The Java Array Data Structure - Arrays Explained with Examples


An Array is a collection of values (or objects) of similar datatypes (both primitive and reference datatypes are allowed) held in sequential memory addresses. All the variables in the array must be of the same type, declared at instantiation. Failure to remain consistent with the type will lead to compilation errors. Arrays always start with an index of 0 and are instantiated to a set number of indexes. To clarify, an array that is instantiated will be created to hold a certain number of variables. The number of variables that can be held in an array is not mutable.


dataType[] arrayName;   // preferred way

Here, datatype[] describes that all the variables stated after it will be instantiated as arrays of the specified datatype. So, if we want to instantiate more arrays of the similar datatype, we just have to add them after the specified arrayName (don’t forget to separate them through commas only). An example is given below in the next section for reference.

dataType arrayName[];  //  works but not preferred way

Here, datatype describes only that the variables stated after it belong to that datatype. Besides, [] after the variable name describes that the variable is an array of the specified datatype (not just a value or object of that datatype). So, if we want to instantiate more arrays of the similar datatype, we will add the variables names just after the one already specified, separated by commas and each time we will have to add [] after the variable name otherwise the variable will be instantiated as an ordinary value-storing variable (not an array). For better understanding an example is given in the next section.

Code snippets of above syntax:

double[] list1, list2; // preferred way

Above code snippet instantiates 2 arrays of double type named list1 and list2.

double list1[], list2; // works but not preferred way

Above code snippet an array of datatype double named list1 and a simple variable of datatype double named list2 (Don’t be confused by the name list2 . Variable names have nothing to do with the type of variable).

Note: The style double list[] is not preferred as it comes from the C/C++ language and was adopted in Java to accommodate C/C++ programmers. Additionally it’s more readable to use the style double[] list : you can easily read that it’s a “double array named list” other than “a double called list that is an array.”

Creating Arrays:

dataType[] arrayName = new dataType[arraySize]; //Preferable


datatype arrayName[] = new dataType[arraySize]; //Not preferable

Here we have declared and initialized the array in one step. We could have also written it in two parts with one step being the declaration of array followed by the initialization of array. By default, all memory locations allocated to the array is initialized to its default values, depending upon the datatype.

Code snippets of the above syntax:

double[] List = new double[10];
String[] words = new String[20];
int[] numbers = new int[100];

We are creating a array variable named List of type double and allocating it 10 memory locations. This double datatype array is initialized to 0.0 by default.

Another way to declare and initialize an Array:

dataType[] arrayName = {value_0, value_1, ..., value_k};

Code snippets of above syntax:

double[] list = {1, 2, 3, 4};

The code above is equivalent to:
double[] list = new double[4];
*IMPORTANT NOTE: Please note the difference between the types of brackets
that are used to represent arrays in two different ways.

String[] rainbow = {"red", "orange", "yellow", "green", "blue", "purple"};

The code above is equivalent to:
String[] rainbow = new String[6];

Declaring array literal

dataType[] arrayName = new dataType[] {value_0, value_1, ..., value_k};

Code snippets of above syntax:

int[] intArray = new int[]{ 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10 }; 

Accessing Arrays:

arrayName[index]; // gives you the value at the specified index

Code snippets of above syntax:




Modifying Arrays:

arrayName[index] = value; 

rainbow[0] = "red";

Note: You cannot change the size or type of an array after initializing it. Note: You can however reset the array like so

arrayName = new dataType[] {value1, value2, value3};

However, there is a way to increase the size of an array, with the cost one one more variable, as below:

arrayName = new dataType[] {value1, value2, value3, value4, value5} // five values
newArray = arrays.copyOf(arrayName, 10) // creates a new array that has all of the previous array's elements, including 5 new spaces for more values

Size of Arrays:

It’s possible to find the number of elements in an array using the length attribute. It should be noted here that length is an attribute of every array, i.e., a variable storing the length of the array. It must not be confused for a method of Array since the name is same as the length() method corresponding to String classes.

int[] a = {4, 5, 6, 7, 8}; // declare array
System.out.println(a.length); //prints 5

Code snippets of above syntax:

list[1] = 3; // now, if you access the array like above, it will output 3 rather than 2

Example of code:

int[] a = {4, 5, 6, 7, 8}; // declare array
for (int i = 0; i < a.length; i++){ // loop goes through each index
    System.out.println(a[i]); // prints the array



Multi-dimensional Arrays

Two-dimensional arrays (2D arrays) can be thought of as a table with rows and columns. Though this representation is only a way to visualize the array for better problem-solving. The values are actually stored in sequential memory addresses only. Additionally, their coordinate system is different from cartesian coordinates in that array values are referenced row then column.

int M = 5;
int N = 5;
double[][] a = new double [M][N]; //M = rows N = columns
for(int i = 0; i < M; i++) {
    for (int j = 0; j < N; j++) {
        //Do something here at index 

This loop will execute M * N times and will build this:

[ 0 | 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 ]  
[ 0 | 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 ]  
[ 0 | 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 ]  
[ 0 | 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 ]  
[ 0 | 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 ]  

Similarly a 3D array can also be made. It can be visualized as a cuboid instead of a rectangle(as above), divided into smaller cubes with each cube storing some value. It can be initialized follows:

int a=2, b=3, c=4;
int[][][] a=new int[a][b][c];

In a similar manner, one can declare an array of as many dimensions as desired, although visualizing an array of more than 3 dimensions is difficult.

Tip: Arrays like this can be quite confusing, especially to beginners, so if you are planning to use this, be prepared to make a visual representation either in your head or on pen and paper.

Jagged Arrays

Jagged arrays are multi-dimensional arrays that have a set number of rows but a varying number of columns. Jagged arrays are used to conserve memory use of the array. They can be thought of as arrays which holds arrays. Here is an example:

int[][] array = new int[5][]; //initialize a 2D array with 5 rows
array[0] = new int[1]; //creates 1 column for first row
array[1] = new int[2]; //creates 2 columns for second row
array[2] = new int[5]; //creates 5 columns for third row
array[3] = new int[5]; //creates 5 columns for fourth row
array[4] = new int[5]; //creates 5 columns for fifth row


[ 0 ]                  
[ 0 | 1 ]              
[ 0 | 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 ]  
[ 0 | 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 ]  
[ 0 | 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 ]  

Advantages of Arrays

  • Code Optimization : It makes the code optimized, we can retrieve or sort the data efficiently.
  • Random access : We can get any data located at an index position.

Disadvantages of Arrays

  • Size Limit : We can store only the fixed size of elements in the array. It doesn’t grow its size at runtime. To solve this problem, collection framework is used in Java which grows automatically.