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Iteratoren und Generatoren

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Processing each of the items in a collection is a very common operation. JavaScript provides a number of ways of iterating over a collection, from simple for loops to map(), filter() and array comprehensions. Iterators and Generators bring the concept of iteration directly into the core language and provide a mechanism for customizing the behavior of for...of loops.

For details, see also:

Iterators

An object is an iterator when it knows how to access items from a collection one at a time, while keeping track of its current position within that sequence. In JavaScript an iterator is an object that provides a next() method which returns the next item in the sequence. This method returns an object with two properties: done and value.

Once created, an iterator object can be used explicitly by repeatedly calling next().

function makeIterator(array){
    var nextIndex = 0;
    
    return {
       next: function(){
           return nextIndex < array.length ?
               {value: array[nextIndex++], done: false} :
               {done: true};
       }
    }
}

Once initialized, the next() method can be called to access key-value pairs from the object in turn:

var it = makeIterator(['yo', 'ya']);
console.log(it.next().value); // 'yo'
console.log(it.next().value); // 'ya'
console.log(it.next().done);  // true

Iterables

An object is iterable if it defines their iteration behavior, such as what values are looped over in a for..of construct. Some built-in types, such as Array or Map, have a default iteration behavior, while other types (such as Object) do not.

In order to be iterable, an object must implement the @@iterator method, meaning that the object (or one of the objects up its prototype chain) must have a property with a Symbol.iterator key:

User-defined iterables

We can make our own iterables like this:

var myIterable = {}
myIterable[Symbol.iterator] = function* () {
    yield 1;
    yield 2;
    yield 3;
};
[...myIterable] // [1, 2, 3]

Built-in iterables

String, Array, TypedArray, Map and Set are all built-in iterables, because the prototype objects of them all have an Symbol.iterator method.

Syntaxes expecting iterables

Some statements and expressions are expecting iterables, for example the for-of loops, spread operator, yield*, and destructuring assignment.

for(let value of ["a", "b", "c"]){
    console.log(value)
}
// "a"
// "b"
// "c"

[..."abc"] // ["a", "b", "c"]

function* gen(){
  yield* ["a", "b", "c"]
}

gen().next() // { value:"a", done:false }

[a, b, c] = new Set(["a", "b", "c"])
a // "a"

Generators

While custom iterators are a useful tool, their creation requires careful programming due to the need to explicitly maintain their internal state. Generators provide a powerful alternative: they allow you to define an iterative algorithm by writing a single function which can maintain its own state.

A generator is a special type of function that works as a factory for iterators. A function becomes a generator if it contains one or more yield expressions and if it uses the function* syntax.

function* idMaker(){
  var index = 0;
  while(true)
    yield index++;
}

var gen = idMaker();

console.log(gen.next().value); // 0
console.log(gen.next().value); // 1
console.log(gen.next().value); // 2
// ...

Advanced generators

Generators compute their yielded values on demand, which allows them to efficiently represent sequences that are expensive to compute, or even infinite sequences as demonstrated above.

The next() method also accepts a value which can be used to modify the internal state of the generator. A value passed to next() will be treated as the result of the last yield expression that paused the generator.

Here is the fibonacci generator using next(x) to restart the sequence:

function* fibonacci(){
  var fn1 = 1;
  var fn2 = 1;
  while (1){
    var current = fn2;
    fn2 = fn1;
    fn1 = fn1 + current;
    var reset = yield current;
    if (reset){
        fn1 = 1;
        fn2 = 1;
    }
  }
}

var sequence = fibonacci();
console.log(sequence.next().value);     // 1
console.log(sequence.next().value);     // 1
console.log(sequence.next().value);     // 2
console.log(sequence.next().value);     // 3
console.log(sequence.next().value);     // 5
console.log(sequence.next().value);     // 8
console.log(sequence.next().value);     // 13
console.log(sequence.next(true).value); // 1
console.log(sequence.next().value);     // 1
console.log(sequence.next().value);     // 2
console.log(sequence.next().value);     // 3
Note: As a point of interest, calling next(undefined) is equivalent to calling next(). However, starting a newborn generator with any value other than undefined when calling next() will result in a TypeError exception.

You can force a generator to throw an exception by calling its throw() method and passing the exception value it should throw. This exception will be thrown from the current suspended context of the generator, as if the yield that is currently suspended were instead a throw value statement.

If a yield is not encountered during the processing of the thrown exception, then the exception will propagate up through the call to throw(), and subsequent calls to next() will result in the done property being true.

Generators have a return(value) method that returns the given value and finishes the generator itself.

Generator comprehensions

A significant drawback of array comprehensions is that they cause an entire new array to be constructed in memory. When the input to the comprehension is itself a small array the overhead involved is insignificant — but when the input is a large array or an expensive (or indeed infinite) generator the creation of a new array can be problematic.

Generators enable lazy computation of sequences, with items calculated on-demand as they are needed. Generator comprehensions are syntactically almost identical to array comprehensions — they use parentheses instead of braces— but instead of building an array they create a generator that can execute lazily. You can think of them as short hand syntax for creating generators.

Suppose we have an iterator it which iterates over a large sequence of integers. We want to create a new iterator that will iterate over their doubles. An array comprehension would create a full array in memory containing the doubled values:

var doubles = [i * 2 for (i in it)];

A generator comprehension on the other hand would create a new iterator which would create doubled values on demand as they were needed:

var it2 = (i * 2 for (i in it));
console.log(it2.next()); // The first value from it, doubled
console.log(it2.next()); // The second value from it, doubled

When a generator comprehension is used as the argument to a function, the parentheses used for the function call means that the outer parentheses can be omitted:

var result = doSomething(i * 2 for (i in it));

The significant difference between the two examples being that by using the generator comprehension, you would only have to loop over the 'obj' structure once, total, as opposed to once when comprehending the array, and again when iterating through it.

For more information, see Generator comprehensions.

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