7.3. Enhanced For-Loop (For-Each) for Arrays

There is a special kind of loop that can be used with arrays called an enhanced for loop or a for each loop. This loop is much easier to write because it does not involve an index variable or the use of the []. It just sets up a variable that is set to each value in the array successively.

To set up a for-each loop, use for (type variable : arrayname) where the type is the type for elements in the array, and read it as “for each variable value in arrayname”.

for (type item: array)
     //statements using item;

See the examples below in Java that loop through an int and a String array. Notice the type of the loop variable is the type of the array.

int[] highScores = { 10, 9, 8, 8};
String[] names = {"Jamal", "Emily", "Destiny", "Mateo"};
// for each loop: for each value in highScores
// for (type variable : arrayname)
for (int value : highScores)
    // Notice no index or [ ], just the variable value!
    System.out.println( value );
// for each loop with a String array to print each name
// the type for variable name is String!
for (String name : names)

Use the enhanced for each loop with arrays whenever you can, because it cuts down on errors. You can use it whenever you need to loop through all the elements of an array and don’t need to know their index and don’t need to change their values. It starts with the first item in the array (the one at index 0) and continues through in order to the last item in the array. This type of loop can only be used with arrays and some other collections of items like ArrayLists which we will see in the next unit.

coding exercise Coding Exercise

Try the following code. Notice the for each loop with an int array and a String array. Add another high score and another name to the arrays and run again.

coding exercise Coding Exercise

Rewrite the following for loop which prints out the even numbers in the array as an enhanced for-each loop. Make sure it works!

7.3.1. Foreach Loop Limitations

What if we had a loop that incremented all the elements in the array. Would that work with an enhanced for-each loop? Unfortunately not! Because only the variable in the loop changes, not the real array values. We would need an indexed loop to modify array elements. Try it in the Active Code below or in the Java visualizer by clicking the CodeLens button and step through the code to see why it doesn’t work.

coding exercise Coding Exercise

The for-each loop below cannot change the values in the array because only the loop variable value will change. Run it with the CodeLens button to see why this is. Then, change the loop to an indexed for loop to make it change the array values.


Enhanced for each loops cannot be used in all situations. Only use for-each loops when you want to loop through all the values in an array without changing their values.

  • Do not use for each loops if you need the index.

  • Do not use for each loops if you need to change the values in the array.

  • Do not use for each loops if you want to loop through only part of an array or in a different order.

exercise Check Your Understanding

7.3.2. Foreach Loop Algorithms

Here is an object-oriented example that has the array as a private instance variable in the class and provides a public method average that uses a for-each loop. You can use the Java visualizer or the Code Lens button to step through this code.

Try the code below.

exercise Check Your Understanding

The following method has the correct code to return the largest value in an integer array called <i>vals</i> (an instance variable of the current object), but the code is mixed up. Drag the blocks from the left into the correct order on the right and indent them correctly as well. You will be told if any of the blocks are in the wrong order or not indented correctly.</p>

        public int getLargest()
  int largest = vals[0];
  for (int item : vals)
    if (item > largest)
      largest = item;
    }  // end if
  } // end for
  return largest;
} // end method

If you want to step through the correct code to see what it does in the Java Visualizer click on the following Java visualizer link.

exercise Check Your Understanding

7.3.3. groupwork Programming Challenge : SpellChecker 2

Spell Checker

Copy the spellcheck method that you used in the Spell Checker Challenge in the last lesson. Re-write the method to use an enhanced for-each loop instead of an indexed for-loop. If you did the optional printStartsWith(firstLetters) method, re-write that one too.

Write a spellcheck() method using an enhanced for-each loop that takes a word as a parameter and returns true if it is in the dictionary array. Return false if it is not found.

7.3.4. Summary

  • An enhanced for loop, also called a for each loop, can be used to loop through an array without using an index variable.

  • An enhanced for loop header includes a variable, referred to as the enhanced for loop variable, that holds each value in the array.

  • For each iteration of the enhanced for loop, the enhanced for loop variable is assigned a copy of an element without using its index.

  • Assigning a new value to the enhanced for loop variable does not change the value stored in the array.

  • Program code written using an enhanced for loop to traverse and access elements in an array can be rewritten using an indexed for loop or a while loop.

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