Thursday, February 28, 2013

Arrays in SAS

Arrays in SAS

You must have seen arrays being used in various programming languages and must already know quite a bit about them, but before we go into the details let me tell you one thing : 


In most of the languages array is a data structure, holding data values, but in SAS it is not a data structure, it is just a collective name given to a group of variables. Being clear with this distinction is very integral to the part of using arrays successfully in SAS.

In SAS the most important function of the array is to reduce the lines of code where a programs involves repetitive calculations on different variables. I have seen most programmers shy away from their use, but let me tell you that it is a wonderful tool to make your code simple. Also in some instances  arrays provide flexibility to make your code dynamic, I’ll get back to this later.

So let us get down to the dirty details :

What are arrays?

An Array is a grouping of variables of the same type used to perform repetitive operations on those variables.


Array array_name[dimension] $ length variable-list

Array – The ARRAY keyword for decleration

Array_name – Any valid SAS name (Do not use function names)

Dimension – Number of elements in the array(If unknown can use * but then we have to provide the varable list)

$ - Tells that the array is character array.

Length – Length of each variable

Variable list – List of variables to be part of the array(Can use named ranges)


We have a dataset with 10 variables(kg1 to kg10) containing weights of a patients measure for 10 consecutive weeks. We want to convert these weight to pounds. One way we can do it is :

data kg_to_lbs;
      set weights;

But this generates 13 lines of code for one simple calculation. Imagine when we have 100 such measurements, So here we can use arrays to make code shorter and easy to understand:

data kg_to_lbs;
      set weights;
      array kg_array {10} kg1-kg10;
      array lbs_array {10} lbs1-lbs10;
      do i = 1 to 10;
            lbs_array{i} = (kg_array{i})*2.2;

cool na..and there is nothing complicated about this, you just need to declare an array and use a simple do loop.

Below are a few points about arrays which will be all you need to know about them to utilize arrays to their full potential.

Important points to note about arrays:

1)  Variables used in an array must be of the same type. Either all numeric or all character.

2)  Variables need not be preexisting variables, if they does not exist then SAS creates them for you. This converts into a useful application of creating variables through arrays.

3)  SAS needs to know the size(number of elements) of the array while you are creating it. You can supply the size  in brackets next to the array name 

Array test[10] $5; 
Any array of 10 elements

Or you can let SAS count them for you using the number of variables in the variable list.

Array test1[*] $ var1 – var5

You cannot emit both the dimension and variable list together.

4)  Array does not accept numeric variables in the brackets whose value may define the dimension because it creates the array in compile time and the value of the variable used in brackets will be available only in compile time.

Array test[num_var];
ERROR : Array requires a numeric constant

5)  If we want to use all numeric or all character variables of a dataset without bothering about their names then you can declare the array like :

Array nums[*] _NUMERIC_;
Array nums[*] _CHARACTER_;

6)  Sometimes we need an array to hold values temporarily but do not want to output those variables to the final dataset then we can use temporary arrays. They are declare as :

Array arr_name[10] _TEMPORARY_;

Functions used with arrays :


This function helps to determine the number of  elements in a array dynamically so while looping you do not have to hardcode it.
For e.g.

Do i=1 to 10;
A[i]= b[i] + c[i]

Can also be written as :

Do i=1 to dim(a);
A[i]= b[i] + c[i]


We get the values of variables in an array using the array name and subscript but if we want the name of the element(variable) by its subscript then we can use the vname function. For e.g.

array arr_name[*] X Y Z P Q R;
vars = Vname(arr_name [i]); 

So vars will be initialized to the name of the third variable in the list which is Z.


This operator is very useful when we have to perform and operation on all elements(or variables) of an array. For e.g
We need a sum of all elements of an array we can write :

But if we don’t know how many elements are there or it changes every time then you need to update it again and again, so instead we can write

X=sum(of a[*]);

Cool and easy.. :-)

Here is the SAS page if you need to go further and read more about arrays :

Conclusion: So after reading this paper I hope readers will be able to utilize arrays in their code for flexibility and more structured programs. 

That’s it. 

Will be back with some more SAS magic. Goodbye Till then and keep learning.

Saurabh Singh  Chauhan
Note: Comments and suggestions are always welcome.

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