From Loops to Recursion

Learn how to start thinking in terms of recursion.


Loops are fundamental to all the mainstream programming languages and it can feel very strange when you no longer have them in Eta.

Loops are a control-flow mechanism that let you perform a repetitive action multiple times. When you think in terms of loops, you're thinking about how to change memory locations in a coordinated way to get the desired result.

Looping Example

Let's take a simple example for computing a sum of a list of integers. We will use Java as the host imperative language for all of our examples in this module.

public class SumExample {
  public static int sumIntegers(List<Integer> ints) {
    Iterator<Integer> it = ints.iterator();
    int sum = 0;
    while (it.hasNext()) {
      sum +=;
    return sum;


What we wanted to say is that we want to combine all the numbers in the list using the addition operator, and if you step back, that Java code is quite a complex way to address that idea. In fact, the core logic of adding elements of the list is obscured in the code that iterates over the list.

Is there a way we can write code that makes it obvious what the function is doing just by looking at it without having to worry about how the result is computed?

Next Section

We'll take a look at recursion, a powerful method used to solve problems and how we can implement sum much more concisely in Eta.