Dart: Return Multiple Values From a Function

In Dart, as in many programming languages, functions are fundamental building blocks. Typically, a function takes inputs, performs some operations, and returns a result. But what if you need to return more than one value from a function? This is a common scenario in programming, where a single operation might yield multiple pieces of data that are all important for the calling code.

For instance, consider a function that processes a transaction. It might need to return both a status message and a transaction ID. In traditional programming, a function is designed to return a single value, so handling multiple values can be a challenge.

This is where Dart’s flexibility comes into play. Dart, a modern language designed for conciseness and expressiveness, offers several ways to return multiple values from a function. Each method has its own advantages and use cases, and understanding these can significantly enhance your coding practices in Dart.

Returning multiple values is not just about getting more data out of a function. It’s about writing clearer, more maintainable code. When functions return multiple related values together, it reflects a coherent operation. It also helps in reducing the complexity of code by avoiding the need for global variables or complex data structures just to share additional information.

In the following sections, we’ll explore various methods Dart provides for returning multiple values from a function. These methods range from using collections like Lists and Maps, to more sophisticated approaches like Tuples and custom objects. Each method has its own use cases, and we’ll delve into these, providing you with the knowledge to choose the best approach for your specific scenario.

Essential Methods for Returning Multiple Values

Using Collections (Arrays, Lists, Maps)

Collections in Dart, such as Arrays, Lists, and Maps, are some of the simplest and most intuitive ways to return multiple values from a function. These data structures can hold multiple elements, making them ideal for functions that need to output more than one value.

Arrays and Lists:

  • Arrays and Lists in Dart are ordered collections of elements. They are perfect for returning multiple values that have an inherent order or when each element in the collection is of the same type.
  • Example Usage:
List<String> getUserDetails(int userId) {
  // Some processing to find the user
  String name = "John Doe";
  String email = "[email protected]";
  // Returning multiple values as a list
  return [name, email];

In this example, getUserDetails returns a List containing a user’s name and email. The calling function can then access these values using their indices.


  • Maps are collections of key-value pairs. They are particularly useful when you want to return values that are easily identifiable by a key.
  • Example Usage:
Map<String, dynamic> processPayment(double amount) {
  // Payment processing logic
  String status = "Success";
  String transactionId = "TX123456";
  // Returning a map with keys
  return {'status': status, 'transactionId': transactionId};
  • Here, processPayment returns a Map with a status and a transaction ID. The keys ‘status’ and ‘transactionId’ make it easy to access these values without having to remember the order of elements, as would be the case with a List.

Advantages of Using Collections:

  • Simplicity: Collections are straightforward to use and understand. They require no additional setup or custom code.
  • Flexibility: They can store any type of data, and you can return as many values as needed.
  • Built-in Support: Dart has robust support for collections, providing a wide array of methods to manipulate these data structures.


  • Type Safety: When using Lists, all elements typically should be of the same type. Maps can have mixed types but require key management.
  • Readability: In some cases, especially with Lists, it can be unclear what each returned value represents. Maps offer better clarity through keys.

Utilizing Tuples

Tuples are another powerful way to return multiple values from a function in Dart. Unlike Lists and Maps, Tuples allow you to group different types of elements together, yet maintain their individual types. Dart doesn’t have native tuple support like some other languages, but tuples can be easily utilized through packages such as tuple.

How Tuples Work in Dart:

1. Using a Package:

To use Tuples in Dart, you typically need to add a package like tuple to your project’s dependencies.

  • Example of Adding Tuple Package: In your pubspec.yaml, add:
  tuple: ^2.0.0

2. Returning Multiple Values with Tuples:

  • Tuples are particularly useful when the values you’re returning don’t fit naturally into a List or Map, especially when they are of different types and there’s a fixed number of them.
  • Example Usage:
import 'package:tuple/tuple.dart';

Tuple2<String, int> calculateScore(String player) {
  // Some logic to calculate score
  String status = "Active";
  int score = 50;
  // Returning status and score as a tuple
  return Tuple2(status, score);
  • In this example, calculateScore returns a Tuple2, which holds two values of different types (a String and an int). The Tuple2, Tuple3, etc., classes are part of the tuple package and allow you to return two, three, or more values, respectively.

Advantages of Using Tuples:

  • Type Safety: Each element in a tuple retains its own type, ensuring type safety.
  • Clarity: Tuples can make the intent of your code clearer, as each element can be of a different type and directly related to the function’s purpose.
  • Flexibility: They allow for returning a fixed number of values with different types without creating a custom class.


  • Package Dependency: Using tuples requires adding an external package, which adds a dependency to your project.
  • Limited to Fixed Size: Tuples have a fixed number of elements, so they’re not suitable for returning an unknown or variable number of values.
  • No Named Elements: Unlike Maps, tuple elements are accessed by their position, not a key, which can sometimes reduce clarity.

Implementing Custom Objects or Classes

Crafting custom classes or objects is a robust and highly flexible method for returning multiple values from a Dart function. This approach involves defining a new class that encapsulates all the values you want to return. It’s particularly useful when the data you’re returning is complex or needs to be used in an object-oriented way.

Creating Custom Classes for Multiple Return Values:

1. Defining a Custom Class:

  • You start by defining a class that represents the data structure you wish to return. This class can contain multiple fields, each potentially of a different data type.
  • Example:
class TransactionResult {
  String status;
  String transactionId;
  double amount;

  TransactionResult(this.status, this.transactionId, this.amount);
  • In this example, the TransactionResult class is created to encapsulate the status, transaction ID, and amount of a transaction.

2. Returning an Instance of the Class:

  • Your function will then create and return an instance of this custom class, providing a clear and structured way to return multiple values.
  • Example Usage:
TransactionResult processTransaction(double amount) {
  // Logic to process the transaction
  String status = "Success";
  String transactionId = "TX123456";
  // Returning an instance of the custom class
  return TransactionResult(status, transactionId, amount);
  • Here, processTransaction returns a TransactionResult object, which neatly packages the multiple pieces of information related to a transaction.

Advantages of Using Custom Classes:

  • Clarity and Structure: Custom classes make the code more readable and maintainable, especially when dealing with complex data structures.
  • Type Safety and Intellisense: Each field in the class has a defined type, and IDEs can provide autocomplete and type-checking features.
  • Reusability: Once defined, these classes can be used across the application, promoting code reuse.


  • Overhead of Class Definition: For simple cases, defining a whole new class might be overkill and can add unnecessary complexity.
  • Increased Codebase Size: Each custom class adds to the total amount of code you need to maintain.

Comparative Analysis of Methods

When returning multiple values from a Dart function, the choice between using collections, tuples, or custom classes largely depends on the specific requirements and complexity of your scenario. Here’s a comparative analysis of each method:

Collections (Arrays, Lists, Maps):

  • Efficiency and Suitability:
    • Best for simple, less structured data.
    • Ideal when all values are of the same type (Arrays, Lists) or when keys can provide context (Maps).
  • Example Scenario: Returning a pair of values like coordinates (x, y), or a simple set of related data like user attributes.


  • Efficiency and Suitability:
    • Suited for scenarios where a fixed number of values are returned, and each value can be of a different type.
    • Useful when the values are closely related and used together, but do not form a logical entity worthy of a separate class.
  • Example Scenario: Returning a status message and a numeric code from a validation function.

Custom Objects or Classes:

  • Efficiency and Suitability:
    • Ideal for complex data structures where values form a logical unit or entity.
    • Useful when additional methods or behavior are needed alongside the data.
  • Example Scenario: Returning detailed information from a transaction processing function, where the returned object might also have methods to further manipulate or query the transaction data.

Best Practices in Implementing Multiple Return Values

To maintain code readability, performance, and avoid common pitfalls:

Tips for Readability and Performance:

  1. Choose the Right Method: Use collections for simple data, tuples for fixed-size and type-safe returns, and custom classes for complex and structured data.
  2. Clear Naming Conventions: Especially important for collections and tuples where the purpose of each value might not be immediately clear.
  3. Avoid Over-Engineering: Don’t create complex structures when a simple one suffices. Overuse of custom classes for simple returns can clutter your codebase.
  4. Documentation: Document functions and return types well, particularly when using tuples or custom classes, to make it clear what each part of the returned value represents.

Avoiding Common Pitfalls and Errors:

  1. Type Mismatches: Ensure the types of values being returned match what the function signature specifies, particularly when using collections or tuples.
  2. Overloading Functions with Multiple Returns: Resist the temptation to make a function return different types of collections or tuples based on different conditions. This can make your code hard to understand and maintain.
  3. Handling Nulls: Be cautious with nullable types. Ensure that your function handles null values gracefully, especially in Dart, where null safety is a key feature.
  4. Performance Considerations: For collections and custom classes, be aware of the memory and performance implications, especially if returning large sets of data or complex objects.

Advanced Considerations

Leveraging Generics for Flexible Return Types:

Generics in Dart provide a way to write flexible and reusable functions and classes that can work with multiple types.

Using Generics in Return Types:

  • Generics can be used in functions to return data of various types without specifying the exact type in the function definition.
  • This approach is beneficial when you want to write a utility function that can return different types of collections or objects based on the input it receives.

T getValue<T>(String key, Map<String, dynamic> data) {
  return data[key] as T;

In this example, the getValue function can return a value of any type specified when calling the function. This makes the function highly flexible and reusable.

Handling Asynchronous Functions and Multiple Returns:

Asynchronous programming is a core part of Dart, especially with its widespread use in Flutter for UI rendering and I/O operations.

Returning Multiple Values Asynchronously:

  • When dealing with asynchronous operations, you may need to return multiple values from a function that performs such operations.
  • Futures and Streams can be utilized to handle asynchronous return values.
Example with Future:

Future<Tuple2<String, int>> fetchUserData(int userId) async {
  // Async operation to fetch user data
  String name = await fetchName(userId);
  int age = await fetchAge(userId);
  return Tuple2(name, age);

Here, fetchUserData is an asynchronous function that fetches a user’s name and age and returns them as a Tuple.


Summary of Key Takeaways and Best Practices:

  1. Choosing the Right Method: Select the most appropriate method (collections, tuples, or custom classes) based on the complexity and structure of the data you need to return.
  2. Emphasizing Code Clarity: Use clear naming conventions and document your functions well to ensure that the purpose and structure of the returned values are understandable.
  3. Maintaining Type Safety: Be vigilant about type mismatches, especially when using collections or tuples.
  4. Handling Asynchronous Returns: Utilize Futures and Streams effectively when dealing with asynchronous functions that need to return multiple values.
Hussain Humdani

Hussain Humdani

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