Stata Basics: foreach and forvalues

There are times we need to do some repetitive tasks in the process of data preparation, analysis, or presentation. For instance, we may need to compute a set of variables in the same manner, rename or create a series of variables, or repetitively recode values of a number of variables. In this post, we show a few simple example "loops" using the Stata commands foreach, local and forvalues to handle some common repetitive tasks.

foreach: loop over items

Consider this sample dataset of monthly average temperature for three years. Below we enter the data by hand using the input command. First enter input year mtemp1-mtemp12 in the Command window. Next copy-and-paste each row of temperatures for each year into the Command window (one row at a time; do not include the leading line number) and hit Enter. When finished, enter end and click Enter.

* input data
input year mtemp1-mtemp12

          year     mtemp1     mtemp2     mtemp3     mtemp4     mtemp5     mtemp6     mtemp7     mtemp8     mtemp9    mtemp10    mtemp11    mtemp12
  1. 2013 4 3 5 14 18 23 25 22 19 15 7 6
  2. 2014 -1 3 5 13 19 23 24 23 21 15 7 5
  3. 2015 2 -1 7 14 21 24 25 24 21 14 11 10
  4. end

Now the mean temperatures of each month are in Centigrade, if we want to convert them to Fahrenheit, we could do the computation for the 12 variables.

generate fmtemp1 = mtemp1*(9/5)+32
generate fmtemp2 = mtemp2*(9/5)+32
generate fmtemp3 = mtemp3*(9/5)+32
generate fmtemp4 = mtemp4*(9/5)+32
generate fmtemp5 = mtemp5*(9/5)+32
generate fmtemp6 = mtemp6*(9/5)+32
generate fmtemp7 = mtemp7*(9/5)+32
generate fmtemp8 = mtemp8*(9/5)+32
generate fmtemp9 = mtemp9*(9/5)+32
generate fmtemp10 = mtemp10*(9/5)+32
generate fmtemp11 = mtemp11*(9/5)+32
generate fmtemp12 = mtemp12*(9/5)+32

However this takes a lot of typing. Alternatively, we can use the foreach command to achieve the same goal. In the following codes, we tell Stata to do the same thing (the computation: c*9/5+32) for each of the variables in the varlist: mtemp1 to mtemp12.

drop fmtemp1-fmtemp12
foreach v of varlist mtemp1-mtemp12 {
    generate f`v' = `v'*(9/5)+32

* list variables

year      mtemp3    mtemp6    mtemp9    mtemp12   fmtemp3   fmtemp6   fmtemp9   fmtemp12
mtemp1    mtemp4    mtemp7    mtemp10   fmtemp1   fmtemp4   fmtemp7   fmtemp10
mtemp2    mtemp5    mtemp8    mtemp11   fmtemp2   fmtemp5   fmtemp8   fmtemp11

Note that braces must be specified with foreach. The opening brace has to be on the same line as the foreach, and the closing brace must be on a line by itself. It's crucial to close loops properly, especially if you have one or more loops nested in another loop.

local: define macro

The previous example was a rather simple repetitive task which can be handled solely by the foreach command. Here we introduce another command local, which is utilized a lot with commands like foreach to deal with repetitive tasks that are more complex. The local command is a way of defining macro in Stata. A Stata macro can contain multiple elements; it has a name and contents. Consider the following two examples:

* define a local macro called month
local month jan feb mar apr
display `"`month'"' 

jan feb mar apr

Define a local macro called mcode and another called month, alter the contents of mcode in the foreach loop, then display them in a form of "mcode: month".

local mcode 0
local month jan feb mar apr
foreach m of local month {
    local mcode = `mcode' + 1
    display "`mcode': `m'"

1: jan
2: feb
3: mar
4: apr

Note when you call a defined macro, it has to be wrapped in ` (left tick) and ' (apostrophe) symbols.

Rename multiple variables

Take the temperature dataset we created as an example. Let's say we want to rename variables mtemp1-mtemp12 as mtempjan-mtenpdec. We can do so by just tweaking a bit of the codes in the previous example.

Define local macro mcode and month, then rename the 12 vars in the foreach loop.

local mcode 0
local month jan feb mar apr may jun jul aug sep oct nov dec
foreach m of local month {
    local mcode = `mcode' + 1
    rename mtemp`mcode' mtemp`m'

year      mtempmar  mtempjun  mtempsep  mtempdec  fmtemp3   fmtemp6   fmtemp9   fmtemp12
mtempjan  mtempapr  mtempjul  mtempoct  fmtemp1   fmtemp4   fmtemp7   fmtemp10
mtempfeb  mtempmay  mtempaug  mtempnov  fmtemp2   fmtemp5   fmtemp8   fmtemp11

We can obtain the same results in a slightly different way. This time we use another 12 variables fmtemp1-fmtemp12 as examples. Again, we will rename them as fmtempjan-fmtempdec.

Define local macro month, then define local macro monthII in the foreach loop while specifying the string function word to reference the contents of the local macro month.

local month jan feb mar apr may jun jul aug sep oct nov dec
foreach n of numlist 1/12 {
    local monthII: word `n' of `month'
    display "`monthII'"
    rename fmtemp`n' fmtemp`monthII'   



year       mtempmar   mtempjun   mtempsep   mtempdec   fmtempmar  fmtempjun  fmtempsep  fmtempdec
mtempjan   mtempapr   mtempjul   mtempoct   fmtempjan  fmtempapr  fmtempjul  fmtempoct
mtempfeb   mtempmay   mtempaug   mtempnov   fmtempfeb  fmtempmay  fmtempaug  fmtempnov

We recommend running display to see how the macro looks before actually applying the defined macro on tasks like changing variable names, just to make sure you don't accidentally change them to some undesired results or cause errors. However the display line is not necessary in this case.

Here we rename them back to fmtemp1-fmtemp12.

local mcode 0
foreach n in jan feb mar apr may jun jul aug sep oct nov dec {
    local mcode = `mcode' + 1
    rename fmtemp`n' fmtemp`mcode'

year      mtempmar  mtempjun  mtempsep  mtempdec  fmtemp3   fmtemp6   fmtemp9   fmtemp12
mtempjan  mtempapr  mtempjul  mtempoct  fmtemp1   fmtemp4   fmtemp7   fmtemp10
mtempfeb  mtempmay  mtempaug  mtempnov  fmtemp2   fmtemp5   fmtemp8   fmtemp11

forvalues: loop over consecutive values

The forvalues command is also useful for repetitive tasks. Consider the same temperature dataset we created. Suppose we would like to generate twelve dummy variables (warm1-warm12) to indicate whether the monthly average temperature is higher than the one in the previous year. For example, we code warm1 for the year of 2014 as 1 if the value of fmtemp1 for 2014 is higher than the value for 2013. We code all the warm variables as 99 for 2013, since they don't have a references to compare.

We can do this by running the following codes, then repeat them for twelve times to create the twelve variables warm1-warm12.

* _n creates sequences of numbers. Type "help _n" for descriptions and examples.
generate warm1=1 if fmtemp1 > fmtemp1[_n-1]
replace warm1=0 if fmtemp1 <= fmtemp1[_n-1]
replace warm1=99 if year==2013
list year fmtemp1 warm1, clean

       year   fmtemp1   warm1  
  1.   2013      39.2      99  
  2.   2014      30.2       0  
  3.   2015      35.6       1  

However this takes a lot of typing and could lead to unwanted mistakes in the process of typing or copying-and-pasting them over and over.

* drop warm1 we generated
drop warm1

Instead, we can use forvalues:

forvalues i=1/12 {
    generate warm`i'=1 if fmtemp`i' > fmtemp`i'[_n-1]
    replace warm`i'=0 if fmtemp`i' <= fmtemp`i'[_n-1]
    replace warm`i'=99 if year==2013
* see the results
list year fmtemp1-fmtemp3 warm1-warm3, clean 

       year   fmtemp1   fmtemp2   fmtemp3   warm1   warm2   warm3  
  1.   2013      39.2      37.4        41      99      99      99  
  2.   2014      30.2      37.4        41       0       0       0  
  3.   2015      35.6      30.2      44.6       1       0       1  


  • Baum, C. (2005). A little bit of Stata programming goes a long way... Working Papers in Economics, 69.
  • StataCorp. (2017). Stata Statistical Software: Release 15. College Station, TX: StataCorp LLC.

Yun Tai
CLIR Postdoctoral Fellow
University of Virginia Library
October 14, 2016
Updated May 22, 2023

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