Algorithms and OOD (CSC 207 2013F) : Readings

Arrays in Java

Summary: We consider one of the central building blocks for data structures: the Array. Arrays group values and permit fast access by numeric index.

Prerequisites: Basics of Java. For loops. Parameterized classes.

Background: Grouping Data

As you build larger and larger programs, you will soon find that you have many situations in which you need to group large amounts of similar data. For example, in a grading program, you may need to group students and, for each student, you may need to group grades. Because grouping data is at the center of so many programs, computer scientists study different ways to group data.

As you may have seen in the past, there are two initial approaches one can take. One can describe abstract data types (ADTs), which specify the what of data. That is, ADTs describe the overall philosophy of the collection of data and the primary methods that client algorithms and programs use to access the data. One can also focus on data structures, which specify the how of data. That is, data structures provide the implementation for the methods that ADTs describe.

Arrays play an odd role in this classification. From one perspective, we can think of them as ADTs, in that the design of arrays is guided by a central philosophy, and programmers usually rely on them to provide certain operations. However, from another perspective, arrays are implemented in a particular way, and many programmers take advantage of that implementation as they build other data structures. We will consider both aspects.

Array Basics

We begin with the central philosophy or pupose of arrays: Arrays group similar kinds of values and allow clients to access those values by number. If we want to use specialized terminology, we say that arrays are collections of homogenous values that are indexed by non-negative integers.

What operations do we expect to have for such a collection?

  • We should be able to find out determine how many elements are in the collection.
  • We should be able to find out what value is associated with a particular index.
  • We should be able to specify what value is associated with a particular index.
  • We should be able to create a new collection of a specified size (and, perhaps, with a specified range of indices).

Because arrays are both simple and central, we also expect most of these operations to be comparatively quick (and, except for the case of creating a collection, to take an amount of time or computation independent of the number of values in the array).

To provide fast access to elements, most languages store arrays as a contiguous area of memory. If the array starts at memory location l, and each value in the array takes space s, and the indices start at 0, then the value in position i can be found at memory location l+is.

Syntax of Arrays in Java

In Java, arrays have a special syntax. In order to use arrays, you will need to mamster this syntax (and master it fairly quickly).

The type of an array is specified by giving the type of the elements followed by an open square bracket and a close square bracket. So, , for example, the type of an array of integers is int[] and the type of an array of exceptions is Exception[].

We most typically construct an array with the new operator, followed by the type of each element, an open bracket, an integer that gives the size of the array, and a close bracket. To create an array of five integers called ratings, we would write

int[] ratings = new int[5];

Similarly, to create an array of ten objects in class Student, we would write

Student[] class = new Student[10];

We can also initialize an array during construction by eliding the array size and following the right bracket with a sequence of values separated by commas and surrounded by curly braces. For example, to create an array of the names Jane, Jack, Julie, and John, we would write

String[] names = new String[] { "Jane", "Jack", "Julie", "John" };

Similarly, to create an array of the ratings 5, 4, 3, 4, and 2, we might write

int[] ratings = new int[] { 5, 4, 3, 4, 2 };

When writing these array initializers, we might also construct objects within the braces. For example,

Fraction[] thirds = new Fraction[] { new Fraction("1/3"),
                                     new Fraction("2/3"),
                                     new Fraction("3/3"),
                                     new Fraction("4/3") };

To obtain the number of values in an array, we use the name of the array, followed by a period, followed by the keyword length. For example,

pen.println("There are " + students.length + " students.");

To get a particular value in the array, we use the name of the array, followed by an open bracket, followed by an expression that gives the index, followed by a close bracket. For example, here is some simple code to print all the fractions in the array of fractions declared above.

for (int i = 0; i < thirds.length; i++) {
} // for

Similarly, to set a particular value in the array, we assign to the name of the array, followed by an open bracket, followed by an expression that gives the index, followed by a close bracket.

For example, here is some code that increments all the ratings in an array by 1.

for (int i = 0; i < ratings.length; i++) {
    ratings[i] = ratings[i] + 5;
} // for 

The Design of Arrays, Revisited

Let's return to the original philosophy of arrays: an array is an indexed collection of homogenous values. Do the arrays we've just looked at meet that goal? Yes, it seems they do. But Java arrays also add one more implicit characteristic: Java arrays are fixed sized indexed collections of homogenous values.

Do arrays have to have a fixed size? No. One can design and implement arrays that expand dynamically when necessary. Instead of asking about the length of such arrays, you would probably ask about the current capacity of the array or what the largest indexed used is (or something similar). You might also need to consider when the array expands. Does it expand automatically when a client requests a value outside of the bounds, or is there an explicit command to expand the array?

In Java, the standard arrays have a fixed size. However, there are a variety of container types (e.g., java.util.Vector, java.util.ArrayList) that provide dynamic arrays.

Copyright (c) 2013 Samuel A. Rebelsky.

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