It is more efficient to store only the non-zero elements of a sparse matrix. There are a number of common storage formats used for sparse matrices, but most of them employ the same basic technique. That is, store all non-zero elements of the matrix into a linear array and provide auxiliary arrays to describe the locations of the non-zero elements in the original matrix.
Storage Formats for the Direct Sparse Solvers
Storing the non-zero elements of a sparse matrix into a linear array is done by walking down each column (column-major format) or across each row (row-major format) in order, and writing the non-zero elements to a linear array in the order they appear in the walk.