This question already has an answer here:

It seems to me that a while loop with the appropriate break statements can replace them entirely. I understand that a break statement may not feel as "smooth" as a for loop that does something a specified number of times, but I also feel that the redundancy in their behavior is unnecessary.

marked as duplicate by gnat, Jarrod Roberson, Ampt, GrandmasterB, user40980 Sep 30 '14 at 4:54

This question has been asked before and already has an answer. If those answers do not fully address your question, please ask a new question.

  • 3
    A lot of stuff is "redundant". Every control structure can be replaced by IFs and GOTOs. Try writing a complex software using only those and you'll come around to appreciating for loops. – whatsisname Sep 30 '14 at 2:06
  • 6
    A particular quote seems relevant here Programs must be written for people to read, and only incidentally for machines to execute. – jozefg Sep 30 '14 at 2:12
  • 1
    Sharing your research helps everyone. Tell us what you've tried and why it didn’t meet your needs. This demonstrates that you’ve taken the time to try to help yourself, it saves us from reiterating obvious answers, and most of all it helps you get a more specific and relevant answer. Also see How to Ask – gnat Sep 30 '14 at 3:59

I suspect part of the answer is that it makes compiler optimisation easier, and partly because, for some code variants, it's easier for a human to read a simple 'for' structure than searching for a break statement.

Human readable/maintainable and compiler optimisable code is more important than considerations of functional redundancy in language design - after all, where do you stop, you can write language with a single control flow structure in it (think of a Turing-complete language based on a 'move' from pre-defined function to function in a list popping manner akin to a single instruction machine language), but no one would want to use it.

  • 2
    I don't buy the compiler optimization angle. Clang, for example, lowers all kinds of loops as well as the equivalent conditional gotos into exactly the same IR (which is in CFG form and only has conditional and unconditional jumps between basic blocks) early in the optimization process. It doesn't seem to hurt the performance of the generated code at all. – user7043 Sep 30 '14 at 9:20

For loops are needed because they best express the programmers intent. Which is why most languages have several types of loops.

Excluding languages like BrainFuck, the point of most languages syntax is to make it easier to express the programmers intent. Otherwise we'd all stick with the perfectly viable macine code.


What is more readable and maintainable is the correct way to do most things.

Explicit is better than implicit.

Pseudo Code Examples:

for (int i=0; i < 10; i++) { /* do something 10 times */ }

for i in range(1,10): # do something 10 times

// assume range is a list, set, vector, array or iterable something
for (final int i : range) { /* do something 10 times */ }


int i = 0;
while (i < 10) { /* do something 10 times */ i++; }

which is just syntactic sugar for and not much better than:

int i = 0;
    if (i < 10) { /* do something */ } else { goto end; }
    i++; goto loop;
  1. Which one immediately tells you what is going on?

  2. What happens if someone moves the i++ in the while version?

  3. what happens if someone forgets the i++ in the while version?

  4. Which one has better locality and cohesion ( hint it is the for version )

  5. the while version has mutable state that is outside the scope of the loop!

Even better are languages, mostly functional ones, that support pattern matching such as Erlang

Here is pseudo code for a pattern matching version.

function for(n) { /* do something */ for(n--); }
function for(0) { /* do something the last time*/ }

Most looping is over some kind of collection

The Visitor Pattern is much more expressive and has high cohesion and low coupling.

Here is a good example in Python with a thorough explanation of why it is so powerful.

  • The C version of the for loop makes a rather poor example due to its cryptic syntax. For a novice the while loop could be just as easy to understand (only downside is that you have to scan to the end of the block to find the increment). The for loops in other higher level languages (e.g. Python, C++11 "range-for") are a completely different beast altogether. – Rufflewind Sep 30 '14 at 3:20
  • 1
    Even better, for some purposes, functions like mapcar in Common Lisp or map in Clojure (or Perl!), which just say: Apply this function to every member of a collection. Or reduce e.g. in Clojure, for other purposes. etc. – Mars Sep 30 '14 at 3:41

An oft-taught rule of thumb in programming classes, and a generally handy way to think about it, is this:

If you aren't sure how many times a loop might run (it could be one time or a hundred times, like when searching for something in a tree), use while().

If you you can define precisely how many times a loop will execute, such as 10 times, or on a set range of items (like the first n items of a list), use for().

Strictly speaking, you don't need for or while loops in any language that has goto or repeatedly executed main method.

while loops also have the dubious distinction of being probably the most common source of infinite loop bugs in modern programming languages, and they tend to expand the current scope with unneeded iterator variables unless you use a closure (and a language that supports closures, of course). For beginners, they can be a real pain.

For experienced programmers, it's best to understand the idioms of the language and what each type of loop is commonly understood to represent, and to avoid shoe-horning one's one personal preferences onto every problem if the code is ultimately meant for other people's consumption.

I, on the other extreme, tend to prefer for and foreach or for-range (in languages that have them) and have to force myself to use while loops when they seem most appropriate.

It need not be a religious thing - just learn the use of all basic building blocks of language and especially all the finer ins and outs of control structures when you can, and you'll find it's time very well spent.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.