Nested Loops for 2D Arrays

In this lesson, you will learn how to use nested loops to traverse a 2D Array.

Getting the Number of Rows and Columns

Arrays know their length (how many elements they can store). The length is a public read-only field so you can use dot-notation to access the field (arrayName.length). The length of the outer array is the number of rows and the length of one of the inner arrays is the number of columns.

ticketInfo.length // returns the number of rows
ticketInfo[0].length // returns the number of columns


Note that length is a field and not a method, so you don’t add parentheses after length.

exercise Check your understanding

Looping Through a 2D Array

Since you can find out the number of rows and columns in a 2D array you can use a nested for loop (one loop inside of another loop) to loop/traverse through all of the elements of a 2D array.

int[][] array = { {1,2,3},{4,5,6}};
for (int row = 0; row < array.length; row++)
    for (int col = 0; col < array[0].length; col++)
         System.out.println( array[row][col] );

coding exercise Coding Exercise

What does the Test1 program do? Add another row of numbers to the matrix. Will the loops traverse this row too?

Some key things to notice about this code are:

  • total is declared to be a double so that the result will be a double. If total was declared to be an int then the result would be an integer and the values after the decimal point would be thrown away.

  • The number of rows is a.length

  • The number of columns is a[0].length

  • The number of times this loop executes is the number of rows times the number of columns.

exercise Mixed up programs

The following has the correct code to find the largest value in a 2D array. Drag the blocks from the left into the correct order on the right and indent them as well. Check your solution by clicking on the <i>Check Me</i> button. You will be told if any of the blocks are in the wrong order or have the wrong indention.

You can step through this code using the Java Visualizer by clicking on the following Java Visualizer.

Most nested loops with 2D Arrays use “row-major order” where the outer loop goes through each row. However, you can write nested loops that traverse in “column-major order” like below.

coding exercise Coding Exercise

What will the ColumnMajorTraversal program print out? Try to guess before you run it. Then, step through it with the debugger.

Enhanced For-Each Loop for 2D Arrays

The Average program is a nested enhanced for loops demo. Use the debugger to step through the code.

In this case the for (int[] colArray : a) means to loop through each element of the outer array which will set colArray to the current column array. Then you can loop through the value in the column array.


  • We can loop through 2D arrays using nested for loops or nested enhanced for each loops.

  • The outer loop for a 2D array usually traverses the rows, while the inner loop traverses the columns in a single row.

  • The 2D array’s length gives the number of rows. A row’s length array[0].length gives the number of columns.

  • Nested iteration statements can be written to traverse the 2D array in “row-major order” or “column-major order.”

  • In a enhanced for each loop, the variable of the outer loop must be the type of each row, which is a 1D array. The inner enhanced for loop variable must be the same type as the elements stored in the array.

  • When applying sequential/linear search algorithms to 2D arrays, each row must be accessed then sequential/linear search applied to each row of a 2D array.

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