At the beginning of this section, you learned how to create and manipulate numbers and strings and how to assign them to variables. In real-world development, where you’ll be working with dozens (and even hundreds!) of variables, working with numbers and strings individually is tedious, if not impossible.
One way Ruby allows you to represent a collection of data is with arrays, which you can think of as ordered lists. Rather than working with individual variables, numbers, or strings, an array allows you to create and manipulate an ordered and indexed collection of these data. The individual variables, numbers, or strings within an array are known as elements. An array can contain any combination of variables, numbers, strings, or other Ruby objects (including other arrays), although it is advisable to keep similar data types in any one array.
By the end of this lesson, you should be able to do the following:
Here are two basic arrays:
num_array = [1, 2, 3, 4, 5] str_array = ["This", "is", "a", "small", "array"]
Both arrays have five elements separated by commas. The first array contains integers, while the second array contains strings.
Arrays are commonly created with an array literal, which is simply a special syntax used to create instances of an array object. To create a new array using an array literal, use square brackets (
An array can also be created by calling the
Array.new method. When you call this method, you can also include up to 2 optional arguments (initial size and default value):
Array.new #=>  Array.new(3) #=> [nil, nil, nil] Array.new(3, 7) #=> [7, 7, 7] Array.new(3, true) #=> [true, true, true]
Every element in an array has an index, which is a numerical representation of the element’s position in the array. Like most other programming languages, Ruby arrays use zero-based indexing, which means that the index of the first element is 0, the index of the second element is 1, and so on. Accessing a specific element within an array is as simple as calling
x is the index of the element you want. Calling an invalid position will result in
nil. Ruby also allows the use of negative indices, which return elements starting from the end of an array, starting at [-1].
str_array = ["This", "is", "a", "small", "array"] str_array #=> "This" str_array #=> "is" str_array #=> "array" str_array[-1] #=> "array" str_array[-2] #=> "small"
Finally, Ruby provides the
#last array methods, which should be self-explanatory. In addition, these methods can take an integer argument, e.g.,
myArray.last(n), which will return a new array that contains the first or last
n elements of
str_array = ["This", "is", "a", "small", "array"] str_array.first #=> "This" str_array.first(2) #=> ["This", "is"] str_array.last(2) #=> ["small", "array"]
Adding an element to an existing array is as simple as using the
#push method or the shovel operator
<<. Both methods will add elements to the end of an array and return that array with the new elements. The
#pop method will remove the element at the end of an array and return the element that was removed.
num_array = [1, 2] num_array.push(3, 4) #=> [1, 2, 3, 4] num_array << 5 #=> [1, 2, 3, 4, 5] num_array.pop #=> 5 num_array #=> [1, 2, 3, 4]
#unshift are used to add and remove elements at the beginning of an array. The
#unshift method adds elements to the beginning of an array and returns that array (much like
#shift method removes the first element of an array and returns that element (much like
num_array = [2, 3, 4] num_array.unshift(1) #=> [1, 2, 3, 4] num_array.shift #=> 1 num_array #=> [2, 3, 4]
It’s also useful to know that both
#shift can take integer arguments:
num_array = [1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6] num_array.pop(3) #=> [4, 5, 6] num_array.shift(2) #=> [1, 2] num_array #=> 
What do you think will be the outcome of
[1, 2, 3] + [3, 4, 5]?
If you guessed
[1, 2, 3, 3, 4, 5], congratulations! Adding two arrays will return a new array built by concatenating them, similar to string concatenation. The
concat method works the same way.
a = [1, 2, 3] b = [3, 4, 5] a + b #=> [1, 2, 3, 3, 4, 5] a.concat(b) #=> [1, 2, 3, 3, 4, 5]
To find the difference between two arrays, you can subtract them using
-. This method returns a copy of the first array, removing any elements that appear in the second array.
[1, 1, 1, 2, 2, 3, 4] - [1, 4] #=> [2, 2, 3]
Ruby gives you many methods to manipulate arrays and their contents (over 150!), many of which are beyond the scope of this lesson. For full documentation, go to http://ruby-doc.org/, click on “Core API”, scroll down to the Classes section, and click on “Array”. There, you’ll find the most up-to-date documentation on the various methods available to Ruby arrays along with explanations.
As previously mentioned, there are many methods available to Ruby arrays, and the behavior of some methods change depending on a variety of factors, such as if they take arguments or not. Therefore, ruby-doc.org will be your best friend in maximizing your aptitude with arrays. So visit soon, and visit often.
#methods method on an array will also yield a long list of the available methods.
num_array.methods #=> A very long list of methods
Here is a brief look at some other common array methods you might run into:
.empty? #=> true [].empty? #=> false [1, 2].empty? #=> false [1, 2, 3].length #=> 3 [1, 2, 3].reverse #=> [3, 2, 1] [1, 2, 3].include?(3) #=> true [1, 2, 3].include?("3") #=> false [1, 2, 3].join #=> "123" [1, 2, 3].join("-") #=> "1-2-3"
#uniqdo? Look these methods up in the Array class documentation. Were you close?
This section contains helpful links to other content. It isn’t required, so consider it supplemental.
This section contains questions for you to check your understanding of this lesson. If you’re having trouble answering the questions below on your own, review the material above to find the answer.