Usage in Python
- When do I use for loops?
For loops are traditionally used when you have a piece of code which you want to repeat n number of times. As an alternative, there is the WhileLoop, however, while is used when a condition is to be met, or if you want a piece of code to repeat 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 infinity times.
x = 1 while True: print "To infinity and beyond! We're getting close, on %d now!" % (x) x += 1
As you can see, they serve different purposes. The for loop runs for a fixed amount - in this case, 3, while the while loop theoretically runs 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, there's no doubt you've come across a for loop or an equivalent to it. In Python, they work a little differently. Basically, any object with an iterable method can be used in a for loop in Python. 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's 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 piece of code you want to run x number of times, then 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.
- 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 keyword, which will stop the code from executing any further. You can also have an optional else clause, which will run should the for loop exit cleanly - I.E., without breaking.
Things to remember
- range vs xrange
The range function creates a list containing numbers defined by the input. The xrange function creates a number generator. You will often see that xrange is used much more frequently than range. This is for one reason only - resource usage. The range function generates a list of numbers all at once, where as xrange generates them as needed. This means that less memory is used, 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 x in xrange(1, 11): for y in xrange(1, 11): print '%d * %d = %d' % (x, y, x*y)
for x in xrange(3): if x == 1: break
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
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
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