In the last lesson, we wrote some code that plots some values of interest from our first inflammation dataset, and reveals some suspicious features in it, such as from
However, we have a dozen data sets right now, though, and more on the way. We want to create plots for all of our data sets with a single statement. To do that, we’ll have to teach the computer how to repeat things.
An example task that we might want to repeat is printing each character in a word on a line of its own. One way to do this would be to use a series of print statements:
This is a bad approach for two reasons:
It doesn’t scale: if we want to print the characters in a string that’s hundreds of letters long, we’d be better off just typing them in.
It’s fragile: if we give it a longer string, it only prints part of the data, and if we give it a shorter one, it produces an error because we’re asking for characters that don’t exist.
word = 'tin' print(word) print(word) print(word) print(word)
Here's a better approach
The improved version uses a for loop to repeat an operation—in this case, printing—once for each thing in a collection. The general form of a loop is:
for variable in collection: do things with variable
for page in book: read(page) `
We can call the loop variable anything we like, but there must be a colon at the end of the line starting the loop, and we must indent anything we want to run inside the loop. Unlike many other languages, there is no command to end a loop (e.g. end for); what is indented after the for statement belongs to the loop.
We can use for loops to count things by increasing variables:
It’s worth tracing the execution of this little program step by step. Since there are five characters in
'aeiou', the statement on line 3 will be executed five times. The first time around,
length is zero (the value assigned to it on line 1) and
'a'. The statement adds 1 to the old value of
length, producing 1, and updates
length to refer to that new value. The next time around,
length is 1, so length is updated to be 2. After three more updates,
length is 5; since there is nothing left in
'aeiou' for Python to process, the loop finishes and the
Note that a loop variable is just a variable that’s being used to record progress in a loop. It still exists after the loop is over, and we can re-use variables previously defined as loop variables as well:
Note also that finding the length of a string is such a common operation that Python actually has a built-in function to do it called
len is much faster than any function we could write ourselves, and much easier to read than a two-line loop; it will also give us the length of many other things that we haven’t met yet, so we should always use it when we can.