I'm looking for a word to describe the process that a computer program performs when

searching through a dataset bit by bit.

I had believed the word parse ('to parse through the data') was correct. However, it seems that the word parse actually means 'to split into pieces'.

I'm thinking of something along the lines of trawl, seek, step through etc. I just wonder if there is a more elegant word/phrase that I could use.

  • Perhaps, this could have been asked on SO/ programmersSE.
    – Kris
    Commented Jul 4, 2013 at 6:05

4 Answers 4


Iterate is the word that's generally used for this, I believe:

The program iterates through the collection, searching for every occurrence of the target value.

  • "iterate" is a great synonym for "step through", but doesn't necessarily match "seek" (as you can iterate for purposes other than search). Still I do think it's what the OP is looking for, yes. Commented Jul 3, 2013 at 18:03

I think you answered it yourself with "trawl".

https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/trawl "fish with a trawl net or seine, search thoroughly."

A possible problem is that some people confuse it with "troll".

You could use trudge, even if it doesn't literally mean that. https://www.dictionary.com/browse/trudge "to walk laboriously or wearily along or over"

I often use sed to trudge through manifest files looking for old TV recordings.


As a coder, I would call that a "for each" operation. Ex: "For Each item in this dataset, determine if it's what I want."

I don't know if 'for each' (or 'foreach') is a verb or not, though. "I foreached through the data" sounds awkward. And, per the answer above, using a 'for each' is a method of iteration.

  • No, I've never heard for-each / for / while / do-while or any other loop construct used verb. Although you could say do X while Y, that's not derived from the programming construct; in fact it's obviously the other way around.
    – p.s.w.g
    Commented Jul 3, 2013 at 22:37

bitScan has been used to mean bit-wise scanning of a byte/word.


  1. It is not a recognized generic term though it is easy to understand in context.
  2. Some standard functions named bitScan1,2 already exist. That should be an issue in the OP's context.

1ORACLE IA-32 Assembly Language
Bit Scan Forward (bsf) scans the bits, starting at bit 0, in the doubleword operand or the second word. If the bits are all zero, ZF is cleared. Otherwise, ZF is set and the bit index of the first set bit, found while scanning in the forward direction, is loaded into the destination register.


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