The less-than sign is a mathematical symbol that denotes an inequality between two values. The widely adopted form of two equal-length strokes connecting in an acute angle at the left, <, has been found in documents dated as far back as the 1560s. In typical mathematical usage, the less-than sign is typically placed between the two values being compared and signals that the first number is less than the second number. Examples of typical usage include ½ < 1 and −2 < 1. Since the development of computer programming languages, the less-than sign and the greater-than sign have been repurposed for a range of uses and operations.
The less-than sign
) is an original ASCII
character (hex 3C, decimal 60).
The less-than sign is used for an approximation of the opening Bracket (⟨). ASCII does not have angle brackets.
, Lisp-family languages, and C-family languages (including Java and C++), operator <
means "less than".
In Coldfusion, operator .lt. means "less than".
In Fortran, operator .LT. means "less than"; later versions allow <.
In Bourne shell, operator -lt means "less than".
Double less-than sign
The double less-than sign (<<
) is used for an approximation of the much-less-than sign (≪) or of the opening Guillemets
(«). ASCII does not have much-less-than sign.
In Bash, Perl, and Ruby, operator <<EOF (where "EOF" is an arbitrary string, but commonly "EOF" denoting "end of file") is used to denote the beginning of a here document.
In C and C++, operator << represents a binary left shift.
In the C++ Standard Library, operator <<, when applied on an output stream, acts as insertion operator and performs an output operation on the stream.
In Ruby, operator << acts as append operator when used between an array and the value to be appended.
Triple less-than sign
, operator <<<OUTPUT
is used to denote the beginning of a here document
statement (where OUTPUT
is an arbitrary named variable.)
In Bash, <<<word is used as a "here string", where word is expanded and supplied to the command on its standard input, similar to a heredoc.
Less-than sign plus equals sign
The less-than sign plus the equals sign (<=
) is used for an approximation of the less-than-or-equal-to sign (≤). ASCII does not have a less-than-or-equal-to sign, but Unicode
defines it at code point U+2264.
In BASIC, Lisp-family languages, and C-family languages (including Java and C++), operator <= means "less than or equal to". In Sinclair BASIC it is encoded as a single-byte code point token.
In Fortran, operator .LE. means "less than or equal to".
In Bourne shell and Windows PowerShell, the operator -le means "less than or equal to".
Less-than sign plus Hyphen-minus
In the R programming language, the less-than sign is used in conjunction with a hyphen-minus
to create an arrow (<-), this can be used as the left assignment operator.
In Bourne shell
(and many other shells), less-than sign is used to redirect input from a file. Less-than plus ampersand (<&
) is used to redirect from a file descriptor
Less-than sign is used in the spaceship operator.
(and SGML and XML
), the less-than sign is used at the beginning of tags. The less-than sign may be included with &lt;. The less-than-or-equal-to sign may be included with &le;.
In an inequality, the less-than sign always "points" to the smaller number. Put another way, the "jaws" (the wider section of the symbol) always direct to the larger number.