Difference between Iterable and Iterator in Java?

8 January 2018 · 7 minutes to read

0. Introduction

At a very first glance, those two classes, Iterable and Iterator seem to be invented and used for the same purpose, without any crucial difference between them. However, if one dives a bit more into them, they understand the reasoning behind having two separate classes for iterating over a collection of objects.

1. History & Meta

  • Iterable exists is java.lang package, since JDK 1.5
  • Iterator comes from the java.util package, since JDK 1.2 and was actually introduced as the successor of Enumeration interface.

2. In-short

Actually, the names of the interfaces already explain their scope. So, a class which implements the Iterable interface is iterable and the way to iterate over its elements is by using an Iterator object.

3. In-depth

What is in-practice accomplished using the Iterable interface is the usage of the foreach loop, which means that a class that implements the Iterable interface can be used in a foreach loop.

Iterable interface defines only one method, Iterator<T> iterator(), which returns an Iterator over a set of elements of type T. So, we need to override that method when it is about a custom implementation.

4. Examples

Have you noticed the fore-mentioned text in bold? Yes, there are some cases, where everything is provided out of the box for us and we can directly use a foreach loop to iterate over a collection of objects, without bothering about the Iterable, Iterator interfaces and the required overriding that needs to happen.

Does this already ring a bell? Let’s have a look at a very small example made-out of the Java docs.

4.1 JavaDoc example

The very best example to begin with cannot be anything else other than something taken from the java docs with a bit of salt and pepper.

List<String> employees = Arrays.asList(new String[] {"John", "Mary", "Thodoris"});
for (String employee : employees) {

The above has no need to worry about these two interfaces, since List<E> is already an Iterable, because:

  • List IS-A [`Collection`](https://docs.oracle.com/javase/7/docs/api/java/util/Collection.html)
  • Collection<E> extends Iterable<E>

4.1.1 Digging into the Javadocs

Wait. That said, List<E> should override Iterator<T> iterator() method. Indeed it does, but List is just an interface, so, we will not see any actual implementation over there. Let’s have a look at the most common implementation of a List, the ArrayList:


Ok, cool, so, in Itr() we expect to see the overriding of the Iterator<E> methods, aren’t we?


Yyyyes! That’s it. So, as you see, for most of the cases, we don’t have to do anything special.

4.2 Custom Implementation

What happens when we want to create our own custom logic for an Iterable<T>?

  • Create a class that extends Iterable<T>
  • Override Iterator<E> iterator() method of that class

And you’re ready to use it in a foreach statement.


public class MyIterable<T> implements Iterable<T> {

    T[] t = null;
    int count;

    public MyIterable(T[] t) {
        this.t = t;

    public Iterator<T> iterator() {

        return new Iterator<T>() {
            public boolean hasNext() {
                return count != t.length; // the fun part!

            public T next() {
                System.out.println("Calling next() method...");
                return t[count++];

            public void remove() {
                throw new UnsupportedOperationException();

Our main class:

public static void main(String[] args) {
    Integer[] ids = {100, 4, 333};
    MyIterable<Integer> entries = new MyIterable<>(ids);
    for (Integer id : entries) {

The above will print the following:

Calling next() method...
Calling next() method...
Calling next() method...

5. TIL

Apparently, there shouldn’t be a “Today I Learned” section in a blog post, since it is obvious that in order to write something up, you either learned it for the first or the second time. Here is what I learned today, regarding operators.

We can use the != operator instead of < whenever it is about to return a boolean value.

6. Closing thoughts

Isn’t it fun that during a study on the fore-mentioned interfaces I also learned about a new usage of the != operator? It’s not the first time this happens. My little experience in this crazy software industry proves that it happens every single time: you start from topic A and hop to hop to hop…you end up reading about topic Z. Sometimes it is required to have some filtering on, though. Otherwise you end up waisting one more night of sleep, like I just did right now :simple_smile: .

What do you think? Let me know in the comments.