1024px-Flatirons_Winter_Sunrise_edit_2

Arrays are awesome! They allow you to store multiple values in a convenient, indexed set. In JavaScript, arrays can be declared literally or they can be initialized using the Array constructor function. But wait… What if you want to empty an array instead of creating one? Hmm… perhaps not as straightforward. Have no fear, there are some relatively easy ways to go about emptying an array in JavaScript. In the following examples, I’ll examine three different ways in which you can clear an array. I’ll then present some quirkiness related to one of the methods, as well as how to address it.

Here’s our example array:

http://codepen.io/anon/pen/adjwde?editors=0012

*Note here, that our array could be populated with any type of data, not just numbers.

Now, to clear it

Method 1

This method couldn’t be simpler; just set the value of the array in question to an clear array.

http://codepen.io/anon/pen/ZQjyWw?editors=0012

Method 2

This method for emptying an array uses a for loop (could be any kind of loop) and the Array.prototype.pop() method.

http://codepen.io/anon/pen/VeBWjj?editors=0012

Method 3

This third method is perhaps less intuitive, however, it’s as simple as the first and actually produces a more robust result. Simply set the length of the array to 0.

http://codepen.io/anon/pen/GoBENm?editors=0012

Piece of cake! Three methods for clearing/emptying an array in JavaScript. Hold on… What was that quirkiness I was talking about earlier? Let’s have a look…

Method 1 is easy; just set the array to an clear array. However, you should be aware of the fact that setting an array equal to an empty one doesn’t affect all of the references to that array. Here’s what I mean….

Empty out the original array and…

http://codepen.io/anon/pen/adjwpb?editors=0012

Whoops! Emptying the original array by setting it equal to an empty array cleared it out, but it didn’t clear a reference to it. This could cause some issues! Methods 2 and 3 take care of the problem:

http://codepen.io/anon/pen/WrKORy?editors=0012

and

http://codepen.io/anon/pen/ZQjyLP?editors=0012

As you can see, Methods 2 and 3 address the matter; emptying out the array and references to it. As to the question of which is the preferred method, there is a debate. Some claim performance is worse with Method 3 (discussion here). And some claim that readability is lost with Method 3. Still others don’t see these issues as drawbacks and prefer the simple elegance of writing length = 0.

Regardless of the pros and cons associated with each of the aforementioned methods, you now know three distinct ways in which you can empty an array in JavaScript. Additionally, you are now aware of a quirk associated with of one of the methods.
Use what you’ve learned. Go forth and clear those arrays!