.NET 2.0 Performance Guidelines - Arrays

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- J.D. Meier, Srinath Vasireddy, Ashish Babbar, Rico Mariani, and Alex Mackman

Prefer Arrays to Collections Unless You Need Functionality

Arrays are the fastest of all collections, so unless you need special functionality, such as dynamic extension of the collection, you should consider using arrays rather than collections. Arrays also avoid the boxing and unboxing overhead.

Use Strongly Typed Arrays

Use strongly typed arrays where possible, rather than using object arrays to store types. This avoids type conversion or boxing depending upon the type stored in the array. If you declare an array of objects and then proceed to add a value type such as an integer or float to the array, it involves the boxing overhead as shown in the following code sample.

Object[] array = new Object[10]
arr[0] = 2+3; //boxing occurs here
To avoid the boxing overhead declare a strongly typed int array, as follows:
int [] arrIn = new int [10];
arrIn[0] = 2+3;

Storing reference types, such as string or custom classes in the array of objects, involves the typecasting overhead. Therefore, you should use strongly typed arrays to store your reference types to, as shown in the following code sample.

string[10]  arrStr = new string[10];
arrStr[0] =  new string("abc");

Use Jagged Arrays Instead of Multidimensional Arrays

A jagged array is a single dimensional array of arrays. The elements of a jagged array can be of different dimensions and sizes. Use jagged arrays instead of multidimensional arrays to benefit from MSIL performance optimizations.

MSIL has specific instructions that target single dimensional zero-based arrays (SZArrays) and access to this type of array is optimized. In contrast, multidimensional arrays are accessed using the same generic code for all types, which results in boxing and unboxing for arrays of primitive types.

Note Avoid nonzero-based arrays because they perform more slowly than SZArrays.

The following example shows the declaration and use of jagged arrays.

string[][] Address = new string[2][];     // A jagged array of strings
Address[0] = new string[1];
Address[1] = new string[2];
Address[0][0] = "Address [0,1]";
Address[1][0] = "Address [1,0]";
Address[1][1] = "Address [1,1]";
for (int i =0; i <=1; i++) {
     for (int j = 0; j < Address[i].Length; j ++)

Note Jagged arrays are not Common Language Specification (CLS) compliant and may not be used across languages.

You can compare the efficiency of jagged versus multidimensional arrays by studying the MSIL code generated in each case. Notice how the following code that uses a multidimensional array results in a function call.

int [,] secondarr = new int[1, 2];
secondarr[0, 0] = 40;

The preceding code generates the following MSIL. Notice the function call.

IL_0029: ldc.i4.s   40
IL_002b: call instance void int32[0...,0...]::Set(int32,

The following code shows the MSIL generated for a jagged array. Notice the use of the MSIL stelem instruction. The stelem instruction replaces the array element at a given index with the int32 value on the evaluation stack.

int [][] intarr = new int[1][];
intarr[0] = new int[2];
intarr[0][0] = 10;

The preceding code generates the following MSIL. Note the use of the stelem instruction.

IL_001c:  ldc.i4.s   10
IL_001e:  stelem.i4
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