The JScript Type System, Part Four: JScript .NET Arrays


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As
I mentioned in an
earlier entry
, one of the major differences between JScript .NET and JScript Classic
is that JScript .NET now supports optional type annotations on variables.  The
number of built-in primitive types has also increased dramatically.  JScript
.NET adds value types
boolean, byte, char, decimal, double, float, int, long, sbyte, short, uint, ulong and ushort.  In
addition, JScript .NET integrates its type system with the CLR type system — a string
in JScript has all the properties and methods of the string prototype and all
the properties and methods of a
System.String.  Backwards
compatibility and interoperability with the CLR were two very important design criteria.

 

The
primitive types are pretty straightforward though.  Some
more interesting stuff happens when we think about how complex types like arrays interoperate
between JScript .NET and the CLR.  I already
discussed
some of these issues regarding JScript and VBScript arrays, so let’s
quickly review the terminology:

 

A sparse array
may have “holes” in the valid indices. A sparse array with three elements might have
elements 0, 10 and 1000 defined but nothing in between. The opposite of a sparse array
is a dense array. In a dense array all
the indices between the lowest and highest indices are valid indices. A dense array
with elements 0 and 1000 has 1001 elements.

 

A fixed-size array
has a particular valid range of indices. Typically the size is fixed when the array
is created and it may not be changed. A variable-sized array
does not have any maximum size. Elements may be added or removed at any time.

 

A single-dimensional array
maps a single index onto a value. A multi-dimensional array
may require any number of indices to fetch a value.

 

The
number of dimensions an array has is called its rank.
(Other terms such as dimensionality or arity are
occasionally used but we will stick to rank.)

 

A static-typed array
or hard-typed array is an array where
every element is of the same type. A dynamically-typed or soft-typed array
may have elements of any type.

 

An associative array
is an array where the indices are strings. A nonassociative array
has integer indices.

 

A literal array
is a JScript .NET array defined in the actual source code, much as
“abcde” is
a literal string or
123.4 is
a literal number. In JScript .NET a literal array is a comma-separated list of items
inside square brackets:

 

var arr
= [10, 20, “hello”];

var item
= arr[1]; // 20

 

JScript
arrays are sparse, variable-sized, single-dimensional, soft-typed associative arrays.
CLR arrays are the opposite in every way! They are dense, fixed-size, multi-dimensional, hard-typed nonassociative arrays.
It is hard to imagine two more different data structures with the same name.  Making
them interoperate at all was a pain in the rear, believe me.

 

This
is a pretty big topic, so I think I’ll split it up over a few entries.  Let
me talk a bit about annotation and typing, and we’ll pick up where we left off tomorrow.

 

Traditional
JScript arrays are soft-typed; they can store heterogeneous data:

 

var arr
= new Array();

arr[0]
= “hello”;

arr[1]
= 123.456;

arr[2]
= new Date();

 

CLR
arrays, on the other hand, are hard-typed. Every element of a CLR array is the same
type as every other element. This difference motivates the type annotation syntaxes
for each. In JScript .NET the traditional arrays are annotated with the
Array type
and hard-typed CLR arrays are annotated with the type of the element followed by
[]:

 

var jsarr
: Array = new Array()

jsarr[0]
= “hello”;

 

var sysarr
: double[] = new double[10];

sysarr[0]
= 123.4

 

Note
that CLR arrays are fixed-size, but the size
is not part of the type annotation
;
sysarr can
be a one-dimensional array of
double of
any size. This is perfectly legal, for example:

 

var sysarr
: double[] = new double[10];

sysarr[0]
= 123.4

sysarr
= new double[5];

 

This
throws away the old array and replaces it with a new, smaller array. But once
a hard-typed array is created it may not be resized.

 

Tomorrow:
true multidimensional arrays in JScript .NET.