code shown in the previous section.

Let’s start by testing all aspects of the original FreePBX expression:

exten => s,1,GotoIf($["${MOHCLASS}" = ""]?dial)

In order to test it, let’s run some dial plan code.

NOTE: I’m not showing the Asterisk output for any of the tests, because it would take an enormous amount of space and be essentially useless. So you can take my answers to be true (I’ve tested them, I promise!), or test it for yourself.

Test 1

The first thing we’ll test is what happens if the MOHCLASS doesn’t exist?

exten => s,n,GotoIf($["${MOHCLASS}" = ""]?dial)
exten => s,n(dial),NoOp()

The output of our first test shows that the expression resolves to true (1). That means that, $["${MOHCLASS}" = ""] can be used to test whether or not the MOHCLASS variable exists.

Test 2

In this test, we’ll see what happens if MOHCLASS has been defined, and set to a line of text.

exten => s,n,Set(MOHCLASS=hithere)
exten => s,n,GotoIf($["${MOHCLASS}" = ""]?dial)
exten => s,n(dial),NoOp()

This time, the expressions returns false (0). This makes sense, as we wouldn’t expect Asterisk to think that both "" and hithere are equal.

Test 3

Now, let’s see what happens if MOHCLASS is defined, and set to 0 (false).

exten => s,n,Set(MOHCLASS=0)
exten => s,n,GotoIf($["${MOHCLASS}" = ""]?dial)
exten => s,n(dial),NoOp()

Surprisingly, the expressions resolves to false. Therefore, 0 != "".

Test 4

How about if MOHCLASS is defined, but not assigned any value?

exten => s,n,Set(MOHCLASS=)
exten => s,n,GotoIf($["${MOHCLASS}" = ""]?dial)
exten => s,n(dial),NoOp()

This time, we get true (1). So if a variable is set, but has no value, the checking of the variable is equal to an empty string, e.g. "", will return true.

Test 5

And what if MOHCLASS is set to the empty string?

exten => s,n,Set(MOHCLASS="")
exten => s,n,GotoIf($["${MOHCLASS}" = ""]?dial)
exten => s,n(dial),NoOp()

Again, it resolves to true (1). So, as expected, "" = "".

Truthiness Table

To summarize what we’ve learned, here’s a simple truthiness table:

expression      true?
----------      -----
"" = ""         1
0 = ""          0
= ""            1
blah = ""       0
undef = ""      0

As you can see, Asterisk is (for the most part) relatively easy to comprehend when it comes to truthiness. The only surprising expression we encountered was the: 0 = "" expression, which is not true.


Got any questions? Feel free to shoot me an email or message me on twitter.