C Array

Array Definition:

  • An array is a collection of item, all of the same data type and can be accessed using a same name.

What Is an Array?

An array is a collection of data storage locations, each having the same data type and the same name. Each storage location in an array is called an array element. Why do you need arrays in your programs? This question can be answered with an example. If you're keeping track of your business expenses for 1998 and filing your receipts by month, you could have a separate folder for each month's receipts, but it would be more convenient to have a single folder with 12 compartments.

Extend this example to computer programming. Imagine that you're designing a program to keep track of your business expenses. The program could declare 12 separate variables, one for each month's expense total. This approach is analogous to having 12 separate folders for your receipts. Good programming practice, however, would utilize an array with 12 elements, storing each month's total in the corresponding array element. This approach is comparable to filing your receipts in a single folder with 12 compartments

Single-Dimensional Arrays

A single-dimensional array has only a single subscript. A subscript is a number in brackets that follows an array's name. This number can identify the number of individual elements in the array. An example should make this clear. For the business expenses program, you could use the following line to declare an array of type float:

float expenses[12];

The array is named expenses, and it contains 12 elements. Each of the 12 elements is the exact equivalent of a single float variable. All of C's data types can be used for arrays. C array elements are always numbered starting at 0, so the 12 elements of expenses are numbered 0 through 11. In the preceding example, January's expense total would be stored in expenses[0], February's in expenses[1], and so on.

When you declare an array, the compiler sets aside a block of memory large enough to hold the entire array.

The location of array declarations in your source code is important. As with nonarray variables, the declaration's location affects how your program can use the array. The effect of a declaration's location is covered in more detail below."Understanding Variable Scope." For now, place your array declarations with other variable declarations, just before the start of main().

An array element can be used in your program anywhere a nonarray variable of the same type can be used. Individual elements of the array are accessed by using the array name followed by the element subscript enclosed in square brackets. For example, the following statement stores the value 89.95 in the second array element (remember, the first array element is expenses[0], not expenses[1]):

expenses[1] = 89.95;          Likewise, the statement

expenses[10] = expenses[11];

assigns a copy of the value that is stored in array element expenses[11] into array element expenses[10]. When you refer to an array element, the array subscript can be a literal constant, as in these examples. However, your programs might often use a subscript that is a C integer variable or expression, or even another array element. Here are some examples:

float expenses[100];

int a[10];               /* additional statements go here */

expenses[i] = 100;     /* i is an integer variable */

expenses[2 + 3] = 100;   /* equivalent to expenses[5] */

expenses[a[2]] = 100;   /* a[] is an integer array */

That last example might need an explanation. If, for instance, you have an integer array named a[] and the value 8 is stored in element a[2], writing


has the same effect as writing


When you use arrays, keep the element numbering scheme in mind: In an array of n ele-ments, the allowable subscripts range from 0 to n-1. If you use the subscript value n, you might get program errors. The C compiler doesn't recognize whether your program uses an array subscript that is out of bounds. Your program compiles and links, but out-of-range subscripts generally produce erroneous results.

Sometimes you might want to treat an array of n elements as if its elements were numbered 1 through n. For instance, in the previous example, a more natural method might be to store January's expense total in expenses[1], February's in expenses[2], and so on. The simplest way to do this is to declare the array with one more element than needed, and ignore element 0. In this case, you would declare the array as follows. You could also store some related data in element 0 (the yearly expense total, perhaps).

float expenses[13];

The program EXPENSES.C demonstrates the use of an array. This is a simple program with no real practical use; it's for demonstration purposes only.

Example : EXPENSES.C demonstrates the use of an array.

1:  /* EXPENSES.C - Demonstrates use of an array */
3:  #include <stdio.h>
5:  /* Declare an array to hold expenses, and a counter variable */
7:  float expenses[13];
8:  int count;
10: main()
11: {
12:   /* Input data from keyboard into array */
14:   for (count = 1; count < 13; count++)
15:   {
16:     printf("Enter expenses for month %d: ", count);
17:     scanf("%f", &expenses[count]);
18:   }
20:   /* Print array contents */
22:   for (count = 1; count < 13; count++)
23:   {
24:     printf("Month %d = $%.2f\n", count, expenses[count]);
25:   }
26:   return 0;
27: }

Enter expenses for month 1: 100
Enter expenses for month 2: 200.12
Enter expenses for month 3: 150.50
Enter expenses for month 4: 300
Enter expenses for month 5: 100.50
Enter expenses for month 6: 34.25
Enter expenses for month 7: 45.75
Enter expenses for month 8: 195.00
Enter expenses for month 9: 123.45
Enter expenses for month 10: 111.11
Enter expenses for month 11: 222.20
Enter expenses for month 12: 120.00
Month 1 = $100.00
Month 2 = $200.12
Month 3 = $150.50
Month 4 = $300.00
Month 5 = $100.50
Month 6 = $34.25
Month 7 = $45.75
Month 8 = $195.00
Month 9 = $123.45
Month 10 = $111.11
Month 11 = $222.20
Month 12 = $120.00


When you run EXPENSES.C, the program prompts you to enter expenses for months 1 through 12. The values you enter are stored in an array. You must enter a value for each month. After the 12th value is entered, the array contents are displayed on-screen.

The flow of the program is similar to listings you've seen before. Line 1 starts with a comment that describes what the program does. Notice that the name of the program, EXPENSES.C, is included. When the name of the program is included in a comment, you know which program you're viewing. This is helpful when you're reviewing printouts of a listing.

Line 5 contains an additional comment explaining the variables that are being declared. In line 7, an array of 13 elements is declared. In this program, only 12 elements are needed, one for each month, but 13 have been declared. The for loop in lines 14 through 18 ignores element 0. This lets the program use elements 1 through 12, which relate directly to the 12 months. Going back to line 8, a variable, count, is declared and is used throughout the program as a counter and an array index.

The program's main() function begins on line 10. As stated earlier, this program uses a for loop to print a message and accept a value for each of the 12 months. Notice that in line 17, the scanf() function uses an array element. In line 7, the expenses array was declared as float, so %f is used. The address-of operator (&) also is placed before the array element, just as if it were a regular type float variable and not an array element.

Lines 22 through 25 contain a second for loop that prints the values just entered. An additional formatting command has been added to the printf() function so that the expenses values print in a more orderly fashion. For now, know that %.2f prints a floating number with two digits to the right of the decimal. Additional formatting commands are covered in more detail on next chapters, "Working with the Screen, Printer, and Keyboard."

Multidimensional Arrays

A multidimensional array has more than one subscript. A two-dimensional array has two subscripts, a three-dimensional array has three subscripts, and so on. There is no limit to the number of dimensions a C array can have. (There is a limit on total array size, as discussed later in this chapter.)

For example, you might write a program that plays checkers. The checkerboard contains 64 squares arranged in eight rows and eight columns. Your program could represent the board as a two-dimensional array, as follows:

int checker[8][8];

The resulting array has 64 elements: checker[0][0], checker[0][1], checker[0][2]...checker[7][6],checker[7][7].

Similarly, a three-dimensional array could be thought of as a cube. Four-dimensional arrays (and higher) are probably best left to your imagination.

Initializing Arrays

You can initialize all or part of an array when you first declare it. Follow the array declaration with an equal sign and a list of values enclosed in braces and separated by commas. The listed values are assigned in order to array elements starting at number 0. For example, the following code assigns the value 100 to array[0], 200 to array[1], 300 to array[2], and 400 to array[3]:

int array[4] = { 100, 200, 300, 400 };

If you omit the array size, the compiler creates an array just large enough to hold the initialization values. Thus, the following statement would have exactly the same effect as the previous array declaration statement:

int array[] = { 100, 200, 300, 400 };

You can, however, include too few initialization values, as in this example:

int array[10] = { 1, 2, 3 };

If you don't explicitly initialize an array element, you can't be sure what value it holds when the program runs. If you include too many initializers (more initializers than array elements), the compiler detects an error.

Initializing Multidimensional Arrays

Multidimensional arrays can also be initialized. The list of initialization values is assigned to array elements in order, with the last array subscript changing first. For example:

int array[4][3] = { 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12 };

results in the following assignments:

array[0][0] is equal to 1
array[0][1] is equal to 2
array[0][2] is equal to 3
array[1][0] is equal to 4
array[1][1] is equal to 5
array[1][2] is equal to 6
array[3][1] is equal to 11
array[3][2] is equal to 12

When you initialize multidimensional arrays, you can make your source code clearer by using extra braces to group the initialization values and also by spreading them over several lines. The following initialization is equivalent to the one just given:

int array[4][3] = { { 1, 2, 3 } , { 4, 5, 6 } ,

{ 7, 8, 9 } , { 10, 11, 12 } };

Remember, initialization values must be separated by a comma--even when there is a brace between them. Also, be sure to use braces in pairs--a closing brace for every opening brace--or the compiler becomes confused.

Now look at an example that demonstrates the advantages of arrays. Listing program, RANDOM.C, creates a 1,000-element, three-dimensional array and fills it with random numbers. The program then displays the array elements on-screen. Imagine how many lines of source code you would need to perform the same task with nonarray variables.

You see a new library function, getch(), in this program. The getch() function reads a single character from the keyboard. In Listing program, getch() pauses the program until the user presses a key.

Maximum Array Size

Because of the way memory models work, you shouldn't try to create more than 64 KB of data variables for now. An explanation of this limitation is beyond the scope of this book, but there's no need to worry: None of the programs in this book exceed this limitation. To understand more, or to get around this limitation, consult your compiler manuals. Generally, 64 KB is enough data space for programs, particularly the relatively simple programs you will write as you work through this book. A single array can take up the entire 64 KB of data storage if your program uses no other variables. Otherwise, you need to apportion the available data space as needed.

 NOTE: Some operating systems don't have a 64 KB limit. DOS does.

C Array Example Programs