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Initializing arrays of arrays: avoid fill()

A long, long time ago, on a blog far, far away, this horror was posted by someone who really should have known better (and who has since removed this section from the original post):

BTW: Ricky Clarkson pointed out that I missed a golden opportunity to use Arrays.fill() to fill in the “multiple dimensions.” Even here, you get to loop some, but here’s some grin-worthy code:

int[][][] arr = new int[10][10][10];        
Arrays.fill(arr[0][0], 5);       
Arrays.fill(arr[0], arr[0][0]);          
Arrays.fill(arr, arr[0]);

Hey, it works. It’s retarded, but works. 🙂

This… doesn’t work. It actually copies references, so altering any of the deep references changes all of the deep references. You can see this in action with this code:

import java.util.Arrays;

public class ArrayFillBad {
    public static void main(String[] args) {
        int[][] arr = new int[2][4];
        Arrays.fill(arr[0], 5);
        Arrays.fill(arr, arr[0]);
        display(arr);
        arr[1][2] = 1024;
        display(arr);
    }

    private static void display(int[][] arr) {
        for (int[] a1 : arr) {
            String sep = "";
            for (int a2 : a1) {
                System.out.print(sep + a2);
                sep = ", ";
            }
            System.out.println();
        }
        System.out.println();
    }
}

When run, this offers this output:

5, 5, 5, 5
5, 5, 5, 5

5, 5, 1024, 5
5, 5, 1024, 5

See the two new values? Only one is supposed to have been changed.

So what’s happening here? We’re not actually copying array contents, we’re copying array references – so we have multiple copies of one array, copied across each deep reference.

Chances are very good that this is not what you wanted. We can do better than that (where “better” means “actually works,” as opposed to “causes you to fail code reviews.”)

Here’s working code; it’s “uglier” but ugly trumps broken:

public class ArrayFillGood {
    public static void main(String[] args) {   
        int[][] arr = new int[2][4];
        for (int[] anArr : arr) {
            Arrays.fill(anArr, 8);
        }
        display(arr);
        arr[1][2] = 6;
        display(arr);
    }

private static void display(int[][] arr) {
        for (int[] a1 : arr) {
            String sep = "";
            for (int a2 : a1) {
                System.out.print(sep + a2);
                sep = ", ";
            }
            System.out.println();
        }
        System.out.println();
    }
}

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