An array is a container object that holds a fixed number of values of a single type. The length of an array is established when the array is created. After creation, its length is fixed. You have seen an example of arrays already, in the main method of the “Hello World!” application. This section discusses arrays in greater detail.

Each item in an array is called an element, and each element is accessed by its numerical index. As shown in the preceding illustration, numbering begins with 0.

The following program, ArrayDemo, creates an array of integers, puts some values in the array, and prints each value to standard output.

class ArrayDemo {
    public static void main(String[] args) {
        // declares an array of integers
        int[] anArray;

        // allocates memory for 10 integers
        anArray = new int[10];
           
        // initialize first element
        anArray[0] = 100;
        // initialize second element
        anArray[1] = 200;
        // and so forth
        anArray[2] = 300;
        anArray[3] = 400;
        anArray[4] = 500;
        anArray[5] = 600;
        anArray[6] = 700;
        anArray[7] = 800;
        anArray[8] = 900;
        anArray[9] = 1000;

        System.out.println("Element at index 0: "
                           + anArray[0]);
        System.out.println("Element at index 1: "
                           + anArray[1]);
        System.out.println("Element at index 2: "
                           + anArray[2]);
        System.out.println("Element at index 3: "
                           + anArray[3]);
        System.out.println("Element at index 4: "
                           + anArray[4]);
        System.out.println("Element at index 5: "
                           + anArray[5]);
        System.out.println("Element at index 6: "
                           + anArray[6]);
        System.out.println("Element at index 7: "
                           + anArray[7]);
        System.out.println("Element at index 8: "
                           + anArray[8]);
        System.out.println("Element at index 9: "
                           + anArray[9]);
    }
} 

The output from this program is:

Element at index 0: 100
Element at index 1: 200
Element at index 2: 300
Element at index 3: 400
Element at index 4: 500
Element at index 5: 600
Element at index 6: 700
Element at index 7: 800
Element at index 8: 900
Element at index 9: 1000

In a real-world programming situation, you would probably use one of the supported looping constructs to iterate through each element of the array, rather than write each line individually as in the preceding example. However, the example clearly illustrates the array syntax.

Declaring a Variable to Refer to an Array

The preceding program declares an array (named anArray) with the following line of code:

// declares an array of integers
int[] anArray;

Like declarations for variables of other types, an array declaration has two components: the array’s type and the array’s name. An array’s type is written as type[], where type is the data type of the contained elements; the brackets are special symbols indicating that this variable holds an array. The size of the array is not part of its type (which is why the brackets are empty). An array’s name can be anything you want, provided that it follows the rules and conventions as previously discussed in the naming section. As with variables of other types, the declaration does not actually create an array; it simply tells the compiler that this variable will hold an array of the specified type.

Similarly, you can declare arrays of other types:

byte[] anArrayOfBytes;
short[] anArrayOfShorts;
long[] anArrayOfLongs;
float[] anArrayOfFloats;
double[] anArrayOfDoubles;
boolean[] anArrayOfBooleans;
char[] anArrayOfChars;
String[] anArrayOfStrings;

You can also place the brackets after the array’s name:

// this form is discouraged
float anArrayOfFloats[];

However, convention discourages this form; the brackets identify the array type and should appear with the type designation.

Creating, Initializing, and Accessing an Array

One way to create an array is with the new operator. The next statement in the ArrayDemo program allocates an array with enough memory for 10 integer elements and assigns the array to the anArray variable.

// create an array of integers
anArray = new int[10];

If this statement is missing, then the compiler prints an error like the following, and compilation fails:

ArrayDemo.java:4: Variable anArray may not have been initialized.

The next few lines assign values to each element of the array:

anArray[0] = 100; // initialize first element
anArray[1] = 200; // initialize second element
anArray[2] = 300; // and so forth

Each array element is accessed by its numerical index:

System.out.println("Element 1 at index 0: " + anArray[0]);
System.out.println("Element 2 at index 1: " + anArray[1]);
System.out.println("Element 3 at index 2: " + anArray[2]);

Alternatively, you can use the shortcut syntax to create and initialize an array:

int[] anArray = { 
    100, 200, 300,
    400, 500, 600, 
    700, 800, 900, 1000
};

Here the length of the array is determined by the number of values provided between braces and separated by commas.

You can also declare an array of arrays (also known as a multidimensional array) by using two or more sets of brackets, such as String[][] names. Each element, therefore, must be accessed by a corresponding number of index values.