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Lesson 8 - Arrays in C# .NET

In the previous tutorial, Sanitizing user input, we sanitized the user input parts of our calculator in C# .NET. In today's lesson, we're going to introduce you all to the array data structure and show you what it's capable of accomplishing.


Imagine that you want to store some information about multiple items, e.g. you want to keep 10 numbers in memory, each of the fields of a checkerboard or names of 50 users. Perhaps you realize that there must be an easier way than to start typing variables like user1, user2 ... up until user50. Despite the fact that there may be 1000 of them. How would go about searching for something in there? Definitely not like that! :)

If we need to store a larger amount of variables of the same type, we can solve this problem using an array. We can imagine it as a row of boxes, each of them containing one item. The boxes are numbered by indexes, the first one has index 0.

Array structure in C# .NET

(We see an array of 8 numbers on this picture)

Programming languages are very different in the way they work with arrays. In some languages (especially the older ones, compiled), it wasn't possible to create an array with a size specified at runtime (e.g. to specify its size using some variable). Arrays had to be declared with a constant size in the source code. A workaround was made by inventing pointers and custom data structures, which often lead to errors in manual memory management and to program instability (e.g. in C++). On the other hand, some interpreted languages allow us to not only declare arrays of any size but to also change the size of an existing array (it's possible e.g. in PHP). We know that C# is a virtual machine, which is something between a compiled language and an interpreted language. Therefore, we are able to declare an array with a size which we can enter during the runtime, but once an array is created, its size can't be modified. Of course, we can work around it or use other data structures, but we'll get to that later.

You might be wondering why we're dealing with arrays when they evidently have some limitations and there are better data structures out there. The answer is: "Arrays are simple". I don't mean that they're easy for us to understand, which they are, but it's simple for C#. Working with arrays is fast since the items are simply stored in memory as a sequence (next to each other), and every item occupies the same amount of space and is quickly accessible. Many internal .NET functions work with arrays somehow or return them. It is a key data structure.

We use loops for the mass handling of array items.

We declare an array using brackets:

int[] numbers;

Numbers is obviously a name of our variable. Now, however, we've just declared that the variable numbers is an array of integers. Now we have to initialize it so we could use it. We'll use the new keyword which we won't explain for now. Let's just be glad knowing that that's how it is because arrays are reference data types (can be understood as complex types):

int[] numbers = new int[10];

Now we have an array of a size of ten ints in the variable numbers.

The array items can be accessed through brackets. Let's store the number 1 in the first index (index 0):

int[] numbers = new int[10];
numbers[0] = 1;

Filling arrays manually like this wouldn't be too effective. Let's use a loop and fill an array with numbers from 1 to 10. We'll use a for loop to do just that:

int[] numbers = new int[10];
numbers[0] = 1;
for (int i = 0; i < 10; i++)
        numbers[i] = i + 1;

If we want to print this array, we need to add this piece of code after the one above:

for (int i = 0; i < numbers.Length; i++)
        Console.Write("{0} ", numbers[i]);

Note that the array provides the Length property, where its length is stored, which is the number of its items.

Console application
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10

We can also use a simplified version of the loop to work with collections, known as foreach. It iterates over the items in the array and detects the length of an array by itself. Its syntax is the following:

foreach (datatype variable in collection)
        // commands

The loop iterates over the items in the collection sequentially, from the first one to the last one. "Collection" is the general term for structures that contain multiple items, which in our case is an array. The current item is stored in the variable in each iteration of the loop.

Let's rewrite our existing program and use foreach. Foreach does not have a control variable, so it's not suitable for the creation of our array. We will primarily use it for printing.

int[] numbers = new int[10];
numbers[0] = 1;
for (int i = 0; i < 10; i++)
        numbers[i] = i + 1;
foreach (int i in numbers)
        Console.Write("{0} ", i);

The output:

Console application
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10

Of course, we can also fill an array manually, even without accessing each index gradually. We'll use curly brackets and separate items by commas:

string[] simpsons = {"Homer", "Marge", "Bart", "Lisa", "Maggie"};

Arrays are often used to store intermediate results, which are used later in the program. When we need some result 10 times, we won't calculate the same thing 10 times, instead, we'll calculate it once and put it into an array, then we just read the result.

The Array class methods

.NET provides the Array class for us which contains helpful methods for working with arrays. Let's look at them:


As the name suggests, the method will sort our array. Its only parameter is the array that we want to sort. It is so clever that it works according to what we have stored in the array. Strings are sorted alphabetically, numbers are sorted depending on their value. Let's try to sort and print our Simpsons family:

string[] simpsons = {"Homer", "Marge", "Bart", "Lisa", "Maggie"};
foreach (string s in simpsons)
        Console.Write("{0} ", s);

The output:

Console application
Bart Homer Lisa Maggie Marge

Try making an array of numbers and sort them, so you'll understand that it works for numerical datatypes as well.


Reverse() is used to reverse an array (the first item will be the last etc.). That can be used e.g. for descending sorting:

string[] simpsons = {"Homer", "Marge", "Bart", "Lisa", "Maggie"};
foreach (string s in simpsons)
        Console.Write("{0} ", s);

IndexOf() and LastIndexOf()

These methods return the index of the first or last occurrence of an item. If they don't find the item, they return -1. Each method takes two parameters, the first is an array, the second is the item we're searching for. Let's allow the user to enter the name of a Simpson's character and tell them at what position he/she is stored. It won't be very useful for us now since all we've got in our array are strings; however, it'll be very useful for us when adding complex objects in the array. Just keep in mind that that's a possibility until then.

string[] simpsons = {"Homer", "Marge", "Bart", "Lisa", "Maggie"};
Console.WriteLine("Hello! What is your favorite character in the Simpsons (you may only choose from the core family members): ");
string simpson = Console.ReadLine();
int position = Array.IndexOf(simpsons, simpson);
if (position >= 0)
        Console.WriteLine("If I had to rank them, that would be no. {0} on my list.", position + 1);
        Console.WriteLine("Hey! That's not a Simpson!");

Console application
Hello! What is your favorite character in the Simpsons (you may only choose from the core family members):
If I had to rank them, that would be no. 1 on my list!


Copy(), as the name suggests, copies a part of the array into another array. The first parameter is the source array, the second is a target one and the third is a number of items to be copied.

Methods on the array

The Array class is not the only way to manipulate with arrays. We can also call a lot of methods directly on individual array instances (concrete variables). We'll go over a couple of them, but keep in mind that there are a whole lot of them. We won't make examples this time around, we'll just describe them:


We've already mentioned Length. It returns the length of an array. It is not a method, but the property, so we don't write the parentheses () after it.

Min(), Max(), Average(), Sum()

Mathematical methods which return the lesser of the items (Min()), the largest item (Max()), the average of all the items (Average()) and the sum of all the items (Sum()). The methods have no parameters.

Concat(), Intersect(), Union()

All these methods return a new array as the output and accept the second array as the input. Concat() performs a concatenation which merges our array with the second one and returns a newly created array. Intersect() performs the intersection of the two arrays. It creates an array with elements that are common in both arrays. Union(), on the other hand, performs a union. It works like Concat(), but the elements which were in both arrays are in the new array will appear only once.

First() and Last()

As the names suggest, these methods return the first and the last item. They don't take any parameters.

Take() and Skip()

Both of these methods take as a parameter the number of items. Take() returns an array with a given number of items copied from the beginning of the original array. Skip(), on the contrary, returns an array without these first items.


The method returns true/false depending on whether the item specified as a parameter is contained in the array.


We already know the Reverse() method from the Array class, but if we call it on a particular array, the items will be reversed. Instead, a new reversed array will be created and returned. The method has no parameters.


Distinct() is a method without parameters and ensures that each element will be in the array only once, thus it removes duplicate elements, and returns a unique array as the return value. It doesn't modify our original array. Many methods don't change our arrays directly, but only return a new array, i.e. Concat(), Intersect(), Union(), Reverse() and Distinct() methods, in which the desired changes are made. If we want to modify the original array, we have to assign the returned array to the original one. Unfortunately, these methods don't return an array directly for a reason which we'll go over later, namely, the IEnumerable type. If we want to store the result back into the original array, we have to convert it to an array using the ToArray() method.

int[] numbers = { 1, 2, 3, 3, 3, 5 };
numbers = numbers.Distinct().ToArray();

A variable length of the array

We mentioned that the length of the array can be defined during run-time, let's try it out as well as some other methods:

Console.WriteLine("Hello, I'll calculate your grade average.");
Console.WriteLine("How many grades would you like to enter?");
int count = int.Parse(Console.ReadLine());
int[] numbers = new int[count];
for (int i = 0; i < count; i++)
        Console.Write("Enter grade number {0}: ", i + 1);
        numbers[i] = int.Parse(Console.ReadLine());
Console.WriteLine("Your grade average is: {0}", numbers.Average());

Console application
Hello, I'll calculate your grade average.
How many grades would you like to enter?
Enter grade number 1: 1
Enter grade number 2: 2
Enter grade number 3: 2
Enter grade number 4: 3
Enter grade number 5: 5
Your grade average is: 2.6

This example could obviously be written without an array, but what if we wanted to compute the median, or print the given numbers backward? We wouldn't be able to do so without arrays. All of the original values are available in the array, which we can work with to do whatever we need to.

That's enough for today, you can play with arrays for a while if you'd like. In the next lesson, Strings in C# .NET - Working with single characters, I've got a surprise for you I think you might like ;-)



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Article has been written for you by David Capka
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Lennart Völler:11/10/2017 7:24
Reply 11/10/2017 7:24
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