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Indexing and Slicing Arrays in JavaScript and other languages

Honeycomb arrangement representing array indexes in JavaScript.

Photo by Ante Hamersmit on Unsplash.

Indexing and slicing arrays are some of the most basic tasks in programming. Almost all programming languages have the ability to index and arrays, including both static and dynamic languages like Python (dynamic), JavaScript (dynamic), C++ (static) and Go (static).

🧑‍💻 Grab the code to follow along via my Github, available in the example-code directory.

Array indexing syntax in C++, Python, and JavaScript

In many languages array indexing looks something like the Python code below.

>>> myArray = ['testing', 'array', 'indexes']
>>> print(myArray[0])

In C++ indexing the array looks the same as the Python above, though the other parts are different.

// myArray.cpp
#include <array>
#include <iostream>
int main() {
    std::array<std::string, 3> myArray = {"testing", "array", "indexes"};
    std::cout << myArray[0] << "\n";

See how the indexing portion myArray[0] is the same?

Now compile that C++ code and run it:

c++ myArray.cpp && ./a.out

And yet again, the code below looks pretty much the same as Python, but now in JavaScript.

let myArray = ['testing', 'array', 'indexes']

So to summarize indexing myArray in all three languages:

  • Python: myArray[0],
  • C++: myArray[0], and
  • JavaScript: myArray[0].


Static versus dynamic

You probably noticed that JavaScript and Python look quite alike, even for the initialization of myArray, whereas C++ looks quite different. That's because the former are dynamic programming languages while the latter is a static, compiled language.

The "debate" or merits of one over the other aren't for this write-up; we'll save that for later, after your author is retired or rocking a CS PhD. For now, since this article is mostly about JavaScript, we'll stick to dynamic languages.

Other ways to index JavaScript arrays

What's neat about JavaScript is that the Array built-in has another way to index arrays, using the at method.

let myArray = ['testing', 'array', 'indexing']

Why is this useful? Well imagine that you don't want to risk doing something like the below happening.

let myArray = ['testing', 'array', 'indexing']

JavaScript's method will return a -1 value for an index not in the array, rather than undefined. This can be very useful for build-in sorting methods.

Grabbing a "slice"

While we're at it, how would one go about getting several pieces of an array at once? As in, get both values "array" and "indexing" from myArray?

Fortunately JavaScript's language gods have a nice, prepackaged answer for you: slicing.

let myArray = ['testing', 'array', 'indexing']
myArray.slice(0, 1)

Many other dynamic languages have this feature, too. In Python it's built right into the core of its "array" (list). It's so common in modern languages that Go makes slices built-in:, e.g.

// slices.go 

package main

import "fmt"

func main() {
	myArray := [3]string{"testing", "array", "indexes"}

	var s []string = myArray[0:1]

In the code above myArray is called a slice and used similarly to an array in JavaScript or list in Python.

Doing things with arrays and slicing

So let's put some of this to use, in JavaScript, of course. Why don't we write a simple function that "chunks" some data for another function?

In particular, let's dig into the disectChartData function from @Tincre's Promo dashboard library.

Note, that library function is written in TypeScript but I've converted it to JavaScript here.

 * @description Given a Chart.js label array and a Chart.js data array and an
 * integer length, return an object of those labels and data arrays sliced up
 * to the ending lengths.
 * @param { Array<string | null> }labels string labels to index data
 * @param { Array<string | number | null> } data data to plot 
 * @param { number } length length to slice _from the end of each array_
 * @returns an object of sliced labels and data
function disectChartData(labels, data, length) {
  const endLabelSliceIdx = labels.length;
  const endDataSliceIdx = data.length;
  const startLabelIdx = Math.max(0, endLabelSliceIdx - length);
  const startDataIdx = Math.max(0, endDataSliceIdx - length);
  return {
    labels: labels.slice(startLabelIdx, endLabelSliceIdx),
    data: data.slice(startDataIdx, endDataSliceIdx),

The function above is called when a user selects a time span in our apps' dashboards, like "1-month". It should return the latest data for a 1-month (30 day) time horizon.

As you can see, slicing comes in very handy here. If we didn't have slices, the function would need to loop through the given arrays, copy over the values and send back new arrays.

By using slicing we're able to send back a reference to the original array, saving memory and execution time. ⏩️

Extra credit, C++ and Python

Since I have been referencing other language syntax throughout this piece, let's look at "slicing" in Python and C++.

To refresh your memory, Python's a dynamic language and C++ is a static language!


Python has slicing built right into its list type. Let's take a look, below.

>>> myArray = ['testing', 'array', 'indexes']
>>> print(myArray[0:1])

Cool, right? You, the venerable programmer, can avoid typing out slice or something like that!


First of all, we're going to skip over a bunch of more complex stuff and switch from std::array to using std::vector. That's because the C++ Standard Library's Vector class allows us to use things like slicing, also built-in (though slightly different, since it's a static language).

// vectorSlice.cpp
#include <vector>
#include <iostream>
#include <string>

int main() {
    std::vector<std::string> myArray = {"testing", "array", "indexes"};
    auto myArraySlice = std::vector<std::string>(
        myArray.begin(), myArray.end() - 1,
    std::cout << myArraySlice[0] << "\n";

Compile and run it:

c++ vectorSlice.cpp && ./a.out

Watch out for index bounds!

Now back to JavaScript. An easy mistake to make is to write a function like disectChartData above and feed it your array indexes for slicing.

As an example, let's think of a three element array of strings, e.g.

let myArray = ['testing', 'array', 'indexes']

And a simple function to return slices of a given array, e.g.

 * @description Return the sliced array given the start and ending indexes
 * @param { number } start the index from which to slice
 * @param { number } end the index to which to slice
 * @param { Array } arr an array of things
 * @returns { Array } stuff
function getSlice(start, end, arr) {
    return arr.slice(start, end) 

Now you might think that calling the function with getSlice(0, 2, myArray) would give:

//[myArray[0], myArray[1], myArray[2]]
['testing', 'array', 'indexes']

But be careful, as array slicing in JavaScript is different that indexing!

To get all three elements you want to call the function with getSlice(0, 3, myArray).

See the MDN slice docs for details.

In summary

In this piece I drove you around a couple of different programming language array neighborhoods.

Those included

  • Python,
  • C++,
  • Go, and
  • JavaScript.

We briefly mentioned that static and dynamic languages are different types of languages and then dug into slicing -- getting a subset of an array. Then we applied slicing arrays in JavaScript, used in the real-world Promo dashboard library. Lastly, I demonstrated a pitfall you might encounter using slices versus array indexing.

Let me know what you think in the comments and be sure to give me a follow if you want updates on when I post other articles!

👋 Hasta luego!