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Arrays Level 3: We put Arrays in your Arrays!

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Arrays Level 3: We put Arrays in your Arrays!

Ok, so we have associative arrays and indexed arrays. And really, they’re the exact same thing: both contain items and each item has a unique key we can use to access it. We choose that key for items in an associated array and we let PHP choose the keys for us in an indexed array. And because PHP isn’t very creative, it just chooses a number that gets higher each time we add something. But regardless of who makes the choice, every key in an array is either a string or a whole number, which we programmers and mathematicians call an integer. And that’s the end of the story: array keys are only ever strings or integers in all of PHP.

    Key   => Value
    'foo' => ?
    5     => ?
    'baz' => ?

But each value in an array can be any type of PHP value. So far we know three data types in PHP: a string, an integer and an array. And as promised, all three can be put into an array:

    Key   => Value
    'foo' => 1500,
    5     => 'Hello World!',
    'baz' => array(1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13),

Multi-dimensional Arrays

This means that we can have multi-dimensional arrays: an array with another one inside of it. Multidimensional arrays are actually pretty common and pretty easy. Let’s tweak our code to make each pet an associate array, just like Pancake. I’ll paste in the details:

$pet1 = array(
    'name' => 'Chew Barka',
    'breed' => 'Bichon',
    'age'  => '2 years',
    'weight' => 8,
    'bio'   => 'The park, The pool or the Playground - I love to go anywhere! I am really great at... SQUIRREL!',
    'filename' => 'pet1.png'

$pet2 = array(
    'name' => 'Spark Pug',
    'breed' => 'Pug',
    'age'  => '1.5 years',
    'weight' => 11,
    'bio'   => 'You want to go to the dog park in style? Then I am your pug!',
    'filename' => 'pet2.png'

$pet3 = array(
    'name' => 'Pico de Gato',
    'breed' => 'Bengal',
    'age'  => '5 years',
    'weight' => 9,
    'bio'   => 'Oh hai, if you do not have a can of salmon I am not interested.',
    'filename' => 'pet3.png'

$pancake = array(
    'name' => 'Pancake the Bulldog',
    'age'  => '1 year',
    'weight' => 9,
    'bio' => 'Lorem Ipsum',
    'filename' => 'pancake.png'
$pancake['breed'] = 'Bulldog';

// ...

Next, add $pancake to our $pets array and remove Kitty Gaga:

$pets = array($pet1, $pet2, $pet3, $pancake);

Notice that instead of passing a string as each item, we’re now passing an array with lots of information about each pet. Before we go any further, let’s use var_dump to see how this array looks. I’m also going to use a new function called die:

$pets = array($pet1, $pet2, $pet3, $pancake);

die kills the execution of the script immediately. It’s useful for debugging because now our variable will print and die will temporarily prevent the rest of the page from rendering. That just makes things easier to read. In my development, var_dump and die go together like kittens and catnip. But as delicious as catnip is to a kitten, never use die in your real code.

When we refresh, we see the multi-dimensional array. Just like before, the outermost array is indexed with keys 0, 1 and 2. Each item is now an associative array with its own keys.

Accessing Data on a Multi-dimensional Array

So if we wanted to access the breed of the second pet in the list, how can we do that? It’s actually wonderfully straightforward. First, access the second item by using the square bracket syntax, keeping in mind that array indexes start with 0. Next, add another set of square brackets with the breed key. Let’s var_dump this to make sure it works:

$pets = array($pancake, $pet1, $pet2, $pet3);
$breed2 = $pets[1]['breed'];

Now that we have an array with details about multiple pets, we’re dangerous! Look back at our foreach statement. We’re still looping over $pets. But now, $cutePet is an associative array instead of a string:

foreach ($pets as $cutePet) {
    echo '<div class="col-lg-4">';
    echo '<h2>';
    echo $cutePet['name'];
    echo '</h2>';

In fact, we already did all this work when we rendered Pancake’s details. Let’s just re-use that code and change $pancake to $cutePet. I’ll tweak a class name as well so that the our pets tile nicely.

<div class="row">
    <?php foreach ($pets as $cutePet) { ?>
        <div class="col-lg-4 pet-list-item">
            <h2><?php echo $cutePet['name']; ?></h2>

            <img src="/images/<?php echo $cutePet['filename']; ?>" class="img-rounded">

            <blockquote class="pet-details">
                <span class="label label-info"><?php echo $cutePet['breed']; ?></span>
                <?php echo $cutePet['age']; ?>
                <?php echo $cutePet['weight']; ?> lbs

                <?php echo $cutePet['bio']; ?>
    <?php } ?>


I indented the col-md-4 div 4 spaces inside the foreach just to help me read my code better - it doesn’t change anything in PHP or HTML.

Refresh and voilà! To make things cleaner, I also close the PHP tag after my foreach statement. This lets me write HTML instead of printing it from inside PHP, which is hard to read. But it’s really the same as before: we open PHP, start the foreach, close PHP, then later open it again to add the closing } for the foreach. If you’re not used to this yet, we’ll practice it!

Counting Items in an Array

So we’re now doing a lot with arrays. Let’s add one more thing! As cool as the rand function is, I want to print the real value for how many pets we have in the system. If there were a way to count the number of items in the $pets array, we’d be set. Fortunately, PHP gives us a function that does exactly that called count:

<!-- index.php -->
<!-- ... -->

    $cleverWelcomeMessage = 'All the love, none of the crap!';
    $pupCount = count($pets);

When we refresh, we get an error:

Notice: Undefined variable: pets in /path/to/index.php on line 70

The problem is that we’re referencing the $pets variable, but it’s not actually created until after this. PHP reads our file from top to bottom like a book, so we need to set a variable before using it.

To fix this, let’s move every variable all the way up to the top of the file:

<!-- Right at the top of index.php -->
    $pet1 = array(
        'name' => 'Chew Barka',
        'breed' => 'Bichon',
        'age' => '2 years',
        'weight' => 8,
        'bio' => 'The park, The pool or the Playground - I love to go anywhere! I am really great at... SQUIRREL!',
        'filename' => 'pet1.png'

    // .. the rest of the PHP code
    $pets = array($pet1, $pet2, $pet3, $pancake);

    $cleverWelcomeMessage = 'All the love, none of the crap!';
    $pupCount = count($pets);

Now when we refresh, it works perfectly. If we add a 5th pet later, it will update automatically.

Let’s go to php.net and look up the docs for the count function. As expected, it takes a single required argument. It also has a second, optional argument that you’ll probably never use. You can tell it’s optional because it’s surrounded by square brackets. That’s not really a PHP syntax, it’s just a common way to document optional arguments.

While we’re here, take a look at the left navigation: it’s full of the functions in PHP that help you work with arrays. It’s a massive list and has great stuff. For example, let’s look at array_reverse. It takes an array as its one required argument, reverses it, and returns it. Let’s use it to reverse $pets:

$pets = array($pancake, $pet1, $pet2, $pet3);
$pets = array_reverse($pets);

Sure enough, the pets reverse their order when we refresh. Notice also that I passed the $pets variable as the argument to array_reverse and set the result of the function to it. This is totally legal. The original value is passed to the function first and then the new, reversed value is set to $pets afterwards.

Congratulations on making it through this tough chapter. Now celebrate by dominating some exercises!

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I didn't know you can do recursive search with `count()` - thanks!


Hey boykodev

What do you mean with "recursive search"?
count() function is meant to "count" how many items does an array (or an object that implements "Countable" interface) contains, and it will return an integer number.



I meant that if you provide second argument to count() function, then it will recursively count number of elements not only in provided array, but in all the arrays inside as well.

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