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Programming PHP, 3rd Edition by Peter MacIntyre, Kevin Tatroe, Rasmus Lerdorf

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Indexed Versus Associative Arrays

There are two kinds of arrays in PHP: indexed and associative. The keys of an indexed array are integers, beginning at 0. Indexed arrays are used when you identify things by their position. Associative arrays have strings as keys and behave more like two-column tables. The first column is the key, which is used to access the value.

PHP internally stores all arrays as associative arrays; the only difference between associative and indexed arrays is what the keys happen to be. Some array features are provided mainly for use with indexed arrays because they assume that you have or want keys that are consecutive integers beginning at 0. In both cases, the keys are unique. In other words, you can’t have two elements with the same key, regardless of whether the key is a string or an integer.

PHP arrays have an internal order to their elements that is independent of the keys and values, and there are functions that you can use to traverse the arrays based on this internal order. The order is normally that in which values were inserted into the array, but the sorting functions described later in this chapter let you change the order to one based on keys, values, or anything else you choose.

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