JavaScript Logo - Array Length

The “length” property of a JavaScript array is a very helpful tool, but why is array length
always one “off”?

Arrays in JavaScript are zero-based. This means that JavaScript starts counting from zero when it indexes an array. In other words, the index value of the first element in the array is “0” and the index value of the second element is “1”, the third element’s index value is “2”, and so on. This is not unusual in computer programming languages. The JavaScript array length property is given in a one-based context. So, a JavaScript array with one element will have a “length” of “1”. If a JavaScript array has four elements, then that array’s “length” property will have a value of “four”. But (and here is the point where many get confused), if a JavaScript array has four elements, the last element has an index of “3”. This is because, again, JavaScript arrays are zero-based.

The Array Length – Example # 1

In Example # 1, we have an array with five elements. The console.log() statement reflects this as well because the “length” property of this array is “5” (i.e. this is a one-based value).

So, even though the array has a length of 5, the first element has an index of 0, and the last element (the 5th element) has an index of 4. Now this is the most important point, and it’s what explains the “off” reference: the length of the array is always one higher than the index of the last array element because the array indexes are zero-based, but the length property is one-based.

One Less Than the Length – Example # 2

In Example # 2, we create a variable who’s value is one LESS than the length of our array. So, since our array’s “length” property is “5”, our “len” variable is equal to “4”. Our loop will start at 0, and run until it equals “4”. This IS five iterations, but we are starting at 0, not one. So, since JavaScript starts counting Arrays from Zero, our code successfully outputs the value of each element in the array.

This is a very common technique: when you want to iterate an array, you create a for-loop, and set the max iterations to “one less than” the length of the array. Now while this may seem tedious, it’s actually a rock-solid pattern to follow, because the array’s length will always (always) be one higher than the index of the last element in the array. So, it follows that if your loop iterates X times, and X equals “one less than” the length of the array, then your loop will always iterate over every element in the array. This takes a little getting used to, but once you do, it becomes second nature.

Console Output – Example # 3

Summary

JavaScript arrays are zero-based. The JavaScript array “length” property returns the number of elements in an array, but it is a one-based value. So whenever you want to use the “length” property to say “hey, start from the first element in an array and go until you reach the last element,” start from zero, and go until you reach the array’s “length” property value, but “minus one!”

Helpful Links for JavaScript Arrays

JavaScript Array Management with Push(), Pop(), Shift() and Unshift()

Two Ways to Dynamically Append an Element to a JavaScript Array

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