Multidimensional Arrays

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Multidimensional arrays are nothing more than arrays that contain other arrays.

Helpful explanation

Nice, succinct explanation of multidimensional arrays:


Think of them as a matrix/grid of n-dimensions

int[][] matrix; //declaration follows pattern, elementType[][] arrayRefVar;

Creating a multidimensional array

Declare, allocate, and assign values separately

int[][] matrix; //declare

matrix = new int[3][3]; //allocate

//then assign values as separate statements
matrix[0][0] = 1;
matrix[0][1] = 2;
matrix[0][2] = 3;
matrix[1][0] = 4;
matrix[1][1] = 5;
matrix[1][2] = 6;
matrix[2][0] = 7;
matrix[2][1] = 8;
matrix[2][2] = 9;

Declare and initialize in one statement

Both declare and allocation in one statement:

int[][] matrix = new int[3][3]; //declare and allocate

//assign values
matrix[0][0] = 1;
matrix[0][1] = 2;
matrix[0][2] = 3;
matrix[1][0] = 4;
matrix[1][1] = 5;
matrix[1][2] = 6;
matrix[2][0] = 7;
matrix[2][1] = 8;
matrix[2][2] = 9;

Declaration, initialization, and assignment in one statement

All steps in one statement

//declare, allocate, and assign values all at once in shorthand notation
//note that allocation is implicit and not directly written in code
int[][] matrix = {

Ragged arrays

Ragged arrays are simply multi-dim arrays with uneven length sub-arrays.

int[][] triangleArray = new int[3][]; //if sub-array lengths are all different, leave them blank here
//int[][] triangleArray = new int[][]; //is an error!  you must supply the first dimension's length when allocating

//allocate different lengthed sub-arrays
triangleArray[0] = new int[3];
triangleArray[1] = new int[2];
triangleArray[0] = new int[1];

Passing multidimensional arrays as function arguments

//define function to accept multidimensional array as parameter
public static int doSomething(int[][] bar) { ...etc... }

//create multi-dimensional array
int[][] foo = new int[5][2];

//call function and pass it the multidimensional array
doSomething(foo); //function call with arg

Example programs

Two-dimensional array

 * Example of using a two-dimensional array to manipulate two-dimensional grid-like tabular data
 * @author Foo Barstein
 * @version 0.2

public class MultiDimensionalArrayExample {

	public static void main(String[] args) {
		String[][] grades = new String[44][3]; //imagine a grade chart for 44 students taking 3 exams

		for (int i=0; i<grades.length; i++) { //loop through each row
			for (int j=0; j<grades[i].length; j++) { //loop through all columns within the current row
				grades[i][j] = "F"; //enter F for each element 

		//read each element of our multi-dim array and make it look nicely formatted
		System.out.printf("%5s%10s%10s%10s", "", "Exam 1", "Exam 2", "Exam 3"); //print out column headings
		System.out.println(); //print a line break
		for (int i=0; i<grades.length; i++) { //loop through each row
			System.out.printf("%5s", i); //print the row number
			for (int j=0; j<grades[i].length; j++) { //loop through each column
				System.out.printf("%10s", grades[i][j]); //print the grade in each column
			System.out.println(); //print a line break


Ragged multidimensional array

 * Example of creating a ragged array: a multidimensional array with rows of varying lengths
 * @author Foo Barstein
 * @version 0.6

public class RaggedArrayExample {

	public static void main(String[] args) {
		//create ragged array the easy way... using shorthand notation to allocate and assign all sub-arrays at once... 
		int[][] foo = {
		// create a ragged array the hard way... allocate and assign each sub-array separately
		int[][] bar = new int[3][];
		bar[0] = new int[4];
		bar[0][0] = 0;
		bar[0][1] = 1;
		bar[0][2] = 2;
		bar[0][3] = 3;
		bar[1] = new int[4];
		bar[1][0] = 4;
		bar[1][1] = 5;
		bar[1][2] = 6;
		bar[1][3] = 7;
		bar[2] = new int[2];
		bar[2][0] = 8;
		bar[2][1] = 9;
        //loop through each sub-array the hard way and output every element
        for (int i=0; i<foo.length; i++) {
            for (int j=0; j<foo[i].length; j++) {
                int val = foo[i][j];

        //loop through each sub-array the easy way and output every element
        for (int[] subArray : bar) {
            for (int val : subArray) {



Tic-tac-toe game

We use a two-dimensional array to hold the game board. Note that most of the code revolves around the game mechanics: taking turns, checking whether a move is allowed, etc. The multidimensional array simply serves as a useful data structure with which to model tabular data, like the game board.

Note also how we loop through the elements in the two-dimensional array when we show the board.

package edu.nyu.cs.fb1258;

import java.util.Scanner;

public class TicTacToe {

       //define constants representing each possible data value we will use in our tic tac toe board
       final static int X = 1;
       final static int O = 2;
       final static int BLANK = 3;
       static int currentPlayer = X;

       //make a globalish variable that holds the board
       static int[][] board = {
               {BLANK, BLANK, BLANK},
               {BLANK, BLANK, BLANK},
               {BLANK, BLANK, BLANK}

       public static void printBoard() {

               //loop through each row, one at a time
               for (int[] row : board) {

                       //print out all the columns within this row
                       for (int col : row) {

                               //generate a nice looking character that represents each spot on the board
                               String spot;
                               switch(col) {
                               case X:
                                       spot = "X";
                               case O:
                                       spot = "O";
                                       spot = "-";

                               //print out the column data with a space after it
                               System.out.print(spot + " ");

                       //print a line break


       public static int[] getIntArray(String[] coords) {
               //convert these coords, which are currently stored as Strings, into ints
               int[] coordsAsInts = new int[2];

               //loop through the string array of coords
               for (int i=0; i<coords.length; i++) {
                       //copy each value into the int array of coords, as ints of course
                       //remember that the arrays in the board start counting from zero, while the person started counting from 1!
                       coordsAsInts[i] = Integer.parseInt(coords[i]) - 1;

               return coordsAsInts;

       public static boolean isFreeSpot(int y, int x) {
               return board[y][x] == BLANK;

       public static void makeMove(int y, int x) {
               board[y][x] = currentPlayer;

       public static void changePlayers() {
               currentPlayer = (currentPlayer == X) ? O : X;

       public static void main(String[] args) {

               //declare,allocate array, and populate it with blanks

               Scanner in = new Scanner(;

               //keep track of whether the game is over or not with a flag
               boolean gameOver = false;

               //loop as long as the game is on
               while (!gameOver) {

                       //print out the board

                       //determine whose turn it is and output a nice  message appropriately
                       String playerName = (currentPlayer == X) ? "X" :  "O";
                       System.out.println("Player " + playerName + ",  please go!");

                       //get the user's move... assuming they entered it correctly]
                       //assuming the user types the move as "<row>,<col>"
                       String response = in.nextLine();

                       //split the response along the comma
                       String[] coords = response.split(",");

                       //get an int array version of this string array
                       int[] coordsAsInt = getIntArray(coords);

                       int yCoord = coordsAsInt[0];
                       int xCoord = coordsAsInt[1];

                       //check whether this move is permissible
                       if (isFreeSpot(yCoord, xCoord)) {

                               //make the move
                               makeMove(yCoord, xCoord);

                               //change players

                       else {
                               System.out.println("That move is not allowed!");




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