Iterative (prounounced IT-ter-a-teev) is an adjective that means repetitious.

1) In computer programming, iterative is used to describe a situation in which a sequence of instructions can be executed multiple times. One pass through the sequence is called an iteration. If the sequence of instructions is executed repeatedly, it is called a loop, and we say that the computer iterates through the loop.

2) In software development, iterative is used to describe a heuristic planning and development process where an application is developed in small sections called iterations. Each iteration is reviewed and critiqued by the software team and potential end-users; insights gained from the critique of an iteration are used to determine the next step in development. Data models or sequence diagrams, which are often used to map out iterations, keep track of what has been tried, approved, or discarded, and eventually serve as a kind of blueprint for the final product.

The challenge in iterative development is to make sure all the iterations are compatible. As each new iteration is approved, developers may employ a technique known as backwards engineering, which is a systematic review and check procedure to make sure each new iteration is compatible with previous ones. The advantage of using iterative development is that the end-user is involved in the development process. Instead of waiting until the application is a final product, when it may not be possible to make changes easily, problems are identified and solved at each stage of development. Iterative development is sometimes called circular or evolutionary development.

This was last updated in July 2011

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