Web Dev Simplified Blog

Complete Array#flat Guide

December 28, 2020

The flat method may seem really simple at first glance, but there are actually a few really unique use cases for it that I will explain in this article.

What Is Array#flat

Imagine you have a nested array like this.

const arr = [1, [2, 3], [4], [5, 6, 7], 8]

If you wanted to convert that into an array that is not nested you could use the flat method on the array.

const arr = [1, [2, 3], [4], [5, 6, 7], 8]
console.log(arr.flat())
// [1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8]

This is the most basic way to use the flat method and all it does is flatten out the nested arrays into one array. If this is all you know of flat, you may be confused when you see the following output.

const doubleNestedArr = [1, [2, [3, 4], 5], 6, [7, 8]]
console.log(doubleNestedArr.flat())
// [1, 2, [3, 4], 5, 6, 7, 8]

The array [3, 4] is nested 2 layers deep in the array which means that flat never actually flattens it since flat by default will only flatten an array one level deep.

How To Use Flat For Multi-Nested Arrays

If you want to flatten an array that is 2 levels nested, like the above example, you can pass the value 2 to flat. The number you pass to flat tells the method how many levels of nesting you would like to flatten.

const doubleNestedArr = [1, [2, [3, 4], 5], 6, [7, 8]]
console.log(doubleNestedArr.flat(2))
// [1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8]

By doing that we have now completely flattened the above array, but what if you do not know how nested the arrays are? In that case you can pass Infinity to flat and it will flatten all the arrays until the entire array is flattened.

const doubleNestedArr = [1, [2, [3, 4], 5], 6, [7, 8]]
console.log(doubleNestedArr.flat(Infinity))
// [1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8]

Removing Holes

Another really useful feature of flat is that it can remove empty holes from an array. These holes can be caused by you using delete to remove an element from an array for example or when you insert an element at an index that is far beyond the end of the array leaving gaps in between.

const arr = [1, 2, 3, 4, , 6, 7, , 9]
console.log(arr)
// [1, 2, 3, 4, empty, 6, 7, empty, 9]
console.log(arr.flat())
// [1, 2, 3, 4, 6, 7, 9]

This is something most people don’t know about flat that can be very useful in certain situations.

flatMap

Lastly, I want to talk about a combination of two array methods flat and map. Since it is very common to perform a map on an array that then needs to be flattened, the developers of JavaScript created a flatMap method. This method works exactly the same as calling arr.map().flat(). This means that if you want to flatten beyond one level of nesting you will need to use map and flat separately, but when you only have one layer of flattening to do flatMap is perfect.

const people = [
  { name: 'John', favNums: [1, 2, 4] },
  { name: 'Sally', favNums: [6, 8, 9] },
]
console.log(people.map(p => p.favNums))
// [[1, 2, 4], [6, 8, 9]]
console.log(people.map(p => p.favNums).flat())
// [1, 2, 4, 6, 8, 9]
console.log(people.flatMap(p => p.favNums))
// [1, 2, 4, 6, 8, 9]

Conclusion

Overall flat and flatMap are very simple methods, but they are incredibly useful and make any task involving nested arrays trivial to solve.


Kyle Cook
Kyle Cook