Working with C++ Iterators - An Introduction

C++ iterators are essential tools for traversing and manipulating sequences of data in various containers like arrays, vectors, lists, and more. In this guide, we'll provide an introduction to C++ iterators and demonstrate their usage with sample code.

What Are Iterators?

An iterator is a C++ object that acts as a pointer or cursor to an element within a container. It allows you to access, modify, and traverse the elements of the container without exposing the underlying data structure. Iterators provide a uniform way to work with different container types.

Types of Iterators

C++ provides several types of iterators, each with specific purposes:

  • begin() and end() iterators: Used to traverse the entire container.
  • rbegin() and rend() iterators: Used for reverse traversal.
  • iterator: Generic iterator for containers like vectors and lists.
  • const_iterator: Immutable iterator for constant access to container elements.
  • reverse_iterator: Reversed iterator for reverse traversal.
  • const_reverse_iterator: Reversed immutable iterator.

Sample Code: Using Iterators with a Vector

Let's explore the basic usage of iterators with a C++ vector:

#include <iostream>
#include <vector>
using namespace std;
int main() {
vector<int> numbers = {1, 2, 3, 4, 5};
// Using a forward iterator
cout << "Forward traversal using iterator:" << endl;
for (vector<int>::iterator it = numbers.begin(); it != numbers.end(); ++it) {
cout << *it << " ";
cout << endl;
// Using a reverse iterator
cout << "Reverse traversal using reverse_iterator:" << endl;
for (vector<int>::reverse_iterator rit = numbers.rbegin(); rit != numbers.rend(); ++rit) {
cout << *rit << " ";
cout << endl;
return 0;

In this code, we create a vector of integers and demonstrate forward and reverse traversal using iterators. The `begin()` and `end()` methods provide forward iterators, while `rbegin()` and `rend()` give us reverse iterators.

Iterator Advancements

Iterators can be advanced using the increment (++) operator, allowing you to move to the next element in the container. Additionally, you can use the dereference (*) operator to access the value at the current iterator position.


C++ iterators are fundamental for working with containers, providing a unified interface for accessing elements regardless of the underlying data structure. By mastering iterators, you can efficiently navigate and manipulate data in various C++ containers.