The Efficiency of Traditional For Loops

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The Efficiency of Traditional For Loops

Overhead of Lambda Expressions and Stream Processing in Functional Programming

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When it comes to coding styles, developers often debate between traditional for loops and functional programming techniques. While functional programming brings benefits like readability and declarative syntax, it’s important to consider the potential performance impact of using lambda expressions and stream processing. In certain scenarios, the traditional for loop can outshine functional style due to the overhead associated with these additional components.

Understanding the Traditional For Loop:

The traditional for loop has been a staple in programming for decades. Its simplicity lies in directly iterating over elements in a collection and performing operations within the loop. This straightforward approach offers excellent control and optimization opportunities.

public boolean searchString(List<String> stringList, String searchString){
        for (String str : stringList) {
            if (str.equals(searchString)) {
                return true;
     return false;

The Overhead of Lambda Expressions and Stream Processing:

Functional programming introduces the concept of lambda expressions and stream processing. While these additions provide elegant and concise syntax, they come with a performance overhead. Lambda expressions, being anonymous functions, require extra memory and processing time to create and execute. Stream processing, on the other hand, involves intermediate and terminal operations that introduce additional computational steps.

public boolean searchString(List<String> stringList, String searchString) {
        return -> str.equals(searchString));

Performance Considerations:

In scenarios where performance is critical, the traditional for loop can offer advantages over functional programming. The direct iteration allows for immediate access to elements, reducing the need for intermediate processing steps. Additionally, the early exit capability of a for loop enables optimization by breaking out of the loop when a condition is met.

Optimizing Performance with Traditional For Loops

By leveraging the traditional for loop, developers have more fine-grained control over performance optimization. They can apply techniques such as loop unrolling, minimizing redundant operations, and utilizing indexing for efficient element access. These optimizations can be crucial in resource-constrained environments or when dealing with large datasets.

I created the sample code and run it multiple times to see the impact on performance in terms of execution time. Below is the result. The code is checked in here on Github for anyone to try it on their machine.

I used a tool called JMC (Java Mission Control) to examine how the CPU and memory are affected by different coding styles. Here are the results I observed:

When comparing the CPU utilization between the traditional loop and functional code, there wasn’t a significant difference. The maximum CPU utilization for the traditional loop was around 34%, while for the functional code it was around 30%. So, both coding styles performed similarly in terms of CPU usage.

However, when it comes to heap memory utilization (which is the memory used by the Java Virtual Machine), there was a noticeable difference. The graphs generated by JMC illustrate this disparity. The traditional loop code showed a maximum heap utilization of approximately 1GB, whereas the functional code had a maximum heap utilization of around 600MB.

Choosing the Right Approach

It’s important to understand the trade-offs between traditional for loops and functional programming. While traditional for loops may offer better performance in certain situations, it’s crucial to consider other factors as well.

Functional programming, which involves using lambda expressions and stream processing, provides benefits such as code readability, maintainability, and expressiveness. These advantages make the code easier to understand and maintain over time.

Although there might be a slight performance impact when using lambda expressions and stream processing, it’s typically negligible for smaller datasets or less computationally intensive tasks. In these scenarios, the benefits of functional programming outweigh the minimal performance difference.

It’s essential to balance performance considerations with other aspects like code readability and maintainability. By embracing functional programming when it enhances code clarity and simplicity, you can create more elegant and manageable solutions, even if there’s a small performance trade-off in certain cases.


When performance is a top concern, the traditional for loop can provide better efficiency compared to the functional style of coding, primarily due to the overhead of lambda expressions and stream processing. However, it’s essential to assess the specific requirements, data size, and use case to determine the optimal coding style. Developers should strike a balance between performance optimization and code readability to create robust and efficient applications.

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