Adriano Repetti Adriano Repetti - 1 month ago 7
C# Question

What is an IndexOutOfRangeException and how do I fix it?

I have some code and when it executes, it throws a

IndexOutOfRangeException
, saying,


Index was outside the bounds of the array.


What does this mean, and what can I do about it?

Answer

What Is It?

This exception means that you're trying to access a collection item by index, using an invalid index. An index is invalid when it's lower than the collection's lower bound or greater than or equal to the number of elements it contains.

When It Is Thrown

Given an array declared as:

byte[] array = new byte[4];

You can access this array from 0 to 3, values outside this range will cause IndexOutOfRangeException to be thrown. Remember this when you create and access an array.

Array Length
In C#, usually, arrays are 0-based. It means that first element has index 0 and last element has index Length - 1 (where Length is total number of items in the array) so this code doesn't work:

array[array.Length] = 0;

Moreover please note that if you have a multidimensional array then you can't use Array.Length for both dimension, you have to use Array.GetLength():

int[,] data = new int[10, 5];
for (int i=0; i < data.GetLength(0); ++i) {
    for (int j=0; j < data.GetLength(1); ++j) {
        data[i, j] = 1;
    }
}

Upper Bound Is Not Inclusive
In the following example we create a raw bidimensional array of Color. Each item represents a pixel, indices are from (0, 0) to (imageWidth - 1, imageHeight - 1).

Color[,] pixels = new Color[imageWidth, imageHeight];
for (int x = 0; x <= imageWidth; ++x) {
    for (int y = 0; y <= imageHeight; ++y) {
        pixels[x, y] = backgroundColor;
    }
}

This code will then fail because array is 0-based and last (bottom-right) pixel in the image is pixels[imageWidth - 1, imageHeight - 1]:

pixels[imageWidth, imageHeight] = Color.Black;

In another scenario you may get ArgumentOutOfRangeException for this code (for example if you're using GetPixel method on a Bitmap class).

Arrays Do Not Grow
An array is fast. Very fast in linear search compared to every other collection. It is because items are contiguous in memory so memory address can be calculated (and increment is just an addition). No need to follow a node list, simple math! You pay this with a limitation: they can't grow, if you need more elements you need to reallocate that array (this may be expansive if old items must be copied to a new block). You resize them with Array.Resize<T>(), this example adds a new entry to an existing array:

Array.Resize(ref array, array.Length + 1);

Don't forget that valid indices are from 0 to Length - 1. If you simply try to assign an item at Length you'll get IndexOutOfRangeException (this behavior may confuse you if you think they may increase with a syntax similar to Insert method of other collections).

Special Arrays With Custom Lower Bound
First item in arrays has always index 0. This is not always true because you can create an array with a custom lower bound:

var array = Array.CreateInstance(typeof(byte), new int[] { 4 }, new int[] { 1 });

In that example array indices are valid from 1 to 4. Of course upper bound cannot be changed.

Wrong Arguments
If you access an array using unvalidated arguments (from user input or from function user) you may get this error:

private static string[] RomanNumbers =
    new string[] { "I", "II", "III", "IV", "V" };

public static string Romanize(int number)
{
    return RomanNumbers[number];
}

Unexpected Results
This exception may be thrown for another reason too: by convention many search functions will return -1 (nullables has been introduced with .NET 2.0 and anyway it's also a well-known convention in use from many years) if they didn't find anything. Let's imagine you have an array of objects comparable with a string. You may think to write this code:

// Items comparable with a string
Console.WriteLine("First item equals to 'Debug' is '{0}'.",
    myArray[Array.IndexOf(myArray, "Debug")]);

// Arbitrary objects
Console.WriteLine("First item equals to 'Debug' is '{0}'.",
    myArray[Array.FindIndex(myArray, x => x.Type == "Debug")]);

This will fail if no items in myArray will satisfy search condition because Array.IndexOf() will return -1 and then array access will throw.

Next example is a naive example to calculate occurrences of a given set of numbers (knowing maximum number and returning an array where item at index 0 represents number 0, items at index 1 represents number 1 and so on):

static int[] CountOccurences(int maximum, IEnumerable<int> numbers) {
    int[] result = new int[maximum + 1]; // Includes 0

    foreach (int number in numbers)
        ++result[number];

    return result;
}

Of course it's a pretty terrible implementation but what I want to show is that it'll fail for negative numbers and numbers above maximum.

How it applies to List<T>?

Same cases as array - range of valid indexes - 0 (List's indexes always start with 0) to list.Count - accessing elements outside of this range will cause the exception.

Unlike arrays, List<T> starts empty - so trying to access items of just created list lead to this exception.

var list = new List<int>();

Common case is to populate list with indexing (similar to Dictionary<int, T>) will cause exception:

list[0] = 42; // exception
list.Add(42); // correct

IDataReader and Columns
Imagine you're trying to read data from a database with this code:

using (var connection = CreateConnection()) {
    using (var command = connection.CreateCommand()) {
        command.CommandText = "SELECT MyColumn1, MyColumn2 FROM MyTable";

        using (var reader = command.ExecuteReader()) {
            while (reader.Read()) {
                ProcessData(reader.GetString(2)); // Throws!
            }
        }
    }
}

GetString() will throw IndexOutOfRangeException because you're dataset has only two columns but you're trying to get a value from 3rd one (indices are always 0-based).

Please note that this behavior is shared with most IDataReader implementations (SqlDataReader, OleDbDataReader and so on).

Others
There is another (documented) case when this exception is thrown: if, in DataView, data column name being supplied to the DataViewSort property is not valid.

How to Avoid

In this examples let me assume, for simplicity, that arrays are always monodimensional and 0-based. If you want to be strict (or your're developing a library) you may need to replace 0 with GetLowerBound(0) and .Length with GetUpperBound(0) (of course if you have parameters of type System.Array, it doesn't apply for T[]). Please note that in this case upper bound is inclusive then this code:

for (int i=0; i < array.Length; ++i) { }

Should be rewritten like this:

for (int i=array.GetLowerBound(0); i <= array.GetUpperBound(0); ++i) { }

Please note that this is not allowed (it'll throw InvalidCastException), that's why if your parameters are T[] you're safe about custom lower bound arrays:

void foo<T>(T[] array) { }

void test() {
    // This will throw InvalidCastException, cannot convert Int32[] to Int32[*]
    foo((int)Array.CreateInstance(typeof(int), new int[] { 1 }, new int[] { 1 }));
}

Validate Parameters
If index comes from a parameter you should always validate them (throwing appropriate ArgumentException or ArgumentOutOfRangeException). In next example wrong parameters may cause IndexOutOfRangeException, users of this function may expect this because they're passing an array but it's not always so obvious. I'd suggest to always validate parameters for public functions:

static void SetRange<T>(T[] array, int from, int length, Func<i, T> function)
{
    if (from < 0 || from>= array.Length)
        throw new ArgumentOutOfRangeException("from");

    if (length < 0)
        throw new ArgumentOutOfRangeException("length");

    if (from + length > array.Length)
        throw new ArgumentException("...");

    for (int i=from; i < from + length; ++i)
        array[i] = function(i);
}

If function is private you may simply replace if logic with Debug.Assert():

Debug.Assert(from >= 0 && from < array.Length);

Check Object State
Array index may not come directly from a parameter. It may be part of object state. In general is always a good practice to validate object state (by itself and with function parameters, if needed). You can use Debug.Assert(), throw a proper exception (more descriptive about the problem) or handle that like in this example:

class Table {
    public int SelectedIndex { get; set; }
    public Row[] Rows { get; set; }

    public Row SelectedRow {
        get {
            if (Rows == null)
                throw new InvalidOperationException("...");

            // No or wrong selection, here we just return null for
            // this case (it may be the reason we use this property
            // instead of direct access)
            if (SelectedIndex < 0 || SelectedIndex >= Rows.Length)
                return null;

            return Rows[SelectedIndex];
        }
}

Validate Return Values
In one of previous examples we directly used Array.IndexOf() return value. If we know it may fail then it's better to handle that case:

int index = myArray[Array.IndexOf(myArray, "Debug");
if (index != -1) { } else { }

How to Debug

In my opinion most of questions, here on SO, about this error can be simply avoided. Time you spend to write a proper question (with a small working example and a small explanation) could easily much more than time you'll need to debug your code. First of all read this Eric Lippert's blog post about debugging of small programs, I won't repeat his words here but it's absolutely a must read.

You have source code, you have exception message with stack trace. Go there, pick right line number and you'll see:

array[index] = newValue;

You found your error, check how index increases. Is it right? Check how array is allocated, is coherent with how index increases? Is it right according your specifiation? If you answer yes to all these questions then you'll find good help here on StackOverflow but please first check for that by yourself. You'll save your own time!

A good start point is to always use assertions and to validate inputs. You may even want to use code contracts. When something went wrong and you can't figure out what happens with a quick look at your code then you have to resort an old friend: debugger. Just run your application in debug inside Visual Studio (or your favorite IDE), you'll see exactly which line throws this exception, which array is involved and which index you're trying to use. Really, 99% of times you'll solve it by yourself in few minutes.

If this happens in production then you'd better to add assertions in incriminated code, probably we won't see in your code what you can't see by yourself (but you can always bet).