Usage in Python
- When do I use for loops?
for loops are traditionally used when you have a block of code which you want to repeat a fixed number of times. The Python for statement iterates over the members of a sequence in order, executing the block each time. Contrast the for statement with the ''while'' loop, used when a condition needs to be checked each iteration, or to repeat a block of code forever. For example:
For loop from 0 to 2, therefore running 3 times.
for x in range(0, 3): print "We're on time %d" % (x)
While loop from 1 to infinity, therefore running forever.
x = 1 while True: print "To infinity and beyond! We're getting close, on %d now!" % (x) x += 1
As you can see, these loop constructs serve different purposes. The for loop runs for a fixed amount - in this case, 3, while the while loop runs until the loop condition changes; in this example, the condition is the boolean True which will never change, so it could theoretically run forever. You could use a for loop with a huge number in order to gain the same effect as a while loop, but what's the point of doing that when you have a construct that already exists? As the old saying goes, "why try to reinvent the wheel?".
- How do they work?
If you've done any programming before, you have undoubtedly come across a for loop or an equivalent to it. Many languages have conditions in the syntax of their for loop, such as a relational expression to determine if the loop is done, and an increment expression to determine the next loop value. In Python this is controlled instead by generating the appropriate sequence. Basically, any object with an iterable method can be used in a for loop. Even strings, despite not having an iterable method - but we'll not get on to that here. Having an iterable method basically means that the data can be presented in list form, where there are multiple values in an orderly fashion. You can define your own iterables by creating an object with next() and iter() methods. This means that you'll rarely be dealing with raw numbers when it comes to for loops in Python - great for just about anyone!
- Nested loops
When you have a block of code you want to run x number of times, then a block of code within that code which you want to run y number of times, you use what is known as a "nested loop". In Python, these are heavily used whenever someone has a list of lists - an iterable object within an iterable object.
for x in xrange(1, 11): for y in xrange(1, 11): print '%d * %d = %d' % (x, y, x*y)
- Early exits
Like the while loop, the for loop can be made to exit before the given object is finished. This is done using the break statement, which will immediately drop out of the loop and contine execution at the first statement after the block. You can also have an optional else clause, which will run should the for loop exit cleanly - that is, without breaking.
for x in xrange(3): if x == 1: break
Things to remember
- range vs xrange
The ''range'' is seen so often in for statements that you might think range is part of the for syntax. It is not: it is a Python built-in function which returns a sequence, which meets the requirement of providing a sequence for the for statement to iterate over. In Python 2.x, range generates the entire sequence when called, while xrange is a generator - it produces values on demand, not all up fromt. You will often see xrange is used much more frequently than range. This is for one reason only - resource usage. For large sequences, the difference in memory usage can be considerable. xrange uses less memory, and should the for loop exit early, there's no need to waste time creating the unused numbers. This effect is tiny in smaller lists, but increases rapidly in larger lists as you can see in the examples below. For Python 3.x, range was changed, you can think of it as being equivalent to the Python 2.x xrange, which no longer is defined in Python 3.x.
for x in xrange(3): print x else: print 'Final x = %d' % (x)
Strings as an iterable
string = "Hello World" for x in string: print x
Lists as an iterable
collection = ['hey', 5, 'd'] for x in collection: print x
Loop over Lists of lists
list_of_lists = [ [1, 2, 3], [4, 5, 6], [7, 8, 9]] for list in list_of_lists: for x in list: print x
Creating your own iterable
class Iterable(object): def __init__(self,values): self.values = values self.location = 0 def __iter__(self): return self def next(self): if self.location == len(self.values): raise StopIteration value = self.values[self.location] self.location += 1 return value
range vs xrange (Python 2)
import time #use time.time() on Linux start = time.clock() for x in range(10000000): pass stop = time.clock() print stop - start start = time.clock() for x in xrange(10000000): pass stop = time.clock() print stop - start
Time on small ranges
import time #use time.time() on Linux start = time.clock() for x in range(1000): pass stop = time.clock() print stop-start start = time.clock() for x in xrange(1000): pass stop = time.clock() print stop-start
Your own range generator using yield
def my_range(start, end, step): while start <= end: yield start start += step for x in my_range(1, 10, 0.5): print x