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Java Hashing

Overriding hashCode() Equal() contract

Every Java object has two very important methods i.e. hashCode() and an equals() method. These methods are designed to be overridden according to their specific general contract. This article describes why and how to override the hashCode() method that preserves the contract of HashCode while using HashMap, HashSet or any Collection.

Contract For HashCode

The contract for hashCode says

If two objects are equal, then calling hashCode() on both objects must return the same value.

Now the question that should come into your mind is that; is it necessary that the above statement should always be true?

Consider the fact that we have provided a correct implementation of equal function for our class, then what would happen if we do not obey the above contract.

To answer the above question, let us consider the two situations,

  1. Objects that are equal but return different hashCodes
  2. Objects that are not equal but return the same hashCode

 

Objects that are equal but return different hashCodes

What would happen if the two objects are equal but return different hashCodes?  Your code would run perfectly fine. You will never come in trouble unless and until you have not stored your object in a collection like HashSet or HashMap. But when you do that, you might get strange problems at runtime. 

To understand this better, you have to first understand how collection classes such as HashMap and HashSet work. These collections classes depend on the fact that the objects that you put as a key in them must obey the above contract. You will get strange and unpredictable results at runtime if you do not obey the contract and try to store them in a collection.

Consider an example of HashMap. When you store the values in HashMap, the values are actually stored in a set of buckets. Each of those buckets has been assigned a number which is use to identify it. When you put a value in the HashMap, it stores the data in one of those buckets. Which bucket is used depends on the hashCode that will return by your object. Let’s say, if hashCode() method return 49 for an object, then it gets stored into the bucket 49 in the HashMap.

Later when you try to check whether that collection contains element or not by invoking Contains(element) method, the HashMap first gets the hashCode of that “element “. Afterwards it will look into the bucket that corresponds with the hashCode. If the bucket is empty, then it means we are done and its return false which means the HashMap does not contain the element.

If there are one or more objects in the bucket, then it will compare “element” with all other elements in that bucket using your defined equal() function.

Objects that are not equal but return the same hashCode

The hashCode contract does not say anything about the above statement. Therefore different objects might return the same hashCode value, but collections like HashMap will work inefficiently if different objects return the same hashCode value.

Why Buckets

The reason why bucket mechanism is used is its efficiency. You can imagine that if all the objects you put in the HashMap would be stored in to one big list, then you have to compare your input with all the objects in the list when you want to check if a particular element is in the Map. With the use of buckets, you will now campare only the elements of specific bucket and any bucket usually holds only a small portion of all the elements in the HashMap.

Overriding hashCode Method

Writing a good hashCode() method is always a tricky task for a new class.

Return Fixed Value

You can implement your hashCode() method such that you always return a fix value, for example like this:

//bad performance@Overridepublic int hashCode() {     return 1;} 

The above method satisfies all the requirements and is considered legal according to the hash code contract but it would not be very efficient. If this method is used, all objects will be stored in the same bucket i.e. bucket 1 and when you try to ensure whether the specific object is present in the collection, then it will always have to check the entire content of the collection. 

On the other hand if you override the hashCode() method for your class and if the method breaks the contract then calling contains() method may return false for the element which is present in the collection but in a different bucket.

Method From Effective Java

Joshua Bloch in Effective Java provides an good guidelines for generating an hashCode() value

       1. Store some constant nonzero value; say 17, in an int variable called result.
       2. For each significant field f in your object (each field taken into account by the equals( )), do the following

                a.  Compute an int hashCode c for the field:
                          i.      If the field is a boolean, compute
                                             c = (f ? 1 : 0).
                          ii.     If the field is a byte, char, short, or int, compute c = (int) f.
                          iii.    If the field is a long, compute c = (int) (f ^ (f >>> 32)).
                          iv.    If the field is a float, compute c = Float.floatToIntBits(f).
                          v.     If the field is a double, compute
                                             long l = Double.doubleToLongBits(f),
                                             c = (int)(l ^ (l >>> 32))
                          vi.    If the field is an object reference then equals( ) calls equals( ) for this field. compute
                                             c =  f.hashCode()
                          vii.   If the field is an array, treat it as if each element were a separate field.
                                 That is, compute a hashCode for each significant element by applying above rules to  each
                                 element                           

                b.  Combine the hashCode c computed in step 2.a into result as follows:
                                             result = 37 * result + c;

       3. Return result.
       4. Look at the resulting hashCode() and make sure that equal instances have equal hash codes.

Here is an example of a class that follows the above guidelines

public class HashTest {     private String field1;     private short  field2;     ----     @Override     public int hashCode() {          int result = 17;          result = 37*result + field1.hashCode();          result = 37*result + (int)field2;          return result;     }}

You can see that a constant 37 is chosen. The purpose to choose this number is that it is a prime number. We can choose any other prime number. Using prime number the objects will be distributed better over the buckets. I encourage user to explore the topic further by checking out other resources.

Apache HashCodeBuilder

Writing a good hashCode() method is not always easy. Since it can be difficult to implement hashCode() correctly, it would be helpful if we have some reusable implementations of these. 

The Jakarta-Commonsorg.apache.commons.lang.builder package is providing a class named HashCodeBuilder which is designed to help implementing hashCode() method. Usually developers struggle hard with implementing hashCode() method and this class aims to simplify the process.

Here is how you would implement a hashCode algorithm for our above class 

public class HashTest {     private String field1;     private short  field2;     ----     @Override     public int hashCode() {          return new HashCodeBuilder(83, 7)               .append(field1)               .append(field2)               .toHashCode();      }}

Note that the two numbers for the constructor are simply two different, non-zero, odd numbers - these numbers help to avoid collisions in the hashCode value across objects.

If required, the superclass hashCode() can be added using appendSuper(int).

You can see how easy it is to override HashCode() using Apache HashCodeBuilder.

Mutable Object As Key

It is a general advice that you should use immutable object as a key in a Collection. HashCode work best when calculated from immutable data. If you use Mutable object as key and change the state of the object so that the hashCode changes, then the store object will be in the wrong bucket in the Collection 

The most important thing you should consider while implementing hashCode() is that regardless of when this method is called, it should produces the same value for a particular object every time when it is called. If you have a scenario like the object produces one hashCode() value when  it is put() in to a HaspMap and produces another value during a get(), in that case you would not be able to retrieve that object. Therefore, if you hashCode() depends on mutable data in the object, then made changing those data will surely produce a different key by generating a different hashCode().

Look at the example below

public class Employee {     private String name;     private int age;     public Employee() {     }     public Employee(String name, int age) {          this.name = name;          this.age = age;     }     public String getName() {          return name;     }     public void setName(String name) {          this.name = name;     }     public int getAge() {          return age;     }     public void setAge(int age) {          this.age = age;     }     @Override     public boolean equals(Object obj) {          //Remember: Some Java gurus recommend you avoid using instanceof          if (obj instanceof Employee) {               Employee emp = (Employee)obj;               return (emp.name == name && emp.age == age);          }          return false;     }     @Override     public int hashCode() {          return name.length() + age;     }     public static void main(String[] args) {          Employee e = new Employee("muhammad", 24);          Map<Object, Object> m = new HashMap<Object, Object>();          m.put(e, "Muhammad Ali Khojaye");          // getting output           System.out.println(m.get(e));           e.name = "abid";                    // it fails to get          System.out.println(m.get(e));                    e.name = "amirrana";          // it fails again          System.out.println(m.get(new Employee("muhammad", 24)));      }}

So you can see in the above examples that how we are getting some unpredictable results.

You can easily fix the above by overriding the hashCode() using either Joshu Recipe or using HashCodeBuilder class.

Here is an example,

Joshu Recommendation

@Overridepublic int hashCode() {     int result = 17;     result = 37*result + name.hashCode();     result = 37*result + age;     return result;}

Using HashCodeBuilder

@Overridepublic int hashCode() {     return new HashCodeBuilder(83, 7)          .append(name)          .append(age)          .toHashCode();}

Another Example of Mutable Field as Key

Let consider the example 

public class HashTest {         private int mutableField;     private final int immutableField;        public HashTest(int mutableField, int immutableField) {          this.mutableField = mutableField;          this.immutableField = immutableField;     }     public void setMutableField(int mutableField) {          this.mutableField = mutableField;     }     @Override     public boolean equals(Object o) {          if(o instanceof HashTest) {               return (mutableField == ((HashTest)o).mutableField)                     && (immutableField ==  ((HashTest)o).immutableField);          }else {               return false;          }                             }     @Override     public int hashCode() {          int result = 17;          result = 37 * result + this.mutableField;          result = 37 * result + this.immutableField;          return result;     }                                public static void main(String[] args) {          Set<HashTest> set = new HashSet<HashTest>();          HashTest obj = new HashTest(6622458, 626304);          set.add(obj);                                  System.out.println(set.contains(obj));                        obj.setMutableField(3867602);                          System.out.println(set.contains(obj));             }}

After changing mutableField, the computed hashCode is no longer pointing to the old bucket and the contains() returns false. 

We can tackle such situation using either of these methods

  • Hashcode is best when calculated from immutable data; therefore ensure that only immutable object would be used as key with Collections.
  • Implement the hashCode() using our first technique i.e. return a constant value but you must aware that it would kills all those advantage of bucket mechanism.
  • If you need mutable fields included in the hashCode method then you can calculate and store the hash value when the object is created and whenever you update mutable field, you must first remove it from the collection(set/map) and then add it back to the collection after updating it. 

References and More Information

Effective Java

Object Class

HashCodeBuilder

http://www.javaranch.com/


- See more at: http://muhammadkhojaye.blogspot.com/2010/02/java-hashing.html 

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