Dynamic Three Dimensional Arrays in C\C++\C#\Java


If you come from a Java or C# perspective and want to create a multi-dimensional array in C or C++, you’ll soon figure out that multi-dimensional array allocation in C\C++ is not as simple, plus you’ll have to worry about deallocation since there is no garbage collector to do the work for you. Below I’ll show four different sample codes showing how to work with a three dimensional array in Java, C#, C++ and C, respectively.

Java 3D Array

In Java, creating a 3-dimensional array is as simple as saying

int[][][] array3D = new int[x][y][z];

You can then access the elements of the 3-dimensional array at array3D[i][j][k].

Sample Code

public static void main(String[] args)
{
    //  Array 3 Dimensions
    int x = 4, y = 5, z = 6;

    //  Array Iterators
    int i, j, k;

    //  Allocate 3D Array
    int[][][] array3D = new int[x][y][z];

    //  Access array elements
    for (i = 0; i < x; i++)
    {
        System.out.println(i);

        for (j = 0; j < y; j++)
        {
            System.out.println();

            for (k = 0; k < z; k++)
            {
                array3D[i][j][k] = (i * y * z) + (j * z) + k;
                System.out.print("\t" + array3D[i][j][k]);
            }
        }

        System.out.println('\n');
    }
}

C# 3D Array

In C#, the concept is almost the same as in Java. However, C# makes the distinction between jagged and multi-dimensional arrays. Elements of a multi-dimensional array are stored in a contiguous block in memory while elements of a jagged array are not. Java arrays are actually jagged arrays, while C# supports both and allows you to choose which one you want based on the syntax of your code. Note that multi-dimensional arrays are better (in most cases) than jagged arrays, and that is considered a minus point for Java.

Using jagged arrays in C# is not as simple as in Java. It’s almost like the way we would implement it in C++.

int[][] jaggedArray = new int[2][];
jaggedArray[0] = new int[4];
jaggedArray[1] = new int[3];

However, multi-dimensional arrays in C# are very simply to use. You can create a 3 dimensional array as follows

int[,,] array3D = new int[x, y, z];

then access its elements at array3D[i][j][k].

Sample Code

static void Main(string[] args)
{
    //  Array 3 Dimensions
    int x = 4, y = 5, z = 6;

    //  Array Iterators
    int i, j, k;

    //  Allocate 3D Array
    int[,,] array3D = new int[x, y, z];

    //  Access array elements
    for (i = 0; i < x; i++)
    {
        Console.WriteLine(i);

        for (j = 0; j < y; j++)
        {
            Console.WriteLine();

            for (k = 0; k < z; k++)
            {
                array3D[i, j, k] = (i * y * z) + (j * z) + k;
                Console.Write("\t{0}", array3D[i, j, k]);
            }
        }

        Console.WriteLine('\n');
    }
}

C++ 3D Array

To create a multi-dimensional array in C++, we should change perspective a little bit and think of creating arrays that point to other arrays, which point to other arrays, and so on. For example, to create a 2x3x4 array in C++, we should imagine the implementation as follows:

For simplicity, we are doing the jagged implementation of the multi-dimensional array (address of array3d[0][1][0] is not directly after array3d[0][0][3] in memory representation above). In the next section, we will implement it in C the contiguous way. To allocate a jagged 2D array in C++, one can write the following (compare to C# jagged above):

int** jaggedArray = new int*[2];
jaggedArray[0] = new int[4];
jaggedArray[1] = new int[3];

The elements can be accessed as usual: jaggedArray[i][j]. The extra work we have to do in C++ is to explicitly deallocate the array.

delete[] jaggedArray[0];
delete[] jaggedArray[1];
delete[] jaggedArray;

See the code sample below to understand how we allocate and deallocate a 3 dimensional array in C++.

Sample Code

#include <iostream>

using namespace std;

void main()
{
    //  Array 3 Dimensions
    int x = 4, y = 5, z = 6;

    //  Array Iterators
    int i, j, k;

    //  Allocate 3D Array
    int ***array3D = new int**[x];

    for(i = 0; i < x; i++)
    {
        array3D[i] = new int*[y];

        for(j = 0; j < y; j++)
        {
            array3D[i][j] = new int[z];
        }
    }

    //  Access array elements
    for(i = 0; i < x; i++)
    {
        cout << i << endl;

        for(j = 0; j < y; j++)
        {
            cout << endl;

            for(k = 0; k < z; k++)
            {
                array3D[i][j][k] = (i * y * z) + (j * z) + k;
                cout << '\t' << array3D[i][j][k];
            }
        }

        cout << endl << endl;
    }

    //  Deallocate 3D array
    for(i = 0; i < x; i++)
    {
        for(j = 0; j < y; j++)
        {
            delete[] array3D[i][j];
        }

        delete[] array3D[i];
    }
    delete[] array3D;
}

C 3D Array

Implementing multi-dimensional arrays in C is very similar to C++, except that we use malloc()\free()  stdlib methods instead of the new\delete keywords. The memory representation below is the same, but we are going to focus in this section on making the elements of the 3 dimensional array contiguous.

To do so, we start by allocating space for all array elements in one call to malloc.

int *allElements = malloc(x * y * z * sizeof(int));

Next, we create the arrays of pointers, and point to the contiguous elements we’ve already allocated.

int ***array3D = malloc(x * sizeof(int **));
for(i = 0; i < x; i++)
{
    array3D[i] = malloc(y * sizeof(int *));

    for(j = 0; j < y; j++)
    {
        array3D[i][j] = allElements + (i * y * z) + (j * z);
    }
}

Note that if we wanted the same jagged implementation as in the C++ example above, we could ignore the allocation of allElements and change the line of code array3D[i][j] = allElements + (i * y * z) + (j * z); to array3D[i][j] = malloc(z * sizeof(int)). Below is a sample code for allocating, accessing and deallocating a 3 dimensional array in C.

#include <stdio.h>
#include <stdlib.h>

void main()
{
    //  Array 3 Dimensions
    int x = 4, y = 5, z = 6;

    //  Array Iterators
    int i, j, k;

    //  Allocate 3D Array
    int *allElements = malloc(x * y * z * sizeof(int));
    int ***array3D = malloc(x * sizeof(int **));

    for(i = 0; i < x; i++)
    {
        array3D[i] = malloc(y * sizeof(int *));

        for(j = 0; j < y; j++)
        {
            array3D[i][j] = allElements + (i * y * z) + (j * z);
        }
    }

    //  Access array elements
    for(i = 0; i < x; i++)
    {
        printf("%d\n", i);

        for(j = 0; j < y; j++)
        {
            printf("\n");

            for(k = 0; k < z; k++)
            {
                array3D[i][j][k] = (i * y * z) + (j * z) + k;
                printf("\t%d", array3D[i][j][k]);
            }
        }

        printf("\n\n");
    }

    //  Deallocate 3D array
    free(allElements);
    for(i = 0; i < x; i++)
    {
        free(array3D[i]);
    }
    free (array3D);
}

Source Code

Full source code for the above 4 samples is available here.

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  1. #include
    #include

    void main()
    {
    // Array 3 Dimensions
    int x = 4, y = 5, z = 6;

    // Array Iterators
    int i, j, k;

    // Allocate 3D Array
    int *allElements = malloc(x * y * z * sizeof(int));
    int ***array3D = malloc(x * sizeof(int **));

    for(i = 0; i < x; i++)
    {
    array3D[i] = malloc(y * sizeof(int *));

    for(j = 0; j < y; j++)
    {
    array3D[i][j] = allElements + (i * y * z) + (j * z);
    }
    }

    // Access array elements
    for(i = 0; i < x; i++)
    {
    printf("%d\n", i);

    for(j = 0; j < y; j++)
    {
    printf("\n");

    for(k = 0; k < z; k++)
    {
    array3D[i][j][k] = (i * y * z) + (j * z) + k;
    printf("\t%d", array3D[i][j][k]);
    }
    }

    printf("\n\n");
    }

    // Deallocate 3D array
    free(allElements);
    for(i = 0; i < x; i++)
    {
    free(array3D[i]);
    }
    free (array3D);
    }

    """""how this aryya program exeute this not working

    • Ali BaderEddin
    • September 14th, 2010

    What exactly is not working?

    • chetna
    • November 30th, 2011

    plz given me program for three dimensional array

    • Addaboi
    • March 28th, 2012

    Thanks. This worked great.

    • Phil
    • July 12th, 2013

    Doesn’t work… I get a segmentation fault :(

      • Phil
      • July 12th, 2013

      I rescind that previous comment.. kind of
      It did not work when I placed the allocation code in a separate function (I was passing a pointer int*** to the function but things weren’t working.. this is likely because I have not developed in C for quite awhile and am a little rusty).

      The code did however work when I returned a pointer (int***) from the function back to main.

  2. All right, you are right buddy, on a regular basis updating webpage is really necessary in support of SEO. Nice argument keeps it up.

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