Evolution of the for loop in java

2 minute read

Let’s show the different alternatives of the for loop in java applied to a List

Defining the List<String> we will use across the code:

List<String> names = Arrays.asList("foo", "bar", "baz", "foobar", "raboof");

Standard for loop

this is the for loop found in different programming languages

for (int i = 0; i < names.size(); i++) {

Iterator for loop

slightly variation of the standard for loop, note how we keep all 3 parts of the standard for loop but the break condition uses the i.hasNext() and the increment is in the loop’s body as i.next()

for (Iterator<String> i = names.iterator(); i.hasNext(); ) {

forEach loop

this loop was added in Java5. note how the above Iterator ceremony has been replaced by this new approach although not a silver bullet it is a very convenient way of forward traversing this Collection

for (String name : names) {

forEach Loop associated to a Collection

with lambda expression

J8 added the forEach to Collections removing a bit more of the ceremony and clutter from before. here with a lambda expression that takes 1 List item as an argument and passes it to a function to process.

names.forEach(name -> doSomething(name));

with method reference

same as above, but we replaced the lambda expression with a method reference this removes all redundant mentions to arguments to be processed by a given function.


forEach loop associated to the Iterator interface

also added in J8 and thou called forEachRemaining(), according to the javadocs, this for loop is implemented by default behaving as while(hasNext()) if you go to the actual Oracle’s hotSpot class you will see that it actually is a while loop!

private static void iteratorForEachRemaining() {
    Iterator<String> iterator = names.iterator();
    iterator.forEachRemaining(name -> doSomething(name));

//or why not with a method::reference
private static void iteratorForEachRemaining() {
    Iterator<String> iterator = names.iterator();

BONUS - the ListIterator<T>

an oldie not very common to see… the ListIterator<T> added in J2 is close to the iterator with the added possibility of backwards traversing a list.

it is basically used as an iterator with the difference that when you want to traverse backwards a List you specify the element on the List you want use as the point from where you want to move backwards. We are going to start from the very end of the List in this example to show reverse traversing.


// traversing forward
// same form as the Iterator  but we use the ListIterator interface instead
for (ListIterator<String> listIterator = names.listIterator(); listIterator.hasNext(); ) {


// traversing backwards
// we specify here the size of the list to position the iterator cursor at the very end of the list
for (ListIterator<String> listIterator = names.listIterator(names.size()); listIterator.hasPrevious(); ) {