Arrays in Visual Basic

An array is a set of values that are logically related to each other, such as the number of students in each grade in a grammar school.

By using an array, you can refer to these related values by the same name, and you can use a number that’s called an index or subscript to tell the values apart. The individual values are called the elements of the array, and they’re contiguous from index 0 through the highest index value.

In contrast to an array, a variable that contains a single value is called a scalar variable.

In this topic

The following example declares an array variable to hold the number of students in each grade in a grammar school.


Dim students(6) As Integer


The array students in the preceding example contains seven elements. The indexes of the elements range from 0 through 6. By creating this array, you can write simpler code than if you declare seven variables.

The following illustration shows the array students. Each element of the array has the following characteristics:

  • The index of the element represents the grade (index 0 represents kindergarten).

  • The value that's contained in the element represents the number of students in that grade.

Elements of the "students" array

Picture of array showing numbers of students

The following example shows how to refer to the first, second, and last element of the array students.


Dim kindergarten As Integer = students(0)
Dim firstGrade As Integer = students(1)
Dim sixthGrade As Integer = students(6)
MsgBox("Students in kindergarten = " & CStr(kindergarten))
MsgBox("Students in first grade = " & CStr(firstGrade))
MsgBox("Students in sixth grade = " & CStr(sixthGrade))


You can refer to the entire array by using just the array variable name without indexes.

The array students in the preceding example uses one index and is one-dimensional. An array that uses more than one index or subscript is multidimensional. For more information, see the rest of this topic and Array Dimensions in Visual Basic.

You can define the size of an array in several ways. You can supply the size when you declare the array, as the following example shows.


Dim cargoWeights(10) As Double
Dim atmospherePressures(2, 2, 4, 10) As Short
Dim inquiriesByYearMonthDay(20)()() As Byte


You can also use a New clause to supply the size of an array when it’s created, as the following example shows.


cargoWeights = New Double(10) {}
atmospherePressures = New Short(2, 2, 4, 10) {}
inquiriesByYearMonthDay = New Byte(20)()() {}


If you have an existing array, you can redefine its size by using the Redim statement. You can specify that the Redim statement should keep the values that are in the array, or you can specify that the statement should create an empty array. The following example shows different uses of the Redim statement to modify the size of an existing array.


' Assign a new array size and retain the current element values.
ReDim Preserve cargoWeights(20)
' Assign a new array size and retain only the first five element values.
ReDim Preserve cargoWeights(4)
' Assign a new array size and discard all current element values.
ReDim cargoWeights(15)


For more information, see ReDim Statement (Visual Basic).

You declare an array variable the same way as any other variable, by using the Dim statement. You follow the type or the variable name with one or more pairs of parentheses to indicate that it will hold an array rather than a single value.

After you declare the array, you can define its size by using the ReDim Statement (Visual Basic).

The following example declares a one-dimensional array variable by adding a pair of parentheses after the type. You can also specify the dimensions of the array by using the ReDim Statement (Visual Basic).


' Declare a one-dimensional array.
Dim cargoWeights As Double()

' Dimension the array.
ReDim cargoWeights(15)


The following example declares a multidimensional array variable by adding a pair of parentheses after the type and by placing commas inside the parentheses to separate the dimensions. The example also specifies the dimensions of the array by using the ReDim Statement (Visual Basic).


' Declare a multidimensional array.
Dim atmospherePressures As Short(,,,)

' Dimension the array.
ReDim atmospherePressures(1, 2, 3, 4)


You can declare a jagged array variable by adding a pair of parentheses after the variable name for each level of nested array.


Dim inquiriesByYearMonthDay()()() As Byte


The preceding examples declare array variables but don’t assign arrays to them. You must still create an array, initialize it, and assign it to the variable.

You can access each location in an array by using an index of type Integer. You can store and retrieve values in an array by referencing each array location by its index enclosed in parentheses. Commas (,) separate indexes for multi-dimensional arrays. You need one index for each array dimension. The following example shows some statements that store values in arrays.


Dim i = 4
Dim j = 2

Dim numbers(10) As Integer
Dim matrix(5, 5) As Double

numbers(i + 1) = 0
matrix(3, j * 2) = j


The following example shows some statements that get values from arrays.


Dim v = 2
Dim i = 1
Dim j = 1
Dim k = 1
Dim wTotal As Double = 0.0
Dim sortedValues(5), rawValues(5), estimates(2, 2, 2) As Double
Dim lowestValue = sortedValues(0)
wTotal += (rawValues(v) ^ 2)
Dim firstGuess = estimates(i, j, k)


For each array dimension, the GetUpperBound method returns the highest value that the index can have. The lowest index value is always 0.

By using an array literal, you can create an array that contains an initial set of values. An array literal consists of a list of comma-separated values that are enclosed in braces ({}).

When you create an array by using an array literal, you can either supply the array type or determine it by using type inference. The following code shows both options.


Dim numbers = New Integer() {1, 2, 4, 8}
Dim doubles = {1.5, 2, 9.9, 18}


When you use type inference, the type of the array is determined by the dominant type in the list of values that’s supplied for the array literal. The dominant type is a unique type to which all other types in the array literal can widen. If this unique type can’t be determined, the dominant type is the unique type to which all other types in the array can narrow. If neither of these unique types can be determined, the dominant type is Object. For example, if the list of values that’s supplied to the array literal contains values of type Integer, Long, and Double, the resulting array is of type Double. Both Integer and Long widen only to Double. Therefore, Double is the dominant type. For more information, see Widening and Narrowing Conversions (Visual Basic). These inference rules apply to types that are inferred for arrays that are local variables that are defined in a class member. Although you can use array literals when you create class-level variables, you can’t use type inference at the class level. As a result, array literals that you specify at the class level infer the values that are supplied for the array literal as type Object.

You can explicitly specify the type of the elements in an array that you create by using an array literal. In this case, the values in the array literal must widen to the type of the elements of the array. The following code example creates an array of type Double from a list of integers.


Dim values As Double() = {1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6}


Nested Array Literals

You can create a multidimensional array by using nested array literals, which must have a dimension and number of dimensions, or rank, that’s consistent with the resulting array. The following code example creates a two-dimensional array of integers by using an array literal.


Dim grid = {{1, 2}, {3, 4}}


In the previous example, an error would occur if the number of elements in the nested array literals didn’t match. An error would also occur if you explicitly declared the array variable to be other than two-dimensional.

NoteNote

You can avoid an error when you supply nested array literals of different dimensions by enclosing the inner array literals in parentheses. The parentheses force the array literal expression to be evaluated, and the resulting values are used with the outer array literal, as the following code shows.


Dim values = {({1, 2}), ({3, 4, 5})}


When you create a multidimensional array by using nested array literals, you can use type inference. When you use type inference, the inferred type is the dominant type for all the values in all the array literals for a nesting level. The following code example creates a two-dimensional array of type Double from values that are of type Integer and Double.


Dim a = {{1, 2.0}, {3, 4}, {5, 6}, {7, 8}}


For additional examples, see How to: Initialize Array Variables in Visual Basic.

An array that holds other arrays as elements is known as an array of arrays or a jagged array. A jagged array and each element in it can have one or more dimensions. Sometimes the data structure in your application is two-dimensional but not rectangular.

The following example has an array of months, each element of which is an array of days. Because different months have different numbers of days, the elements don’t form a rectangular, two-dimensional array. Therefore, a jagged array is used instead of a multidimensional array.


' Declare the jagged array.
' The New clause sets the array variable to a 12-element
' array. Each element is an array of Double elements.
Dim sales()() As Double = New Double(11)() {}

' Set each element of the sales array to a Double
' array of the appropriate size.
For month As Integer = 0 To 11
    Dim days As Integer =
        DateTime.DaysInMonth(Year(Now), month + 1)
    sales(month) = New Double(days - 1) {}
Next month

' Store values in each element.
For month As Integer = 0 To 11
    Dim upper = sales(month).GetUpperBound(0)
    For day = 0 To upper
        sales(month)(day) = (month * 100) + day
    Next
Next


An array that contains no elements is also called a zero-length array. A variable that holds a zero-length array doesn’t have the value Nothing. To create an array that has no elements, declare one of the array's dimensions to be -1, as the following example shows.


Dim twoDimensionalStrings(-1, 3) As String


You might need to create a zero-length array under the following circumstances:

  • Without risking a NullReferenceException exception, your code must access members of the Array class, such as Length or Rank, or call a Visual Basic function such as UBound.

  • You want to keep the consuming code simpler by not having to check for Nothing as a special case.

  • Your code interacts with an application programming interface (API) that either requires you to pass a zero-length array to one or more procedures or returns a zero-length array from one or more procedures.

The size of an array is the product of the lengths of all its dimensions. It represents the total number of elements that the array contains.

The following example declares a three-dimensional array.

Dim prices(3, 4, 5) As Long

The overall size of the array in variable prices is (3 + 1) x (4 + 1) x (5 + 1) = 120.

You can find the size of an array by using the Length property. You can find the length of each dimension of a multi-dimensional array by using the GetLength method.

You can resize an array variable by assigning a new array object to it or by using the ReDim statement.

You should keep the following points in mind when you deal with the size of an array:

Dimension Length

The index of each dimension is 0-based, which means that it ranges from 0 through its upper bound. Therefore, the length of a given dimension is greater by 1 than the declared upper bound for that dimension.

Length Limits

The length of every dimension of an array is limited to the maximum value of the Integer data type, which is (2 ^ 31) - 1. However, the total size of an array is also limited by the memory that's available on your system. If you attempt to initialize an array that exceeds the amount of available RAM, the common language runtime throws an OutOfMemoryException exception.

Size and Element Size

An array's size is independent of the data type of its elements. The size always represents the total number of elements, not the number of bytes that they consume in storage.

Memory Consumption

You shouldn't make any assumptions about how an array is stored in memory. Storage varies on platforms of different data widths, so the same array can consume more memory on a 64-bit system than on a 32-bit system. Depending on how the system is configured when you initialize an array, the common language runtime (CLR) can assign storage either to pack elements as close together as possible or to align them all on natural hardware boundaries. Also, an array requires a storage overhead for its control information, and this overhead increases with each added dimension.

Data Types

Every array has a data type, but it differs from the data type of its elements. No single data type applies to all arrays. Instead, the data type of an array is determined by the number of dimensions, or rank, of the array, and the data type of the elements in the array. Two array variables are considered to be of the same data type only when they have the same rank and their elements have the same data type. The lengths of the dimensions in an array don't influence the array data type.

Every array inherits from the System.Array class, and you can declare a variable to be of type Array, but you can't create an array of type Array. Also, the ReDim Statement (Visual Basic) can't operate on a variable that you declare as type Array. For these reasons and for type safety, you should declare every array as a specific type, such as Integer in the preceding example.

You can find out the data type of either an array or its elements in several ways.

  • You can call the Object.GetType method on the variable to receive a Type object for the run-time type of the variable. The Type object holds extensive information in its properties and methods.

  • You can pass the variable to the TypeName function to receive a String that contains the name of the run-time type.

  • You can pass the variable to the VarType function to receive a VariantType value that represents the type classification of the variable.

The following example calls the TypeName function to determine the type of the array and the type of the elements in the array. The array type is Integer(,), and the elements in the array are of type Integer.


Dim thisTwoDimArray(,) As Integer = New Integer(9, 9) {}
MsgBox("Type of thisTwoDimArray is " & TypeName(thisTwoDimArray))
MsgBox("Type of thisTwoDimArray(0, 0) is " & TypeName(thisTwoDimArray(0, 0)))


Arrays are most useful for creating and working with a fixed number of strongly typed objects. Collections provide a more flexible way to work with groups of objects. Unlike arrays, the group of objects that you work with can grow and shrink dynamically as the needs of the application change.

If you need to change the size of an array, you must use the ReDim Statement (Visual Basic). When you do this, Visual Basic creates a new array and releases the previous array for disposal. This takes execution time. Therefore, if the number of items you are working with changes frequently, or you cannot predict the maximum number of items you need, you might obtain better performance using a collection.

A collection, which does not have to create a new object or copy existing elements, can handle resizing in less execution time than an array, which has to use ReDim. But if the size does not change, or changes only rarely, an array is likely to be more efficient. As always, performance is highly dependent on the individual application. It is often worth your time to try both an array and a collection.

Specialized Collections

The .NET Framework provides a variety of classes, interfaces, and structures for general and special collections. The System.Collections and System.Collections.Specialized namespaces contain definitions and implementations that include dictionaries, lists, queues, and stacks. The System.Collections.Generic namespace provides many of these types in generic versions, which take one or more type arguments.

If your collection is to hold elements of only one specific data type, a generic collection has the advantage of enforcing type safety. For more information, see Generic Types in Visual Basic (Visual Basic).

Example

The following example uses the .NET Framework generic class System.Collections.Generic.List<T> to create a list collection of Customer objects.


' Define the class for a customer.
Public Class Customer
    Public Property Name As String
    ' Insert code for other members of customer structure.
End Class

' Create a module-level collection that can hold 200 elements.
Public CustomerList As New List(Of Customer)(200)

' Add a specified customer to the collection.
Private Sub AddNewCustomer(ByVal newCust As Customer)
    ' Insert code to perform validity check on newCust.
    CustomerList.Add(newCust)
End Sub

' Display the list of customers in the Debug window.
Private Sub PrintCustomers()
    For Each cust As Customer In CustomerList
        Debug.WriteLine(cust)
    Next cust
End Sub


The declaration of the CustomerList collection specifies that it can contain elements only of type Customer. The declaration also provides for an initial capacity of 200 elements. The AddNewCustomer procedure checks the new element for validity and then adds it to the collection. The PrintCustomers procedure uses a For Each loop to traverse the collection and display its elements.

Term

Definition

Array Dimensions in Visual Basic

Explains rank and dimensions in arrays.

How to: Initialize Array Variables in Visual Basic

Describes how to populate arrays with initial values.

How to: Reverse the Contents of An Array in Visual Basic

Describes how to reverse the order of the elements of an array.

How to: Sort An Array in Visual Basic

Shows how to sort the elements of an array alphabetically.

How to: Assign One Array to Another Array (Visual Basic)

Describes the rules and steps for assigning an array to another array variable.

How to: Change an Array to a Different Array (Visual Basic)

Discusses what changes are possible and how to accomplish them.

How to: Pass an Array to a Procedure or Property (Visual Basic)

Explains how to pass an array as an argument to a procedure or property.

How to: Return an Array from a Procedure or Property (Visual Basic)

Describes how to return an array to the code that calls a procedure or property.

Troubleshooting Arrays (Visual Basic)

Discusses some common problems that arise when working with arrays.

Date

History

Reason

Reorganized he remarks, and modified two examples in the "Declaring an Array" section.

Information enhancement.

October 2011

Added an example of a jagged array.

Customer feedback.

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