Creating and accessing NumPy arrays

NumPy arrays have a fixed number of elements and all the elements have the same datatype, both specified when creating the array.

Even though the number of elements is fixed, the shape of the array can be changed as long as the number of elements remains the same.

Creating arrays

From existing data

NumPy arrays can be created in several different ways. The simplest way is to use the array constructor and provide the data directly as an argument. For example, in order to generate a one-dimensional array containing the numbers 1,2,3,4 one can use:

import numpy
x = numpy.array((1, 2, 3, 4))

This will generate a NumPy array containing four elements of integer type.

Unless explicitly specified, the datatype is automatically set based on the values used to create the array. In this case they were all integers and thus integer type was used. If the list would have contained one floating point number (e.g. [1, 2, 3.1, 4]) then the array created would have used floating point type for all elements.

The first argument of array() is the data for the array. It can be a single list (or tuple), or a nested list of uniformly sized lists that mimics a multi-dimensional array.

The second argument of array() is the datatype to be used for the array. It can be one of the basic datatypes in Python (int, float etc.) or it can be one of the more precise datatypes used internally by NumPy (numpy.int8, numpy.float128 etc.). If the second argument is not given, a datatype that can represent all the input data is selected automatically.

x = numpy.array((1, 2, 3, 4), float)

print(x)
# output: [ 1.  2.  3.  4.]
data = [[1, 2, 3], [4, 5, 6]]
y = numpy.array(data, complex)

print(y)
# output: [[ 1.+0.j  2.+0.j  3.+0.j]
#          [ 4.+0.j  5.+0.j  6.+0.j]]

print(y.shape)
# output: (2, 3)

print(y.size)
# output: 6

Using helper functions

NumPy also provides quite a few handy helper functions that can be used to generate the kinds of number sequences often used or to initialise the array with in a given way.

Two extremely helpful functions for generating ranges of numbers are called arange and linspace.

Similar to the regular range() function, numpy.arange() creates an array containing evenly spaces values within a given interval.

a = numpy.arange(10)

print(a)
# output: [0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9]

Optionally, one can also specify start and stop values (instead of just stop) as well as a step between the values. It is also not limited to integers, but can handle floating point numbers just as well.

Another common need is to generate a fixed number of evenly spaced values within an interval, which is exactly what numpy.linspace() does.

b = numpy.linspace(-4.5, 4.5, 5)

print(b)
# output: [-4.5  -2.25  0.    2.25  4.5]

One can also create an array of a given shape and initialise it to zeros or ones using the handy functions zeros or ones.

c = numpy.zeros((4, 6), float)
d = numpy.ones((2, 4))

print(c.shape)
print(d)
# output:
#   (4, 6)
#   [[ 1.  1.  1.  1.]
#    [ 1.  1.  1.  1.]]

To initialise to another value than 1, one can simply multiply the array created by ones() with the desired value.

One can also create a truly empty array by using the function empty. This will create an array and allocate memory for it, but not assign any values to it. In practice, this means that the values of an empty array are unspecified (whatever happened to be in the computer memory allocated to the array). Thus, if one uses empty, it is crucial to always assign values to all the elements before trying to use them.

In addition to numbers, NumPy supports also storing non-numerical data, e.g. strings. For strings, the largest element determines the item size, so in practice arbitrary strings are not that suitable, but character arrays can be sometimes useful.

s = numpy.array(['foo', 'foo-bar'])

print(repr(s))
# output: array(['foo', 'foo-bar'],
#               dtype='|U7')

dna = 'AAAGTCTGAC'
c = numpy.array(dna, dtype='c')

print(repr(c))
# output:
#   array([b'A', b'A', b'A', b'G', b'T', b'C', b'T', b'G', b'A', b'C'],
#         dtype='|S1')

Accessing arrays

NumPy arrays can be accessed in a similar way to normal Python lists. Only key difference stems from the fact that NumPy arrays can be truly multi-dimensional. This means that instead of a single index value, elements in a NumPy array can have multiple index values (one for each dimension).

To access a single element in a 2D array, one should use the index value in each dimension separated by a comma:

data = numpy.array([[1, 2, 3], [4, 5, 6]])
x = data[0,2]
y = data[1,-2]

print(x, y)
# output: 3 5

Slicing syntax can also be used with NumPy arrays to select only some part of the array.

a = numpy.arange(10)

print(a[2:])
# output: [2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9]

print(a[:-1])
# output: [0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8]

print(a[1:7:2])
# output: [1 3 5]

Multi-dimensional arrays can be sliced, too, and in multiple dimensions as well. One can also assign values to only some part of an array using the slicing syntax.

a = numpy.arange(10)
a[1:3] = -1

b = numpy.zeros((4, 4))
b[1:3, 1:3] = 2.0

print(a)
print(b)
# output:
#   [ 0 -1 -1  3  4  5  6  7  8  9]
#   [[ 0.  0.  0.  0.]
#    [ 0.  2.  2.  0.]
#    [ 0.  2.  2.  0.]
#    [ 0.  0.  0.  0.]]

Views and copies of arrays

Simple assignment creates a new reference to an array, just like for any other Python object. Thus, if you modify the array using the new reference, the changes are visible also via any old reference to the same array.

To make a true copy of an array, one should use the copy() method:

a = np.arange(10)
b = a              # reference, changing values in b changes a
b = a.copy()       # true copy

In contrast, slicing an array will create something called a view to the array. It is like a window showing only a some part of the full array. Any modifications to the elements in the view are directly reflected in the original array. In fact, no real copy is made and as such any manipulation will just change the original array.

Once again, to make a true copy, one should use the copy() method:

a = np.arange(10)
c = a[1:4]         # view, changing c changes elements [1:4] of a
c = a[1:4].copy()  # true copy of subarray

In what situations you think it is better to copy and when is a view better? Please comment!

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