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7.1. Loops in Java

When you play a song, you can set it to loop, which means that when it reaches the end it starts over at the beginning. A loop in programming is a way to repeat one or more statements. If you didn’t have loops to allow you to repeat code, your programs would get very long very quickly!

The keywords while or for both indicate the start of a loop (the header or declaration). The body of the loop will be repeated while the loop condition is true.


The body of the loop is either a single statement following the while or for or a block of statements after an opening curly brace { and before a closing curly brace }.

There are many different types of loops in Java, but the AP CS A exam only covers three:

  • while: repeats the body of the loop while a Boolean expression is true

  • for: contains a header with 3 possible parts: declaration/initialization, condition, and change. Before the loop starts it does the declaration/initialization. Then it repeats the body of the loop while the condition is true. The code in the change part is executed each time at the end of the body of the loop.

  • for-each: loop through a collection (list or array) and each time through the loop set a variable to the next item from the collection. We will discuss this in the section about arrays.

Here is an example while loop that just prints the numbers until 0 is reached. Can you modify it to print 0 too?

Here is an example for loop that just prints the numbers until 0 is reached. Can you modify it to print 0 too?

Which of the two loops above takes less code? While you can write any loop with either a while or for, programmers tend to use the while when they don’t know how many times the loop will execute and the for when they know the number of times to execute the loop. The problem with using a while loop to execute a loop a certain number of times is that you have to remember to update the variable in the loop. The for loop allows you to specify all of the important things about a loop in one place (what value do variables start at, what is the condition to test, and how the loop variables change).

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