Running Me Ragged

A reader of the previous episode asked me

Why are there two types of multidimensional arrays? What is the difference between the arr(x)(y) and arr(x,y)notations?

Good question. There are two kinds of multidimensional arrays, called “rectangular” and “ragged“. (Or “jagged”; either is common.)

A rectangular array is, well, rectangular. In VBScript you say

Dim MyArray(3,2)

and you get an array with indices:

(0,0) (0,1) (0,2)
(1,0) (1,1) (1,2)
(2,0) (2,1) (2,2)
(3,0) (3,1) (3,2)

which makes a nice rectangle. A three-dimensional array makes a rectangular prism, and so on up into the higher dimensions.

Now, as I mentioned earlier, JavaScript does not have multidimensional arrays. A clever trick to simulate multidimensional arrays in JavaScript is to make an array of arrays:

var x = new Array(
  new Array(1, 2, 3),
  new Array(4, 5),
  new Array(6, 7, 8, 9));

Dereferencing the outer array gives you the inner array, which can then be dereferenced

print(x[2][0]); // 6

But you notice something about the indices if we write them out as before:

[0][0]  [0][1]  [0][2]
[1][0]  [1][1]
[2][0]  [2][1]  [2][2]   [2][3]

The indices make a ragged pattern, not a straight rectangular pattern.

You can have ragged higher dimensional arrays as well, though allocating all the sub-arrays gets to be a royal pain, and I recommend against it.

There are often times when you want ragged arrays even in a language that supports rectangular multi-dimensional arrays, so VBScript supports both. If you say


then you are talking to a rectangular two-dimensional array. If you say


then you are talking to a one dimensional array that contains another one dimensional array.



1 thought on “Running Me Ragged

  1. Pingback: Porting old posts, part 2 | Fabulous adventures in coding

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