Hash Tables

Module Hashtbl

The Hashtbl module implements an efficient, mutable lookup table. To create a hash table we could write:

# let my_hash = Hashtbl.create 123456;;
val my_hash : ('_weak1, '_weak2) Hashtbl.t = <abstr>

The 123456 is the initial size of the hashtbl. This initial number is just your best guess as to the amount of data that you will be putting into the hash table. The hash table can grow if you under-estimate the size so don't worry about it too much. The type of my_hash is:

# my_hash;;
- : ('_weak1, '_weak2) Hashtbl.t = <abstr>

The '_weak1 and '_weak2 correspond to the key and value types, respectively. There are no concrete types (e.g., int or float * string) filled in in those slots because the type of the key and value are not yet determined. The underscore indicates that the key and data types, once chosen, will be fixed. In other words, you can't sometimes use a given hashtable with ints for keys, and then later use a string as a key in that same hashtable.

Lets add some data to my_hash. Lets say I am working on a cross word solving program and I want to find all words that start with a certain letter. First I need to enter the data into my_hash.

Note that a hashtable is modified by in-place updates, so, unlike a map, another hash table is not created every time you change the table. Thus, the code let my_hash = Hashtbl.add my_hash ... wouldn't make any sense. Instead, we would write something like this:

# Hashtbl.add my_hash "h" "hello";
  Hashtbl.add my_hash "h" "hi";
  Hashtbl.add my_hash "h" "hug";
  Hashtbl.add my_hash "h" "hard";
  Hashtbl.add my_hash "w" "wimp";
  Hashtbl.add my_hash "w" "world";
  Hashtbl.add my_hash "w" "wine";;
- : unit = ()

If we want to find one element in my_hash that has an "h" in it then we would write:

# Hashtbl.find my_hash "h";;
- : string = "hard"

Notice how it returns just one element? That element was the last one entered in with the value of "h".

What we probably want is all the elements that start with "h". To do this we want to find all of them. What better name for this than find_all?

# Hashtbl.find_all my_hash "h";;
- : string list = ["hard"; "hug"; "hi"; "hello"]

returns ["hard"; "hug"; "hi"; "hello"].

If you remove a key, its previous value becomes again the default one associated to the key.

# Hashtbl.remove my_hash "h";;
- : unit = ()
# Hashtbl.find my_hash "h";;
- : string = "hug"

This behavior is interesting for the above example or when, say, the keys represent variables that can be temporarily masked by a local variables of the same name.

In other contexts, one may prefer new values to replace the previous ones. In this case, one uses Hashtbl.replace:

# Hashtbl.replace my_hash "t" "try";
  Hashtbl.replace my_hash "t" "test";
  Hashtbl.find_all my_hash "t";;
- : string list = ["test"]

# Hashtbl.remove my_hash "t";
  Hashtbl.find my_hash "t";;
Exception: Not_found.

To find out whether there is an entry in my_hash for a letter we would do:

# Hashtbl.mem my_hash "h";;
- : bool = true

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