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Re: Strange problem with "for" and "while"

  • To: mathgroup at
  • Subject: [mg68379] Re: Strange problem with "for" and "while"
  • From: Jean-Marc Gulliet <jeanmarc.gulliet at>
  • Date: Thu, 3 Aug 2006 06:06:50 -0400 (EDT)
  • Organization: The Open University, Milton Keynes, UK
  • References: <eapru8$s5i$>
  • Sender: owner-wri-mathgroup at

LordBeotian wrote:
> When I try to compute this:
> For[k = 1, k < 10, k++,
>     i := 0;
>     While [k > 1, i++; k--];
>     Print[i, k]]
> Mathematica outputs a neverending sequence of "1,1" (and it is impossible to 
> abort the computation!)
> When instead I try to manually do the "for" and compute
> k := ...;
> i = 0;
> While [k > 1, i++; k--];
> Print[i, k]
> giving to k all the values 1,2,...,9 the computation are all correct (the 
> outputs are "01", "11", "21", ..., "81".
> I cannot understand what is the problem.

Mathematica is right, since it follows and does exactly what you coded 
although possibly not what you intended!

Think carefully about the real value of k; in other word try to think as 
if you were the processor. During the *first* iteration, the While 
statement is *not* executed since k is equal to 1; therefore, 
Mathematica prints 01 -- you can verify that by adding an unconditional 
Break[] expression after the Print statement [1]. Then, the increment 
expression of the For loop is executed and the value of k reaches 2.

 From the second iteration onwards, the While loop is going to be 
executed every time since k will always be equal to two when reaching 
the While statement. Let's see what happens here. k is equal to two. i 
is set to to zero. Is k greater than one? Yes, thus the While loop is 
executed: i is incremented by one from zero to one, and k is decremented 
by one from two to one. Then, the condition to the While loop is tested 
again and failed to be met since k is now equal to one. Mathematica ends 
the While loop and print 11.

We are back to the For loop now, and k is incremented from one, its 
current value, to two. Then, i is set to zero and the answer to the 
question "Is k greater than one?" is positive since the current value of 
k is two. Then... but I imagine you have seen the pattern by now, 
pattern of a never ending loop indeed.

One way of solving this issue is using an additional variable in place 
of k within the While loop. In the following example, you can see that j 
is always displayed with the value one. However, k is correctly 
incremented and the iterations end.

For[k = 1, k < 10, k++,
   i = 0;
   j = k;
   While[j > 1, i++; j--];
   Print[i, " ", j, " ", k]


0" "1" "1
1" "1" "2
2" "1" "3
3" "1" "4
4" "1" "5
5" "1" "6
6" "1" "7
7" "1" "8
8" "1" "9


[1] The following loop ends after the first iteration:
For[k = 1, k < 10, k++, i := 0; While[k > 1, i++; k--]; Print[i, k]; 

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