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Implement a Stack Using an Array

Sven Woltmann
Sven Woltmann
March 16, 2022

In the last part, we wrote a stack as an adapter around an ArrayDeque. In this part of the tutorial, I'll show you how to implement a stack – without any Java collection classes – using an array.

It's pretty simple: We create an empty array and fill it from left to right (i.e., ascending from index 0) with the elements placed on the stack. To remove the elements, we read them from right to left (and remove them from the array).

The following image shows a stack with an array named elements that can hold eight elements. So far, four elements have been placed on the stack.

Implementing a stack using an array
Implementing a stack using an array

The number of elements (not the size of the array) is stored in the numberOfElements variable. The value of this variable tells us at which position in the array we have to insert or read an element:

  • Einfügen: at position numberOfElements
  • Auslesen: at position numberOfElements - 1

Source Code for a Stack with a Fixed Size Array

As long as we don't need to resize the array, the implementation is fairly simple, as the following Java code shows (BoundedArrayStack class in GitHub):

public class BoundedArrayStack<E> implements Stack<E> { private final Object[] elements; private int numberOfElements; public BoundedArrayStack(int capacity) { if (capacity < 1) { throw new IllegalArgumentException("Capacity must be 1 or higher"); } elements = new Object[capacity]; } @Override public void push(E item) { if (numberOfElements == elements.length) { throw new IllegalStateException("The stack is full"); } elements[numberOfElements] = item; numberOfElements++; } @Override public E pop() { E element = elementAtTop(); elements[numberOfElements - 1] = null; numberOfElements--; return element; } @Override public E peek() { return elementAtTop(); } private E elementAtTop() { if (isEmpty()) { throw new NoSuchElementException(); } @SuppressWarnings("unchecked") E element = (E) elements[numberOfElements - 1]; return element; } @Override public boolean isEmpty() { return numberOfElements == 0; } }
Code language: Java (java)

It gets a bit more complicated when more elements are to be pushed onto the stack than the size of the array. An array cannot grow. I will show you how this works in the next chapter.

Implementing a Stack with a Variable Size Array

Instead, we must (when the array is full):

  1. create a new, larger array,
  2. copy the elements from the original array into the new array, and
  3. discard the old array.

The following diagram represents these three steps visually:

Implementing a stack using an array: Growing the array
Growing the array

We can do all this in Java in just one step by calling the Arrays.copyOf() method. All we have to do is pass the size of the new array to the method.

Source Code for the Stack with a Variable Size Array

The following code shows a stack initially created with an array for ten elements. Each time the push() method is called, it checks whether the array is full. If it is, the grow() method is called.

The grow() method, in turn, calls calculateNewCapacity() to calculate the new size of the array. In the example, we expand the array always by a factor of 1.5. The code also specifies a maximum size for the array. If this is reached and another element is pushed, an exception is thrown (unless we got an OutOfMemoryError before).

Here is the code (class ArrayStack in GitHub):

public class ArrayStack<E> implements Stack<E> { public static final int MAX_SIZE = Integer.MAX_VALUE - 8; private static final int DEFAULT_INITIAL_CAPACITY = 10; private Object[] elements; private int numberOfElements; public ArrayStack() { this(DEFAULT_INITIAL_CAPACITY); } public ArrayStack(int initialCapacity) { elements = new Object[initialCapacity]; } @Override public void push(E item) { if (elements.length == numberOfElements) { grow(); } elements[numberOfElements] = item; numberOfElements++; } private void grow() { int newCapacity = calculateNewCapacity(elements.length); elements = Arrays.copyOf(elements, newCapacity); } static int calculateNewCapacity(int currentCapacity) { if (currentCapacity == MAX_SIZE) { throw new IllegalStateException("Can't grow further"); } int newCapacity = currentCapacity + calculateIncrement(currentCapacity); if (newCapacity > MAX_SIZE || newCapacity < 0 /* overflow */) { newCapacity = MAX_SIZE; } return newCapacity; } private static int calculateIncrement(int currentCapacity) { return currentCapacity / 2; } // pop(), peek(), elementAtTop(), isEmpty() are the same as in BoundedArrayStack }
Code language: Java (java)

The methods pop(), peek(), elementAtTop(), and isEmpty() are identical to those in the BoundedArrayStack presented above. I have, therefore, not printed them again.

The ArrayStack in the form printed above cannot yet shrink the array again (we don't want to waste too much memory). Feel free to try to extend the implementation yourself.

You can see how BoundedArrayStack and ArrayStack can be used in the StackDemo program.


In the next part of the series, you will learn about a variant not based on an array, but a linked list and thus grows fully automatically with each push() and shrinks again with each pop().

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