Array in PHP

What is Array in PHP? A quick guide for beginners.

Array in PHP programming language is a type of data structure that allows storing key-value pairs. To define an array we use a special constructor array() or a shorthand []. For example:


[]; // Shorthand

Types of Arrays

I would put arrays into 3 simple categories:

  • Numeric Arrays
  • Associative Arrays
  • Multi-dimensional Arrays

Array in PHP is a very versatile data structure, that can be treated as a vector, hash table, dictionary, collection, queue or data tree.

Numeric Arrays

These arrays use numbers as an access key. For example, this is a numeric array:

$names[0] = 'Victor';
$names[1] = 'John';

The access key for values Victor and John are 1 and 2.

Numeric arrays are usually defined in one line for its simplicity. For example:

$names = array('Victor', 'John');

Then we can access one of the values like this $names[0]. You can also define this array using the shorthand. For example:

$names = ['Victor', 'John'];

Associative Arrays

Associative arrays are used very often because they transfer much more semantic information about the data for the person. For example:

$book = [
    'title'  => 'Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone',
    'genre' => 'Fantasy Fiction',
    'realease_date' => '1997-06-26'

To access and print the book title:

echo $book['title']; // Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone 

You can imagine an array like a book with some information. The book represents an array. Then the labels:

  • ‘title’
  • ‘genre’
  • ‘realease_date’

represents a key that unlocks a particular value inside the book.

I love to imagine that keys are always on the left side and values on the right side on associative arrays. For example, everything before => is a key and everything after the => is a value:

$array = [
    key => value

Multi-Dimensional Arrays

This is actually not a bookshelf if you look closely

This is the most popular array type to store data because you can store a lot of information and access it in a convenient way. I love to imagine multi-dimensional arrays like a shelf full of books. A shelf represents a numeric array that has a list of books. Each individual book represents an associative array. For example:

[ add an image with books ]

$bookShelf = [
    'title'  => "Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone",
    'genre' => "Fantasy Fiction",
    'realease_date' => "1997-06-26"
    'title'  => "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy",
    'genre' => "Science Fiction",
    'realease_date' => "1979-10-12"

The dump result with var_dump($bookShelf) for this array will look like this:

array(2) {
  array(3) {
    string(40) "Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone"
    string(15) "Fantasy Fiction"
    string(10) "1997-06-26"
  array(3) {
    string(36) "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy"
    string(15) "Science Fiction"
    string(10) "1979-10-12"

To access and print the first book title:

echo $bookShelf[0]['title']; // Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone

Print Multi-dimensional Array in PHP

To print a multi-dimensional array in PHP we need to use a loop. Even though there are many ways to call a loop in PHP – the most convenient one for accessing and printing array data is foreach.

For example, to loop through an array:

foreach ($array as $key => $value) {
  // code...

If we want to print all of the book titles from the multi-dimensional array from the last example:

foreach ($bookShelf as $key => $value) {
  echo $value['title'] . PHP_EOL;
  echo $key; // title

The $key variable will print the array index, which is title in our multi-dimensional array. If you don’t need to print it then you can drop the $key variable from the foreach loop. Also, you can rename $key and $value variables. For example:

foreach ($bookShelf as $book ) {
  echo $book['title'] . PHP_EOL;

Note: PHP_EOL stands for php end of line – it pushes your text to the next line.

You can also print your array using for loop:

for($i = 0; $i < count($bookShelf); $i++) {
    echo $bookShelf[$i].PHP_EOL;

Array Functions

Some of the popular PHP array functions that I personally find useful:

#Function NameDescription
1is_array( mixed $var ): boolFinds if the variable is an array
2in_array( mixed $needle, array $haystack ): boolChecks if value exists in array
3array_unique( array $array ): arrayRemoves duplicated values from an array
4array_reverse( array $array ): arrayReverses an array and returns it
5 array_keys( array $array ): arrayReturns an array with all of the keys
6 count( mixed $variable ): intCounts all element in an array or something in an object

The full list of array functions can be found here.


An array is a very versatile data structure in PHP that can be used for many purposes. To learn more about arrays check the official documentation right here. Good luck!



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