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7.2: Iterables and Iterators

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    In the previous chapter, I presented an iterative depth-first search (DFS), and suggested that an advantage of the iterative version, compared to the recursive version, is that it is easier to wrap in an Iterator object. In this section we’ll see how to do that.

    If you are not familiar with the Iterator and Iterable interfaces, you can read about them at and

    Take a look at the contents of The outer class, WikiNodeIterable implements the Iterable<Node> interface so we can use it in a for loop like this:

    Node root = ...
    Iterable<Node> iter = new WikiNodeIterable(root);
    for (Node node: iter) {

    where root is the root of the tree we want to traverse and visit is a method that does whatever we want when we “visit” a Node.

    The implementation of WikiNodeIterable follows a conventional formula:

    1. The constructor takes and stores a reference to the root Node.
    2. The iterator method creates a returns an Iterator object.

    Here’s what it looks like:

    public class WikiNodeIterable implements Iterable<Node> {
        private Node root;
        public WikiNodeIterable(Node root) {
            this.root = root;
        public Iterator<Node> iterator() {
            return new WikiNodeIterator(root);

    The inner class, WikiNodeIterator, does all the real work:

    private class WikiNodeIterator implements Iterator<Node> {
        Deque<Node> stack;
        public WikiNodeIterator(Node node) {
            stack = new ArrayDeque<Node>();
        public boolean hasNext() {
            return !stack.isEmpty();
        public Node next() {
            if (stack.isEmpty()) {
                throw new NoSuchElementException();
            Node node = stack.pop();
            List<Node> nodes = new ArrayList<Node>(node.childNodes());
            for (Node child: nodes) {
            return node;

    This code is almost identical to the iterative version of DFS, but now it’s split into three methods:

    1. The constructor initializes the stack (which is implemented using an ArrayDeque) and pushes the root node onto it.
    2. isEmpty checks whether the stack is empty.
    3. next pops the next Node off the stack, pushes its children in reverse order, and returns the Node it popped. If someone invokes next on an empty Iterator, it throws an exception.

    It might not be obvious that it is worthwhile to rewrite a perfectly good method with two classes and five methods. But now that we’ve done it, we can use WikiNodeIterable anywhere an Iterable is called for, which makes it easy and syntactically clean to separate the logic of the iteration (DFS) from whatever processing we are doing on the nodes.

    This page titled 7.2: Iterables and Iterators is shared under a CC BY-NC-SA 3.0 license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Allen B. Downey (Green Tea Press) .

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