Slices, Arrays and Tables

A slice is a pointer and a (variable) length: a one-dimensional, contiguous sequence of elements, all of some type T. For example, a slice base.u8 is a slice of bytes, where T is what the C programming language would call uint8_t.

An array is a pointer and a (fixed) length. The difference is that an array's length is part of the type: an array[10] base.u8 has exactly 10 elements, and is a different type than array[20] base.u8. For a slice-typed variable s and an array-typed variable a, s's length can change over time, but a‘s length cannot. An array’s length can be a compile-time only concept, and does not need an at-run-time representation.

Assigning to a slice-typed variable sets a pointer and a length, but does not copy the elements. It has O(1) algorithmic complexity. Assigning to an array-typed variable copies the elements. It has O(length) algorithmic complexity.

Both s[i .. j] and a[i .. j] refer to slices, ranging from the ith element (inclusive) to the jth element (exclusive). i can be omitted, implicitly equalling zero. j can be omitted, implicitly equalling the length. For example, s[.. 5] contains the first five elements of s.

Sub-expressions, whether a single element like s[i] or a sub-slice of elements like a[i .. j], are bounds checked.


A table is the two-dimensional analog of the one-dimensional slice. It is a pointer, width, height and stride, all of which can vary over the course of a table-typed variable.

Separate width and stride fields allow for taking sub-tables of other tables. The diagram below shows an outer table with a width, height and stride of 10, 3, 10, and an inner table (aliasing the same elements) with width, height and stride of 4, 2, 10. Note that the two tables have the same stride, but the inner table has a width smaller than the stride.

|00 01 02 03 04 05 06 07 08 09|
|     +-----------+           |
|10 11|12 13 14 15|16 17 18 19|
|     |           |           |
|21 21|22 23 24 25|26 27 28 29|

Lengths, widths, heights and strides are all measured in number of elements, even when an element occupies multiple bytes.