Posts Tagged ‘loop’

Day 7: Looping for fun and profit

December 7, 2009

Any programmer who’s ever used a language which has them probably knows that loops are incredibly useful. In languages which provide them, foreach loops for iterating over arrays or lists tend to end up being very common. In Perl 5, these loops were provided by the foreach keyword, although you could also write for, sharing a keyword with the more general C-style for loops.

In Perl 6, that’s all changed.

for is now exclusively for iterating over lists. foreach has disappeared, and C-style for loops are handled by the new keyword loop. We’re not going to discuss those today, but we are going to focus on the new for loop, which combines with some other Perl 6 language features to deliver an enormously flexible and powerful construct.

Let’s look at a basic case.

for 1, 2, 3, 4 { .say }

There some immediately noticeable things about the syntax here. There are no brackets around the list construction, which is something that extends throughout Perl 6. Generally, you need a lot fewer brackety characters than in Perl 5. Much like in Perl 5, the loop variable is $_ by default. The method call of say with no invocant is the same as saying $_.say. Note that in Perl 6, you cannot say say with no argument to default to $_, you have to use the .say form, or specify $_ explicitly.

The block doesn’t have to be an ordinary block. It can be a pointy block, which lets you name your loop variable using the pointy block’s parameter capability.

for 1, 2, 3, 4 -> $i { $i.say }

A pointy block is a bit like an anonymous subroutine, except it doesn’t catch return exceptions. If you call return inside a pointy block, the enclosing routine will return.

Pointy blocks can take more than one parameter in their parameter lists. What happens if you do that?

for 1, 2, 3, 4 -> $i, $j { "$i, $j".say }

Well, if you run it, you get:

1 2
3 4

So what’s actually happened is that you’ve iterated over the list two elements at a time. This works for any number of parameters, with the minimum of one, degenerating to using $_ if you provide no explicit parameters yourself.

Having realised we can do this, what can we do with the generation of the list we iterate over? Well of course, we can use an array variable:

for @array { .say }

Although in many simple cases, we might prefer to use map:

@array.map: *.say;

Or a hyperoperator, if order and sequentiality isn’t important:

@array».say;

But neither of those things are today’s subject.

We might generate a list of numbers using the range constructor &infix:<..>:

for 1..4 { .say }

It’s very common that we want to generate a list of $n numbers beginning with 0, such as array indicies. We could write 0..$n-1, or using a variant of the range constructor 0..^$n, but Perl 6 provides a handy shortcut in the form of prefix:<^>:

for ^4 { .say }

Which will output:

0
1
2
3

One reason people often fall back on C-style for loops in Perl 5 is because they need to know what index in the array they are at for each item, or because they need to iterate over two or more arrays in parallel. Perl 6 offers a shortcut here, with the infix:<Z> zip operator.

for @array1 Z @array2 -> $one, $two { ... }

Assuming the two arrays are the same length, $one will be each element of @array1 and $two will be the corresponding element of @array2. If they are different lengths, iteration will stop when the end of the shorter array is reached.

With this knowledge, and the awareness that Perl 6 has lazy list generators, we can easily include the array index in the iteration:

for ^Inf Z @array -> $index, $item { ... }

Although if infinite lists make you nervous,

for ^@array.elems Z @array -> $index, $item { ... }

will give you the same results, but the most elegant presentation is probably:

for @array.kv -> $index, $item { ... }

@array.kv returns the keys and values interleaved, where the keys of an array are the element indices, so iterating over them two at a time has the desired effect.

Hopefully this post has given you an idea of the flexibility inherent in Perl 6’s for loops and how easy they can be to use for a variety of common tasks. Before we part, I’m going to answer one final question I know somebody’s been thinking.

What, you ask, if I want to iterate over four arrays at once?

for @one Z @two Z @three Z @four -> $one, $two, $three, $four { ... }

That’s a list associative infix operator, that is. Enjoy.


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