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1. Overview

Any Java developer knows that producing a clean, efficient solution when working with array operations isn’t always easy to achieve. Still, they’re a central piece in the Java ecosystem – and we’ll have to deal with them on several occasions.

For this reason, it’s good to have a ‘cheat sheet’ – a summary of the most common procedures to help us tackle the puzzle quickly. This tutorial will come in handy in those situations.

2. Arrays and Helper Classes

Before proceeding, it’s useful to understand what is an array in Java, and how to use it. If it’s your first time working with it in Java, we suggest having a look at this previous post where we covered all basic concepts.

Please note that the basic operations that an array supports are, in a certain way, limited. It’s not uncommon to see complex algorithms to execute relatively simple tasks when it comes to arrays.

For this reason, for most of our operations, we’ll be using helper classes and methods to assist us: the Arrays class provided by Java and the Apache’s ArrayUtils one.

To include the latter in our project, we’ll have to add the Apache Commons dependency:

<dependency>
    <groupId>org.apache.commons</groupId>
    <artifactId>commons-lang3</artifactId>
    <version>3.8.1</version>
</dependency>

We can check out the latest version of this artifact on Maven Central.

3. Get the First and Last Element of an Array

This is one of the most common and simple tasks thanks to the access-by-index nature of arrays.

Let’s start by declaring and initializing an int array that will be used in all our examples (unless we specify otherwise):

int[] array = new int[] { 3, 5, 2, 5, 14, 4 };

Knowing that the first item of an array is associated with the index value 0 and that it has a length attribute that we can use, then it’s simple to figure out how we can get these two elements:

int firstItem = array[0];
int lastItem = array[array.length - 1];

4. Get a Random Value from an Array

By using the java.util.Random object we can easily get any value from our array:

int anyValue = array[new Random().nextInt(array.length)];

5. Append a New Item to an Array

As we know, arrays hold a fixed size of values. Therefore, we can’t just add an item and exceed this limit.

We’ll need to start by declaring a new, larger array, and copy the elements of the base array to the second one.

Fortunately, the Arrays class provides a handy method to replicate the values of an array to a new different-sized structure:

int[] newArray = Arrays.copyOf(array, array.length + 1);
newArray[newArray.length - 1] = newItem;

Optionally, if the ArrayUtils class is accessible in our project, we can make use of its add method (or its addAll alternative) to accomplish our objective in a one-line statement:

int[] newArray = ArrayUtils.add(array, newItem);

As we can imagine, this method doesn’t modify the original array object; we have to assign its output to a new variable.

6. Insert a Value Between Two Values

Because of its indexed-values character, inserting an item in an array between two others is not a trivial job.

Apache considered this a typical scenario and implemented a method in its ArrayUtils class to simplify the solution:

int[] largerArray = ArrayUtils.insert(2, array, 77);

We have to specify the index in which we want to insert the value, and the output will be a new array containing a larger number of elements.

The last argument is a variable argument (a.k.a. vararg) thus we can insert any number of items in the array.

7. Compare Two Arrays

Even though arrays are Objects and therefore provide an equals method, they use the default implementation of it, relying only on reference equality.

We can anyhow invoke the java.util.Arraysequals method to check if two array objects contain the same values:

boolean areEqual = Arrays.equals(array1, array2);

Note: this method is not effective for jagged arrays. The appropriate method to verify multi-dimensional structures’ equality is the Arrays.deepEquals one.

8. Check if an Array Is Empty

This is an uncomplicated assignment having in mind that we can use the length attribute of arrays:

boolean isEmpty = array == null || array.length == 0;

Moreover, we also have a null-safe method in the ArrayUtils helper class that we can use:

boolean isEmpty = ArrayUtils.isEmpty(array);

This function still depends on the length of the data structure, which considers nulls and empty sub-arrays as valid values too, so we’ll have to keep an eye on these edge cases:

// These are empty arrays
Integer[] array1 = {};
Integer[] array2 = null;
Integer[] array3 = new Integer[0];

// All these will NOT be considered empty
Integer[] array3 = { null, null, null };
Integer[][] array4 = { {}, {}, {} };
Integer[] array5 = new Integer[3];

9. How to Shuffle the Elements of an Array

In order to shuffle the items in an array, we can use the ArrayUtil‘s feature:

ArrayUtils.shuffle(array);

This is a void method and operates on the actual values of the array.

10. Box and Unbox Arrays

We often come across methods that support only Object-based arrays.

Again the ArrayUtils helper class comes in handy to get a boxed version of our primitive array:

Integer[] list = ArrayUtils.toObject(array);

The inverse operation is also possible:

Integer[] objectArray = { 3, 5, 2, 5, 14, 4 };
int[] array = ArrayUtils.toPrimitive(objectArray);

11. Remove Duplicates from an Array

The easiest way of removing duplicates is by converting the array to a Set implementation.

As we may know, Collections use Generics and hence don’t support primitive types.

For this reason, if we’re not handling object-based arrays as in our example, we’ll first need to box our values:

// Box
Integer[] list = ArrayUtils.toObject(array);
// Remove duplicates
Set<Integer> set = new HashSet<Integer>(Arrays.asList(list));
// Create array and unbox
return ArrayUtils.toPrimitive(set.toArray(new Integer[set.size()]));

Note: we can use other techniques to convert between an array and a Set object as well.

Also, if we need to preserve the order of our elements, we must use a different Set implementation, such as a LinkedHashSet.

12. How to Print an Array

Same as with the equals method, the array’s toString function uses the default implementation provided by the Object class, which isn’t very useful.

Both Arrays and ArrayUtils classes ship with their implementations to convert the data structures to a readable String.

Apart from the slightly different format they use, the most important distinction is how they treat multi-dimensional objects.

The Java Util’s class provides two static methods we can use:

  • toString: doesn’t work well with jagged arrays
  • deepToString: supports any Object-based arrays but doesn’t compile with primitive array arguments

On the other hand, Apache’s implementation offers a single toString method that works correctly in any case:

String arrayAsString = ArrayUtils.toString(array);

13. Map an Array to Another Type

It’s often useful to apply operations on all array items, possibly converting them to another type of object.

With this objective in mind, we’ll try to create a flexible helper method using Generics:

public static <T, U> U[] mapObjectArray(
  T[] array, Function<T, U> function,
  Class<U> targetClazz) {
    U[] newArray = (U[]) Array.newInstance(targetClazz, array.length);
    for (int i = 0; i < array.length; i++) {
        newArray[i] = function.apply(array[i]);
    }
    return newArray;
}

If we don’t use Java 8 in our project, we can discard the Function argument, and create a method for each mapping that we need to carry out.

We can now reuse our generic method for different operations. Let’s create two test cases to illustrate this:

@Test
public void whenMapArrayMultiplyingValues_thenReturnMultipliedArray() {
    Integer[] multipliedExpectedArray = new Integer[] { 6, 10, 4, 10, 28, 8 };
    Integer[] output = 
      MyHelperClass.mapObjectArray(array, value -> value * 2, Integer.class);

    assertThat(output).containsExactly(multipliedExpectedArray);
}

@Test
public void whenMapDividingObjectArray_thenReturnMultipliedArray() {
    Double[] multipliedExpectedArray = new Double[] { 1.5, 2.5, 1.0, 2.5, 7.0, 2.0 };
    Double[] output =
      MyHelperClass.mapObjectArray(array, value -> value / 2.0, Double.class);

    assertThat(output).containsExactly(multipliedExpectedArray);
}

For primitive types, we’ll have to box our values first.

As an alternative, we can turn to Java 8’s Streams to carry out the mapping for us.

We’ll need to transform the array into a Stream of Objects first. We can do so with the Arrays.stream method.

For example, if we want to map our int values to a custom String representation, we’ll implement this:

String[] stringArray = Arrays.stream(array)
  .mapToObj(value -> String.format("Value: %s", value))
  .toArray(String[]::new);

14. Filter Values in an Array

Filtering out values from a collection is a common task that we might have to perform in more than one occasion.

This is because at the time we create the array that will receive the values, we can’t be sure of its final size. Therefore, we’ll rely on the Streams approach again.

Imagine we want to remove all odd numbers from an array:

int[] evenArray = Arrays.stream(array)
  .filter(value -> value % 2 == 0)
  .toArray();

15. Other Common Array Operations

There are, of course, plenty of other array operations that we might need to perform.

Apart from the ones shown in this tutorial, we’ve extensively covered other operations in the dedicated posts:

16. Conclusion

Arrays are one of the core functionalities of Java, and therefore it’s really important to understand how they work and to know what we can and can’t do with them.

In this tutorial, we learned how we can handle array operations appropriately in common scenarios.

As always, the full source code of the working examples is available over on our Github repo.

I just announced the new Spring Boot 2 material, coming in REST With Spring:

>> CHECK OUT THE LESSONS

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