Hash Tables

Published Jul 22, 2021Updated Sep 9, 2021
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A hash table is an implementation of an associative array, a list of key-value pairs that allow you to retrieve a value via a key. Internally a hash table utilizes a hash function to transform a key value into an index that points to where the value is stored in memory. Hash tables have fast search, insertion and delete operations.

There are two main ways to implement a hash table/associative array in JavaScript.

Using the Object Data Type

The simplest implementation is using the Object data type. This is because all non-scalar objects in JavaScript behave as associative arrays, a mapping from property keys to values. So an Object itself can behave as a basic hash table.

var simplehash = new Object();
// or
// var simplehash = {};
simplehash['key1'] = 'value1';
simplehash['key2'] = 'value2';
simplehash['key3'] = 'value3';
for (var key in simplehash) {
// use hasOwnProperty() to filter out properties from Object.prototype
if (simplehash.hasOwnProperty(key)) {
console.log('key is: ' + key + ', value is: ' + simplehash[key]);

The output would look like:

key is: key1, value is: value1
key is: key2, value is: value2
key is: key3, value is: value3

There are some downsides to this approach:

  • The Object comes with its own properties which could collide with potential key names.
  • There no easy way to get the size of a Hash Table stored in an Object, so it must be tracked manually.
  • Since they are also property names, the keys used are limited to String or Symbol types.
  • Object isn’t optimized for frequent additions and removals of key-value pairs

Using a Map Object

The Map object was created to implement this type of associative array without some of the downsides of using a basic Object:

  • There are no pre-existing keys that could result in a collision
  • A Map object has a size property to track its contents.
  • A Map object can have keys that are any data type.
  • A Map has been optimized for repeated addition and insertion of key-value pairs.

A Map object also comes with the following methods:

  • .clear() Removes all key-value pairs from the Map object.
  • .delete(key) Deletes the key-value pair and returns true if the key exists. Returns false otherwise.
  • .get(key) Returns the value associated with key, or undefined if key doesn’t exist.
  • .has(key) Returns true if key exists, false otherwise.
  • .set(key,value) Sets the value for the key in the Map object and returns the Map object.

Note: Key-value pairs must be set with the set method in order for the Map object to behave as expected. Using the syntax for Object above will appear to work, but will not associate the key-value pair to its internal collection.

var maphash = new Map();
maphash.set('key1', 'value1');
maphash.set('key2', 'value2');
maphash.set('key3', 'value3');
// Output: value3
maphash.set('key1', 'new value');
// Output: new value
// Output: 3
// Output: 2
for (const [key, value] of maphash) {
console.log(key + ' = ' + value);
// Output: key1 = new value
// key3 = value3

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