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JavaScript Arrays


JavaScript arrays are used to store multiple values in a single variable.

Example

var cars = ["Saab", "Volvo", "BMW"];
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What is an Array?

An array is a special variable, which can hold more than one value at a time.

If you have a list of items (a list of car names, for example), storing the cars in single variables could look like this:

var car1 = "Saab";
var car2 = "Volvo";
var car3 = "BMW";

However, what if you want to loop through the cars and find a specific one? And what if you had not 3 cars, but 300?

The solution is an array!

An array can hold many values under a single name, and you can access the values by referring to an index number.


Creating an Array

Using an array literal is the easiest way to create a JavaScript Array.

Syntax:

var array-name = [item1, item2, ...];      

Example

var cars = ["Saab", "Volvo", "BMW"];
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Spaces and line breaks are not important. A declaration can span multiple lines:

Example

var cars = [
    "Saab",
    "Volvo",
    "BMW"
];
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Never put a comma after the last element (like "BMW",).
The effect is inconsistent across browsers.


Using the JavaScript Keyword new

The following example also creates an Array, and assigns values to it:

Example

var cars = new Array("Saab", "Volvo", "BMW");
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The two examples above do exactly the same. There is no need to use new Array().
For simplicity, readability and execution speed, use the first one (the array literal method).


Access the Elements of an Array

You refer to an array element by referring to the index number.

This statement accesses the value of the first element in cars:

var name = cars[0];

This statement modifies the first element in cars:

cars[0] = "Opel";

Example

var cars = ["Saab", "Volvo", "BMW"];
document.getElementById("demo").innerHTML = cars[0];
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[0] is the first element in an array. [1] is the second. Array indexes start with 0.


Access the Full Array

With JavaScript, the full array can be accessed by referring to the array name:

Example

var cars = ["Saab", "Volvo", "BMW"];
document.getElementById("demo").innerHTML = cars;
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Arrays are Objects

Arrays are a special type of objects. The typeof operator in JavaScript returns "object" for arrays.

But, JavaScript arrays are best described as arrays.

Arrays use numbers to access its "elements". In this example, person[0] returns John:

Array:

var person = ["John", "Doe", 46];
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Objects use names to access its "members". In this example, person.firstName returns John:

Object:

var person = {firstName:"John", lastName:"Doe", age:46};
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Array Elements Can Be Objects

JavaScript variables can be objects. Arrays are special kinds of objects.

Because of this, you can have variables of different types in the same Array.

You can have objects in an Array. You can have functions in an Array. You can have arrays in an Array:

myArray[0] = Date.now;
myArray[1] = myFunction;
myArray[2] = myCars;

Array Properties and Methods

The real strength of JavaScript arrays are the built-in array properties and methods:

Examples

var x = cars.length;   // The length property returns the number of elements
var y = cars.sort();   // The sort() method sorts arrays

Array methods are covered in the next chapters.


The length Property

The length property of an array returns the length of an array (the number of array elements).

Example

var fruits = ["Banana", "Orange", "Apple", "Mango"];
fruits.length;                       // the length of fruits is 4
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The length property is always one more than the highest array index.


Looping Array Elements

The best way to loop through an array, is using a "for" loop:

Example

var fruits, text, fLen, i;

fruits = ["Banana", "Orange", "Apple", "Mango"];
fLen = fruits.length;
text = "<ul>";
for (i = 0; i < fLen; i++) {
    text += "<li>" + fruits[i] + "</li>";
}
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Adding Array Elements

The easiest way to add a new element to an array is using the push method:

Example

var fruits = ["Banana", "Orange", "Apple", "Mango"];
fruits.push("Lemon");                // adds a new element (Lemon) to fruits
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New element can also be added to an array using the length property:

Example

var fruits = ["Banana", "Orange", "Apple", "Mango"];
fruits[fruits.length] = "Lemon";     // adds a new element (Lemon) to fruits
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WARNING !

Adding elements with high indexes can create undefined "holes" in an array:

Example

var fruits = ["Banana", "Orange", "Apple", "Mango"];
fruits[6] = "Lemon";                 // adds a new element (Lemon) to fruits
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Associative Arrays

Many programming languages support arrays with named indexes.

Arrays with named indexes are called associative arrays (or hashes).

JavaScript does not support arrays with named indexes.

In JavaScript, arrays always use numbered indexes.  

Example

var person = [];
person[0] = "John";
person[1] = "Doe";
person[2] = 46;
var x = person.length;         // person.length will return 3
var y = person[0];             // person[0] will return "John"
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WARNING !!
If you use a named index, JavaScript will redefine the array to a standard object.
After that, all array methods and properties will produce incorrect results.

 Example:

var person = [];
person["firstName"] = "John";
person["lastName"] = "Doe";
person["age"] = 46;
var x = person.length;         // person.length will return 0
var y = person[0];             // person[0] will return undefined
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The Difference Between Arrays and Objects

In JavaScript, arrays use numbered indexes.  

In JavaScript, objects use named indexes.

Arrays are a special kind of objects, with numbered indexes.


When to Use Arrays. When to use Objects.

  • JavaScript does not support associative arrays.
  • You should use objects when you want the element names to be strings (text).
  • You should use arrays when you want the element names to be numbers.

Avoid new Array()

There is no need to use the JavaScript's built-in array constructor new Array().

Use [] instead.

These two different statements both create a new empty array named points:

var points = new Array();         // Bad
var points = [];                  // Good 

These two different statements both create a new array containing 6 numbers:

var points = new Array(40, 100, 1, 5, 25, 10); // Bad
var points = [40, 100, 1, 5, 25, 10];          // Good
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The new keyword only complicates the code. It can also produce some unexpected results:

var points = new Array(40, 100);  // Creates an array with two elements (40 and 100)

What if I remove one of the elements?

var points = new Array(40);       // Creates an array with 40 undefined elements !!!!!
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How to Recognize an Array

A common question is: How do I know if a variable is an array?

The problem is that the JavaScript operator typeof returns "object":

var fruits = ["Banana", "Orange", "Apple", "Mango"];

typeof fruits;             // returns object
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The typeof operator returns object because a JavaScript array is an object.

Solution 1:

To solve this problem ECMAScript 5 defines a new method Array.isArray():

Array.isArray(fruits);     // returns true
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The problem with this solution is that ECMAScript 5 is not supported in older browsers.

Solution 2:

To solve this problem you can create your own isArray() function:

function isArray(x) {
    return x.constructor.toString().indexOf("Array") > -1;
}
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The function above always returns true if the argument is an array.

Or more precisely: it returns true if the object prototype contains the word "Array".

Solution 3:

The instanceof operator returns true if an object is created by a given constructor:

var fruits = ["Banana", "Orange", "Apple", "Mango"];

fruits instanceof Array     // returns true
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Test Yourself with Exercises!

Exercise 1 »   Exercise 2 »   Exercise 3 »   Exercise 4 »   Exercise 5 »