Generic for

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Basic for loops have already been covered in loops. First, let's take a look at iterators. In layman's terms, an iterator is a function that returns the next set of values each time it is called. Here's a simple iterator:

-- returns an iterator that counts letters between first and last
function letterIterator(first, last)   
    -- store the position that the iterator is at
    local index = first 
    -- return the iterator - a function!
    return function()
        if index <= last then
            -- move to the next character
            index = index + 1  
            -- return the ascii representation of the index plus 95 (a letter)
            -- note that there's only one value being returned
            return string.char(index + 95)

And here's how we can use it:

local iterator = letterIterator(1, 4)
local letter
letter = iterator()
print(letter) -- 'a'
letter = iterator()
print(letter) -- 'b'
letter = iterator()
print(letter) -- 'c'
letter = iterator()
print(letter) -- 'd'
letter = iterator()
print(letter) -- nil
letter = iterator()
print(letter) -- nil

As you can see, the iterator returned the first, second, third, and fourth letters, then stopped returning anything. At this point, there's nothing left to iterate, so you should stop calling the iterator. That's where the generic for loop comes in. We can write the previous code like this instead:

for letter in letterIterator(1, 4) do

a b c



The iterator is the number that keeps track of how many times a for loop is supposed to run. This is different from a the numeric for loop in Loops in that the numeric for loop there is simply an iterator:

Numeric for:

for i = 20, 1, -2 do

However, in the generic for loop we get the values returned by the iterator function. In the iterator returned by letterIterator() above, we saw that string.char(index + 95), not index itself, was returned. Here's an example using multiple return values:

function doublingIterator(array)
	local i = 1 -- The index in the array we're currently at
	return function()
		-- Make sure we haven't hit the end of the array
		if array[i] ~= nil then
			-- prepare return values
			local index, doubledValue = i, array[i]*2
			-- Add one to i, so that we use the next element next time
			i = i + 1
			return index, doubledValue
local numbers = {3, 4, 5}
-- Two, count 'em, two variables. That's because 2 values are returned!
for index, doubledValue in doublingIterator(numbers) do
	print(index, doubledValue)

1 6 2 8

3 10

That pretty much covers generic for loops! Read on for some final examples!



Here is an example using the standard library function ipairs:

months = {"January", "February", "March", "April", "May", "June", "July", "August", "September", "October", "November", "December"}

revmonths = {}
for i, v in ipairs(months) do
	revmonths[v] = i -- Make the month name the index and the location the value
	print(v, revmonths[v])

January 1 -- revmonths.January = 1 February 2 -- revmonths.February = 2 March 3 April 4 May 5 -- Cinco de mayo! June 6 July 7 August 8 September 9 October 10 November 11

December 12

Customized Iterators

You too can write your own iterators! Here is two useful examples:


This example returns multiple values:

string = {}
string.gfind = function(stringToSearch, Pattern, Start)
	local start = Start or 1 -- Default value is 1
	return function()
		local beginning, ending = stringToSearch:find(Pattern, start) -- Start searching at the specified location
		if beginning and ending then -- Check to make sure that the match is there
			start = ending + 1 -- Add one to the ending so the pattern will start to look after the last match
			return beginning, ending, stringToSearch:sub(beginning, ending) -- return the 3 values

local stringToSearch = "Hello! My name is merlin1188!"

for start, finish, value in string.gfind(stringToSearch, "%a+") do
	print("The match starts at " .. start ..", finishes at " .. finish .. ", and is " .. value)

The match starts at 1, finishes at 5, and is Hello The match starts at 8, finishes at 9, and is My The match starts at 11, finishes at 14, and is name The match starts at 16, finishes at 17, and is is

The match starts at 19, finishes at 24, and is merlin


This example iterates through all of the children of an instance:

function descendants(obj, depth)
	assert(obj and obj.getChildren, "object parameter is missing or is not an instance")

	local function yieldtree(obj, level)
		if depth and level > depth then
		for _, o in ipairs(obj:getChildren()) do
			coroutine.yield(o, level)
			yieldtree(o, level+1)

	return coroutine.wrap(function() yieldtree(obj, 1) end)

pairs and ipairs

pairs and ipairs are iterator functions that return table indices and their corresponding values. pairs iterates through the entire table, even if the index is non-numerical (such as "Hi"). ipairs iterates through the table as if it were an array, starting at 1 and counting up consecutive indices. Also, please note that pairs does not iterate through the table in any particular order. Here's an example of the difference:

local sampleTable = {
	[1] = "A",
	[2] = 2,
	[3] = "B",
	[5] = 5,
	Hi = "C"
for i, v in ipairs(sampleTable) do
	print(i, v)

1 A 2 2

3 B
for i, v in pairs(sampleTable) do
	print(i, v)

2 2 3 B 1 A 5 5

Hi C