# Nested loops via recursion I encountered a problem where I needed to program a nested loop and wanted to share (code is in Julia).

Problem: We have a lattice with n ordered lattice sites, each of which are in state -1 or 1. There are thus $2^n$ distinct lattice states. My goal is to exhaustively enumerate each of these lattice states.

We can store the state of the lattice in an n-dimensional array of integers, lattice_state. For n=2, we can use a nested for loop to enumerate all lattice states. Each for loop represents a particular lattice site, or entry of lattice_state.

n = 2
lattice_state = zeros(Int, n)
for i = [-1, 1]
lattice_state = i
for j = [-1, 1]
lattice_state = j
println(lattice_state)
end
end
# =>
# [-1,-1]
# [-1,1]
# [1,-1]
# [1,1]


When n gets large, this looks ugly because we need to write n nested loops:

n = 4
lattice_state = zeros(Int, n)
for i = [-1, 1]
lattice_state = i
for j = [-1, 1]
lattice_state = j
for k = [-1, 1]
lattice_state = k
for l = [-1, 1]
lattice_state = l
println(lattice_state)
end
end
end
end
# =>
# [-1,-1,-1,-1]
# [-1,-1,-1,1]
# [-1,-1,1,-1]
# [-1,-1,1,1]
# [-1,1,-1,-1]
# [-1,1,-1,1]
# [-1,1,1,-1]
# [-1,1,1,1]
# [1,-1,-1,-1]
# [1,-1,-1,1]
# [1,-1,1,-1]
# [1,-1,1,1]
# [1,1,-1,-1]
# [1,1,-1,1]
# [1,1,1,-1]
# [1,1,1,1]


We can use a recursive algorithm instead to write a function for a general n:

n = 8
lattice_state = zeros(Int, n)
function nested_loop(loop_level::Int)
"""
Recursive algorithm to perform nested loop:
for i = [-1, 1]
lattice_state = i
for j = [-1, 1]
lattice_state = j
.... n times
end
end

Prints all possible lattice_state arrays.
Parameters:
loop_level, Int: level of nested loop we are in.
Nested loop loop_level modifies entry loop_level in lattice_state.
"""
# if we are the last loop,
# print the array and return (do not go on)
if (loop_level > n)
println(lattice_state)
return
end
# if we made it past this point,
# we need to continue going in the nested loop
for i = [-1, 1]
# modify entry loop_level
lattice_state[loop_level] = i

# with entry 1, 2, ..., loop_level fixed,
# call function again to go to next level in nested loop
nested_loop(loop_level + 1)
end
end


Now, I call the nested_loop function with loop_level=1 to start at the first loop in the nest. It will then print all $2^n$ configurations of the lattice of length n=8, represented by unique lattice_state arrays:

nested_loop(1)