EBoard 08: Example: Expandable Arrays

Warning This class is being recorded.

Approximate overview

  • Administrivia
  • Expandable arrays, continued


Introductory notes

  • I’ve added a link to the example code I’m writing as we go. I’ll leave it up to you to figure out what is what. (If you really need a guide, let me know.)
  • I may have screwed up the code on today’s lab. Let me know.

Upcoming Token activities


  • CS Table, Tuesday, Noon, Day PDR. ??? (something about ChatGPT?)
  • CS Extras, Thursday, 4:15 pm, Science 3821. ???
  • Thursday 14 Sept 2023, 6pm, “Microsoft Campus Visit” (HSSC Kernel/A1231)
  • Sunday, 4-5pm, CS (Un)Commons, Mentor Session


  • Thursday 14 Sept 2023, 8pm, Writers @ Grinnell w/Claire Forrest ‘13




  • Friday 15 Sept 2023, Noon, Whale Room, Lunch with Young Alums in Tech

Upcoming work

  • Tonight: MP2 pre-assessment
  • Thursday: MP2


Back to expandable arrays

Expandable array code: ExpandableStringArray.java

Our experiments: ESAexpt.java


Philosophy: Like an array, but automatically “expands” if we set something beyond the assumed “size” of the array.

Use Cases: Similar to those for which we use arrays.

  • Students indexed by id number.
  • Cities indexed by zip code.
  • Any collection of values that we may want to add to and rearrange (e.g., to sort)

Methods (minimalist): An expandable array might provide three primary methods.

  • String ExpandableArray(String default) - Create a new expandable array of the specified size.
  • void set(int index, String val) - Set the value at the given index to val.
  • String get(int index) - If we’ve set something at the given index using set, return that value. Otherwise, return default.

We might also provide a few other basic methods

  • void addToEnd(String val) - add to the end of the “useful” values
  • int size() : 1 + largest index used

Reminder: At first, only add the methods that (a) make sense within the context of the purpose and (b) cannot be implemented by the other methods you’ve written.

One could argue that once you have size(), you no longer need addToEnd().

  • arr.addToEnd(val) = arr.set(arr.size(), val);


Layout: We’re storing the array as a normal array. We’ll have to allocate a bigger underlying array (and copy things over) when it needs to expand.

Good alternate idea: A linked list of arrays.

What fields do you want in the class?

public class ExpandableStringArray {
  // +--------+------------------------------------------------------
  // | Fields |
  // +--------+

   * The "size"; the largest index used so far.
  int size;

   * The underlying array.
  String[] values;

   * The default value (used for cells that haven't been set).
  String default;

} // class ExpandableStringArray


  • How will you implement get?
  • How will you implement set?
  • How will you implement your constructor?
  • How will you implement size()?
  • How will you implement addToEnd()? (Done)


  • Idea: If i < this.size(), just get values[i].
  • Idea: If i >= this.size(), allocate a larger array and copy things over. (Seems like overkill.)
  • Idea: If i >= this.size() (or i >= this.values.length), return a special value … null? (default)
  • Question: What should we do for negative indices? We don’t normally allow those to be set, but for get, we can either crash and burn (throw an Exception) or return the default.
  public String get(int i) {
    if ((i < 0) || (i > this.values.length)) {
      return this.default;
    } else {
      return this.values[i]; 
    } // if ... else
  } // get(int)


  • Note: If i is greater than this.values.length, we need to expand the array.
  • Since we’re expanding the array and we rely on default being in all the unset locations, we need to put it ther.
  • We also need to update this size.
  public void set(int i, String val) {
    // If the index is too large
    if (i > this.values.length) {
      // Build a new array and copy it over
      String[] newvalues = new String[i+1];
      for (int j = 0; j < this.values.length; j++) {
        newvalues[j] = this.values[j];
      } // for
      for (int j = this.values.length; j < i; j++) {
        newvalues[j] = this.default;
      } // for 
      this.values = newvalues;
    } // if
    this.values[i] = val;
    this.size = max(this.size, i+1);
  } // set(int, String)


  private static final int INITIAL_ARRAY_SIZE = 16;

  public ExpandableStringArray(String default) {
    this.values = new String[INITIAL_ARRAY_SIZE];
    this.default = default;
    this.size = 0;
    for (int i = 0; i < this.values.length; i++) {
      this.values[i] = default;
    } // for
  } // ExpandableStringArray


 * Get the size (1 + the largest index used for set).
public int size() {
  return this.size;

Note: The code above is not correct. We made some changes in the example. Look there.


  • About how many steps do we do in each of the methods (as a function of the parameters).
    • Constant: It doesn’t depend on the parameters
    • Linear: One step for each parameter (or for a numeric parameter).
  • Constructor: constant. Always the same time.
  • Get: constant.
  • Size: constant.
  • Set: Sometimes constant (if i < this.values.length), sometimes linear in i.

We skipped over an important design decision. When expanding the array, how much should we expand it?

  • Option 1: new size is i + 1
  • Option 2: new size is this.values.length * 2

Hint: There are flaws in both options.

  • In option 1, you might expand a lot, particularly if you’re doing something like for (int i = 0; i < 1000; this.addToEnd("" + i);
  • In option 2, you may be expanding much more than you need, which means a lot of effort setting them to default.
  • In option 2, i might be greater than this.values.length * 2.

Our best option is either

  • Option 3: max(i+1, this.values.length*2)
  • Option 4: the smallest k that ensures that this.values.length*2^k > i

Important moral: Double array sizes if you need to expand them. There’s a little extra expense now, but amortized over all the expansions, it’s much better than a constant size expansion.