Where is array's length property defined?


We can determine the length of an ArrayList<E> using its public method size(), like

ArrayList<Integer> arr = new ArrayList(10);
int size = arr.size();

Similarly we can determine the length of an Array object using the length property

String[] str = new String[10];
int size =  str.length;

Whereas the size() method of ArrayList is defined inside the ArrayList class, where is this length property of Array defined?

4/21/2016 1:54:11 PM

Accepted Answer

Arrays are special objects in java, they have a simple attribute named length which is final.

There is no "class definition" of an array (you can't find it in any .class file), they're a part of the language itself.

10.7. Array Members

The members of an array type are all of the following:

  • The public final field length, which contains the number of components of the array. length may be positive or zero.
  • The public method clone, which overrides the method of the same name in class Object and throws no checked exceptions. The return type of the clone method of an array type T[] is T[].

    A clone of a multidimensional array is shallow, which is to say that it creates only a single new array. Subarrays are shared.

  • All the members inherited from class Object; the only method of Object that is not inherited is its clone method.


6/28/2013 10:20:23 AM

It's "special" basically, with its own bytecode instruction: arraylength. So this method:

public static void main(String[] args) {
    int x = args.length;

is compiled into bytecode like this:

public static void main(java.lang.String[]);
   0:   aload_0
   1:   arraylength
   2:   istore_1
   3:   return

So it's not accessed as if it were a normal field. Indeed, if you try to get it as if it were a normal field, like this, it fails:

// Fails...
Field field = args.getClass().getField("length");

So unfortunately, the JLS description of each array type having a public final field length is somewhat misleading :(


It's defined in the Java language specification:

The members of an array type are all of the following:

  • The public final field length, which contains the number of components of the array. length may be positive or zero.

Since there is a limitless number of array types (for every class there is a corresponding array type, and then there are multidimensional arrays), they cannot be implemented in a class file; the JVM has to do it on the fly.


Even though this is not a direct answer to the question, it is an addition to the .length vs .size() argument. I was researching something related to this question so when I came across it I noticed that the definition(s) provided here

The public final field length, which contains the number of components of the array.

is not "exactly" correct.

The field length contains the number of available places to put a component, not the number of components present in the array. So it represents the total available memory allocated to that array, not how much of that memory is filled.

Array Memory Allocation


static class StuffClass {
    int stuff;
    StuffClass(int stuff) {
        this.stuff = stuff;

public static void main(String[] args) {

    int[] test = new int[5];
    test[0] = 2;
    test[1] = 33;
    System.out.println("Length of int[]:\t" + test.length);

    String[] test2 = new String[5];
    test2[0] = "2";
    test2[1] = "33";    
    System.out.println("Length of String[]:\t" + test2.length);

    StuffClass[] test3 = new StuffClass[5];
    test3[0] = new StuffClass(2);
    test3[1] = new StuffClass(33);
    System.out.println("Length of StuffClass[]:\t" + test3.length);         


Length of int[]:        5
Length of String[]:     5
Length of StuffClass[]: 5

However, the .size() property of the ArrayList does give the number of elements in the list:

ArrayList<Integer> intsList = new ArrayList<Integer>();
System.out.println("List size:\t" + intsList.size());
System.out.println("List size:\t" + intsList.size());
System.out.println("List size:\t" + intsList.size());


List size:  0
List size:  1
List size:  2

it's public final field , which contains the number of components of the array (length may be positive or zero)

An array thus has the same public fields and methods as the following class:

class A implements Cloneable, {
    public final int length = X;
    public Object clone() {
        try {
            return super.clone();
        } catch (CloneNotSupportedException e) {
            throw new InternalError(e.getMessage());

more info at

10.7 Array Members


To answer it as it-is, where is this length property of array defined? In a special Object header.

Easy to see via JOL

 int [] ints = new int[23];

One of the lines from this output is going to be:

16       4        (object header)   17 00 00 00 (00010111 00000000 00000000 00000000) (23)

Usually Objects have two headers (mark and klass), arrays have one more that always occupy 4 bytes in length, as size is an int.


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