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Arrays & Vectors

Declaring and Accessing Arrays

An array is a collection of data of the same type. To declare an array of size n: Data_Type array[n];
This declares an array of n variables of type Data_Type. Declaration of arrays can be grouped together with declaration of regular variables, for example, int num1, numArray[5], num2;

To access the elements of the array, we use the [] operator and include the index of the element inside the brackets. The indices span from 0 to n - 1. For example, if we wanted to access the 5th element, we want to call the 4th index: array[4].
Note the 2 uses of the [] operator:
  • During declaration, it specifies the size of the array
  • Otherwise, it specifies the index of the element

Initializing Arrays

int foo1 [3] = { 16, 2, 77};
int foo2 [3] = { 16, 2 };  // last element = 0
int foo3 [3] = { };   // all 0

// foo1 is equivalent to:
int foo4[3];
foo4[0] = 16;
foo4[1] = 2;
foo4[2] = 77;

// Also equivalent:
int foo5[] = { 16, 2, 77 };
If fewer values than the array size is provided, the array is filled from the beginning and the rest are filled with the "zero" of the base array type (0 in the case with int).
If the array size is not specified, the size is determined by the number of initialization values.

Iterating Through Arrays

For Loops

Arrays naturally work well with counting loops. For example, to iterate through the elements of an array, we can use the for loop and iterate from 0 to size - 1 as such:
for (int i = 0; i < size; i++) {
  cout << array[i];
One major pitfall of this technique is that the for loop might go beyond the range of the array, and it is up to the programmer to make sure it stays within the array size. Note the < in the for loop condition above. If we had used <=, the loop would have tried to access an element out of the array's range. For example, given an array of size 5, array[5] is out of range as the last element has index of 5 - 1 = 4.


Use constants for array sizes.
  • Improves readability
  • Improves versatility
  • Improves maintainability
const int SIZE = 5;
int array[SIZE];
for (int i = 0; i < SIZE; i++) {

Range-Based For Loops

Another to ensuring we iterate only within the range of the array is to use range-based for loops.
for (datatype varname : array) {
varname can be set to any name the programmer chooses. varname is a local copy of the element in the array. Mutating it will not modify the original element in the array. In order to do so, we must pass varname in as a reference.
for (datatype& varname : array) {
  mutate(varname);  // original element changes

Arrays in Functions

Passing Elements

Individual elements of an array can be passed in to a function in 2 ways:
  1. Pass by value - local copy is created. Any changes does not affect original copy.
  2. Pass by reference - address is copied. Any changes in the function modifies original element.
We specify which type of argument the function is taking in the parameter list:
void foo1 (int elem);
void foo2 (int& elem);
foo1(arr[2]);  // by value
foo2(arr[2]);  // by reference

Passing Entire Arrays

An entire array can be passed in to a function, but this formal parameter is neither a call-by-value or call-by-reference parameter; instead it is an array parameter. Typically, the size of the array is sent in as a second argument. To specify an array parameter: void foo (int arr[], int size);
When an array is passed in, it is similar to a pass-by-reference: any changes made to the array by the function mutates the original array. This is because when an array is passed in, only the address of the first element is passed in. Note that when passing in an array, no square brackets should be included. e.g.
const int SIZE = 5;
int array[SIZE] = { 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 };
void foo(int arr[], const int size) {
  for (int i = 0; i < size; i++) {
    arr[i] += 1;  // modifies original array
foo(array);  // NO square brackets
In the event where the array should not be modified, we place the const modifier before the array parameter. e.g. void foo (const int arr[]);

Multi-Dimensional Arrays

Arrays with more than one index can also be created, for example, a 2-dimensional array can be used to represent a 2-D grid. A 2-D array can be viewed as an "array of arrays". For example:
char grid[5][10];
// be viewed as a grid of 5 rows and 10 columns
grid[0][0], grid[0][1], ..., grid[0][9]
grid[1][0], grid[1][1], ..., grid[1][9]
grid[4][0], grid[4][1], ..., grid[4][9]

Multi-Dimensional Array Parameters

Multi-dimensional array parameters are passed into functions in a similar way to one-dimensional arrays:
  • First dimension size is not provided; given as second parameter (size)
  • Second dimension size is given
e.g. void foo(const char grid[][10], int size);

Arrays in Memory

When arrays are declared, memory is allocated for the entire array. The memory is sequentially-allocated which means that the addresses of the elements of the array are allocated "back-to-back".

Static Arrays

All the arrays we have provided in the examples above were static arrays. They are created on the stack and have automatic storage duration (get destroyed when function call ends). See here for more on automatic/local variables. They necessarily have a fixed size, which is a limitation if we do not know the size needed before the program runs. A workaround is to estimate the maximum size needed, which is a waste of memory. Another solution is to use dynamic arrays.

Dynamically-Allocated Arrays

These are arrays whose size is not specified when writing the program. They are initialized with the new keyword (see here for more on new). i.e. double a = new double[size];
To destroy a dynamically-allocated array we use the array deallocation function: delete[]

Arrays As Pointers

As mentioned above, array variables are just the addresses of their first element. Thus, array variables are just like pointers, the only difference is that they are constant pointers const int *, which means that they cannot change where they point to. e.g.
int a[10];
int b = *a;  // b == a[0]
int *c;
c = a; // LEGAL - points to a[0]
a = c; // ILLEGAL - array pointer is a constant pointer

Resizing A Dynamic Array

  1. Allocate a new [] array and store it in a temp pointer
  2. Copy over previous values
  3. delete[] old array
  4. Change any necessary pointer to array and size
int* newArr = new int[new_size];
std::copy(oldArr, oldArr + std::min(old_size, new_size), newArr);
delete[] oldArr;
oldArr = newArr;

Returning An Array

Functions cannot return an array type. We must return a pointer to the array. i.e.
int[] function(); // ILLEGAL
int *function(); // LEGAL

Pointer Arithmetic

Since arrays are just pointers, coupled with the fact that arrays are sequentially-allocated, we can perform arithmetic operations on array variables.. e.g.
int *d = new int[10];
int a = d;      // a == d[0]
int b = d + 1;  // b == d[1]
int c = d + 2;  // c == d[2]
We can also use pointer arithmetic to iterate through the array, for example:
for (int i = 0; i < arraySize; i++) {
  cout << *(d + i) << " ";

Multi-Dimensional Dynamic Arrays

The following example first creates an array of 3 pointers, and then allocates each pointer an array of 4 ints
typedef int* IntArrayPtr;
IntArrayPtr *m = new IntArrayPtr[3];
for (int i = 0; i < 3; i++) {
  m[i] = new int[4];


Vectors are similar to arrays in that it has a base type and is a collection of base type values. However, vectors are allowed to grow and shrink in size.
Syntax: vector<Base_Type> vec;
This syntax indicates a template class (discussed later) and any type can be put inside the angle brackets and it will produce a new class of vectors with that base type. It will call the default constructor for the class vector<Base_Type> and create an empty vector object.

Vector Operations

  • pos) - returns a reference to the element at pos
  • vec[int pos] - similar to but does not check if pos is out of range.
  • vec.push_back(Base_Type x) - adds x to end of vector
  • vec.size() - returns number of elements in vector
  • vec.capacity() - returns capacity of vector; can be equal or greater than vector size. Represents size of storage space (in terms of number of elements) currently allocated to vector
  • vec.clear() - removes all elements from vector (destroys them) and leave the vector with a size of 0
  • vec.erase(iterator pos) - removes a single element at position. Can remove a range of elements by using: vec.erase(iterator first, iterator last) which removes [first, last)