If you have any interest in the programming arts and all of the fun and wizardry that goes on to create our modern, computer-based world, you’ve heard the term “recursion” or “recursive programming. Using recursion in our coding allows us to save heaps of time and energy when writing programs, and any coder worth their salt has the recursion game down pat and benefits from its use at all times. But, what is recursive programming, and how can we use it to streamline our applications and resolve complex tasks? Fear not—you’ve come to the right place to get those questions answered.
In our guide, we look at recursion and how we employ it in today’s computing environment. We go over the concept behind recursion, and break down how using recursive programming cuts any task down to size, no matter how large it might appear at first. Finally, we look at recursive programming in action and see how it reduces formerly complex and lengthy code to a manageable size. By the time you finish this article, you’ll have a better understanding of recursive programming and will give it its proper due as a cornerstone of modern software development.
So, What is Recursive Programming?
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The basic concept behind recursion is the notion that any task can be resolved, no matter how complex, by reducing the larger problem down to a series of recurring, solvable issues. Breaking down your job into a bunch individual mini-tasks allows you to look at each one of the subtasks as a task in its own right. This task can then be broken down into sub-tasks (which are in fact sub-sub-tasks of the main one). After you’ve deconstructed a job down to its smallest component tasks, you can apply recursion.
Because you’re now working with basic tasks, you can now set conditions each task needs to meet before the larger program can close it out and move on. If, for example, the requirements to be met are to fill a jar with jelly beans, the task might be to add a single jelly bean to the jar. After you’ve worked out the code to accomplish this single task, you’ll be able to apply the conditions so that the job repeats until the jar is full. The repetition of code until conditions are met is what recursion is all about. Best of all, once you’ve worked through the task and requirements the first time, you’ll be able to apply that same solution every time you encounter a similar job in your code.
Recursion in Action
By this point, you’re probably getting the general gist of what recursive programming entails. To get our heads around the concept, we need to look at some code. Concrete examples always work best to drive home complex concepts, I always say, even when people haven’t asked. (It can get a bit awkward.) Let’s examine a common situation in which recursive programming can save you hours or even days of trudging through lines of identical code.
For our example, we’ll set a goal of finding 3 (factorial). We can write out the code so that it adds everything together one step at a time, but if we were looking for a larger or more complex result, such as 1,429,033 or something equally intimidating, we’d get overwhelmed with identical code. Instead, we use recursion. We write a single line that creates a loop until the condition is met. Just like that, thousands of lines of code can become a single line.
And that’s the scoop on recursive programming. If you’re starting on a programming career and are still learning the ropes, you’ll find recursive programming to be a godsend. Properly used, recursive programming will simplify your code and put you in the driver’s seat in your coding career!
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