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What are arrays?

Organizing and storing data is a foundational concept of programming.

One way we organize data in real life is by making lists. Let's make one here:

New Year's 2022 Resolutions

1. Keep a journal
2. Take a falconry class
3. Learn to juggle
Let's now write this list in JavaScript, as an array:
let newYearsResolutions = ['Keep a journal', 'Take a falconry class', 'Learn to juggle'];
Arrays are JavaScript's way of making lists. Arrays can store any data types (including strings, numbers, and booleans). Like lists, arrays are ordered, meaning each item has a numbered position.

Here's an array of the concepts we'll cover in these notes:

let concepts = ['creating arrays', 'array structures', 'array manipulation']

Creating Arrays

One way we can create an array is to use an array literal. An array literal creates an array by wrapping items in square brackets []. Remember, arrays can store any data type - we can also have an array that holds all the same data types or an array that holds different data types. For example:

let arrayExample = ['array example', 10, true];
Let's take a closer look at the syntax in the array above:

  • The array is represented by the square brackets [] and the content inside

  • Each content item inside an array is called an element

  • There are three different elements inside the array

  • Each element inside the array is a different data type (string, number, and boolean)

  • The array is saved to a variable (arrayExample), which can be referenced later in our code

Accessing ELements

Each element in an array has a numbered position known as its index. We can access individual items using their index, which is similar to referencing an item in a list based on that item's position.

Arrays in JavaScript are zero-indexed, which means the positions start counting from 0, rather than 1. Therefore, the first item in an array will be at position 0. Let's see how we could access an element in an array:

let cities = ["Baltimore", "Annapolis", "Columbia"];

console.log(cities[1]); // Annapolis
In the code snippet above:

  • cities is an array that has three elements

  • We're using bracket notation, [] with the index after the name of the array to access the element (see cities[1])

You are also able to access individual characters in a string using bracket notation and the index. For example, you can write:

const hello = "Hello World";
console.log(hello[6]); // Output: W

Update Elements

Once you have access to an element in an array, you can also update its value.

let seasons = ['Winter', 'Spring', 'Summer', 'Fall'];

seasons[3] = 'Autumn';
console.log(seasons) // Output: ['Winter', 'Spring', 'Summer', 'Autumn']
In the example above, the seasons array contained the names of the four seasons.

However, we decided that we preferred to say 'Autumn' instead of 'fall'.

The line, seasons[3] = 'Autumn'; tells our program to change the item at index 3 of the seasons array to be 'Autumn' instead of what is already there.

Arrays with let and const

In JavaScript we can declare variables with both the let and const keywords. Variables with let can be reassigned.

Variables declared with the const keyword cannot be changed or reassigned. However, elements in an array declared with const remain mutable. This means that we can change the contens of a const array, but cannot reassign a new array or a different value.

For example:

let condiments = ['Ketchup', 'Mustard', 'Soy Sauce', 'Sriracha'];

const utensils = ['Fork', 'Knife', 'Chopsticks', 'Spork'];

condiments[0] = 'Mayo';
console.log(condiments); // Output: [ 'Mayo', 'Mustard', 'Soy Sauce', 'Sriracha' ]
condiments = ['Mayo'];
console.log(condiments); // Output: ['Mayo']

utensils[3] = 'Spoon';
console.log(utensils); // Output: [ 'Fork', 'Knife', 'Chopsticks', 'Spoon' ]
utensils = ['Spoon']; // Output: TypeError: Assignment to constant variable
As you can see above, we are able to change the content and the entire array when we use let. We are only able to change elements inside an array declared with const and will get an error if we try to change the entire array.

The .length Property

One of an array’s built-in properties is length and it returns the number of items in the array. We access the .length property just like we do with strings. Check the example below:

const newYearsResolutions = ['Keep a journal', 'Take a falconry class'];

// Output: 2
In the example above, we log newYearsResolutions.length to the console using the following steps:

  • We use dot notation, chaining a period with the property name to the array, to access the length property of the newYearsResolutions array.

  • Then we log the length of newYearsResolution to the console.

  • Since newYearsResolution has two elements, so 2 would be logged to the console.

When we want to know how many elements are in an array, we can access the .length property.

The .push() Method

JavaScript has many built-in methods that make working with arrays easier. These methods are specifically called on arrays to make common tasks, like adding and removing elements, more straightforward.

One method, .push() allows us to add items to the end of an array. Here we have an example of how it is used:

const itemTracker = ['item 0', 'item 1', 'item 2'];

itemTracker.push('item 3', 'item 4');

// Output: ['item 0', 'item 1', 'item 2', 'item 3', 'item 4'];

So how does .push() work?
- We access the push method by using dot notation, connecting push to itemTracker with a period

  • Then we call it like a function. That's because .push() is a function and on that JS allows us to use right on an array

  • .push() can take a single argument or multiple arguments separated by commas. In this case, we're adding two elements: 'item 3' and 'item 4' to itemTracker

  • Notice that .push() changes, or mutates, itemTracker. You might also see .push() referred to as a destructive array method since it changes the initial array.

The .pop() Method

Another array method, .pop(), removes the last item of an array.

const newItemTracker = ['item 0', 'item 1', 'item 2'];

const removed = newItemTracker.pop();

// Output: [ 'item 0', 'item 1' ]
// Output: item 2

  • In the example above, calling .pop() on the newItemTracker array removed 'item 2' from the end

  • .pop() does not take any arguments, it simply removes the last element of an array

  • .pop() returns the value of the last element. In this example, we store the returned value in a variable removed to be used later

  • .pop() is a method that mutates the intitial array

Additional Array Methods

There are many more array methods than just .push() and .pop(). You can read about all of the array methods that exist on the Mozilla Developer Network (MDN) array documentation.

.pop() and .push() mutate the array on which they’re called. However, there are times that we don’t want to mutate the original array and we can use non-mutating array methods. Be sure to check MDN to understand the behavior of the method you are using.

Some arrays methods that are available to JavaScript developers include: .join(), .slice(), .splice(), .shift(), .unshift(), and .concat() amongst many others. Using these built-in methods make it easier to do some common tasks when working with arrays.

Arrays and Functions

Throughout these notes we have gone over arrays being mutable, or changeable. Well what happens if we try to change an array inside a function? Does the array keep the change after the function call or is it scoped to inside the function?

Take a look at the following example where we call .push() on an array inside a function. Recall, the .push() method mutates, or changes, an array:

const flowers = ['peony', 'daffodil', 'marigold'];

function addFlower(arr) {


console.log(flowers); // Output: ['peony', 'daffodil', 'marigold', 'lily']
Let's go over what happened in the code above:

  • The flowers array has 3 elements

  • The function addFlower() has a parameter of arr that uses .push() to add a 'lily' element into arr

  • We call addFlower() with an argument of flowers which will execute the code inside addFlower

  • We check the value of flowers and it now includes the 'lily' element! The array was mutated (changed)!

In conclusion, when you pass an array into a function, if the array is mutated inside the function, that change will be maintained outside the function as well. You might also see this concept explained as pass-by-reference since what we're actually passing to the function is a reference to where the variable memory is stored and changing the memory.

Nested Arrays

Earlier we noted that arrays can store other arrays. When an array contains another array it is known as a nested array. Examine the example below:

const nestedArray = [[1], [2, 3]];
To access the nested arrays, we can use the bracket notation with the index value, just like we did to access any other element:
const nestedArray = [[1], [2, 3]];

console.log(nestedArray[1]); // Output [2, 3]
Notice that nestedArray[1] will grab the element in index 1, which is the array [2, 3]. Then, if we wanted to access the elements within the nested array we can chain, or add on, more bracket notation with index values.
const nestedArray = [[1], [2, 3]];

console.log(nestedArray[1]); // Output: [2, 3]
console.log(nestedArray[1][0]); // Output: 2
In the second console.log() statement, we have two bracket notations chained to nestedArray. We know that nestedArray[1] is the array [2, 3]. Then to grab the first element from that array, we use nestedArray[1][0] and we get the value of 2.

Arrays Review

  • Arrays are lists that store data in JavaScript.

  • Arrays are created with brackets [].

  • Each item inside of an array is at a numbered position, or index, starting at 0.

  • We can access one item in an array using its index, with syntax like: myArray[0].

  • We can also change an item in an array using its index, with syntax like myArray[0] = 'new string';.

  • Arrays have a length property, which allows you to see how many items are in an array.

  • Arrays have their own methods, including .push() and .pop(), which add and remove items from an array, respectively.

  • Arrays have many methods that perform different tasks, such as .slice() and .shift(), you can find documentation at the Mozilla Developer Network website.

  • Some built-in methods are mutating, meaning the method will change the array, while others are not mutating. You can always check the documentation.

  • Variables that contain arrays can be declared with let or const. Even when declared with const, arrays are still mutable. However, a variable declared with const cannot be reassigned.

  • Arrays mutated inside of a function will keep that change even outside the function.

  • Arrays can be nested inside other arrays.

  • To access elements in nested arrays chain indices using bracket notation.

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