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Less-than sign

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Title: Less-than sign  
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Subject: GSM 03.38, ISO/IEC 8859-3, ISO/IEC 8859-8, Greater-than sign, EBCDIC 273
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Less-than sign

The less-than sign is a sign of inequality. The less-than symbol is used in various operations that usually pertain to work being worse mathematically or with a programming language. The symbol looks similar to a sideways "V" and is generally used to show inequality between two numbers or expressions. In mathematics, if there are two expressions being compared as an inequality, the less-than symbol usually goes between the two and symbolizes that the first number is less than the second number, for example 2<4 or x<102. The symbol can also be used to the left of a single number to denote the concept of any lesser number, for example "less than 4" would be written as <4. There are other combinations of the less-than symbol and the 'equals' symbol and multiple less-than symbols which are also used mathematically and computationally.

Less than symbol


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 angle bracket (⟨). ASCII does not have angle brackets.

Programming language

In BASIC, 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 guillemet («). ASCII does not have much-less-than sign or guillemets.

In Bash, Perl, and Ruby, operator < (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.

Triple less-than sign

In PHP, operator << is used to denote the beginning of a heredoc statement (where OUTPUT is an arbitrary named variable.)

In Bash, << 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 less-than-or-equal-to sign.

In BASIC, Lisp-family languages, and C-family languages (including Java and C++), operator <= means "less than or equal to".

In Fortran, operator .LE. means "less than or equal to".

In Bourne shell and Windows PowerShell, operator -le means "less than or equal to".

Shell scripts

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.

Spaceship operator

Less-than sign is used in the spaceship operator.


In HTML (and SGML and XML), the less-than sign is used at the beginning of tags. The less-than sign may be included with <. The less-than-or-equal-to sign may be included with .


In an inequality, the less-than sign always "points" to the smaller number. Put another way, the "jaws" always go for the larger number.

See also

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