Array types that can use sentinel values of the element type for special values
Author JuliaData
20 Stars
Updated Last
11 Months Ago
Started In
June 2020


CI codecov deps version pkgeval

Array types that can use sentinel values of the element type for special values


The package is registered in the General registry and so can be installed at the REPL with ] add SentinelArrays.


SentinelArray(A::AbstractArray, sentinel, value)
SentinelVector{T}(undef, len, sentinel, value)
SentinelArray{T, N}(undef, dims, sentinel, value)

Construct a SentinelArray by either wrapping an existing AbstractArray or using the standard undef pattern, which first constructs an Array to be wrapped by SentinelArray.

A SentinelArray{T} wraps an AbstractArray of type T, and accepts a sentinel and value argument. If the wrapped array has an element equal to sentinel, value is returned instead. This allows, for example, simulating a Vector{Union{Float64, Missing}} by doing something like SentinelVector{Float64}(undef, len, NaN, missing). The resulting SentinelArray will have eltype equal to Union{T, typeof(value)}.

For isbits types, a random/reasonable sentinel will be attempted if none provided. For non-isbits, #undef is used as sentinel. The default value, if not provided, is missing.

A SentinelArray allows setting an element to value, which will result in the sentinel being stored in the wrapped array.

For isbits element types, if a setindex! operation is attempted with the SentinelArray's current sentinel value, another sentinel will be attempted to be chosen that doesn't already exist in the wrapped array. If another sentinel can't be found (i.e. the values already exist in the wrapped array), an error will be thrown.


  • For float and date/time types, reasonable sentinels exist that don't have meaningful real values, so it's recommended to use the default sentinels
  • For Integer types, all bit patterns are valid, so a random value is chosen; if usage will involve extremely high cardinality relative to the type range, consider using Vector{Union{T, Missing}} instead
  • SentinelArrays are not allowed to have plain Bool elements since there isn't a possible sentinel
  • A SentinelArray IS NOT thread-safe when usage relies on setindex! and potential sentinel collision (due to the check to automatically cycle the sentinel to another value); this will normally only affect small Integer element types where the potential for sentinel collision is highest
  • Access to a SentinelArray's raw data is possible via parent(A) or pointer(A), but note that the raw data will NOT respect the sentinel=>value semantics; i.e. the raw data may have entries of the sentinel value.


  • It is generally recommended to use Vector{Union{T, typeof(value}} instead of SentinelArray if possible
  • Currently, a non-copying operation like convert(Vector{T}, A::Vector{Union{T, Missing}}) isn't possible, even though you may know there aren't missing values; a SentinelArray allows this operation by just "unwrapping" the storage array, like parent(A)
  • It's also currently not possible to use Vector{Union{T, Missing}} with Mmap.mmap; with SentinelArray, you can write the parent array to disk and then do SentinelArray(Mmap.mmap(array_type, file)) (assuming usage of default sentinel/value)


# initialize a new SentinelArray with default sentinel/value
A = SentinelVector{Float64}(undef, 10)

# wrap an existing array, manually providing sentinel/value
parent = zeros(UInt8, 10)
B = SentinelArray(parent, typemax(UInt8), nothing)

Project Status

The package is tested against Julia 1.0, current stable release, and nightly on Linux, OS X, and Windows.

Contributing and Questions

Contributions are very welcome, as are feature requests and suggestions. Please open an issue if you encounter any problems or would just like to ask a question.

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