In computing, row-major order and column-major order are methods for storing multidimensional arrays in linear storage such as random access memory.
The difference between the orders lies in which elements of an array are contiguous in memory. In row-major order, the consecutive elements of a row reside next to each other, whereas the same holds true for consecutive elements of a column in column-major order. While the terms allude to the rows and columns of a two-dimensional array, i.e. a matrix, the orders can be generalized to arrays of any dimension by noting that the terms row-major and column-major are equivalent to lexicographic and colexicographic orders, respectively.
Data layout is critical for correctly passing arrays between programs written in different programming languages. It is also important for performance when traversing an array because modern CPUs process sequential data more efficiently than nonsequential data. This is primarily due to CPU caching which exploits spatial locality of reference. In addition, contiguous access makes it possible to use SIMD instructions that operate on vectors of data. In some media such as tape or NAND flash memory, accessing sequentially is orders of magnitude faster than nonsequential access.[citation needed ]
The terms row-major and column-major stem from the terminology related to ordering objects. A general way to order objects with many attributes is to first group and order them by one attribute, and then, within each such group, group and order them by another attribute, etc. If more than one attribute participates in ordering, the first would be called major and the last minor. If two attributes participate in ordering, it is sufficient to name only the major attribute.