20.2 Distribution By Other Hash Functions

HashMaps/Tables have fast lookup times, but behind that "superpower" is a hash function.

Suppose our hashCode() implementation simply returns 0.

public int hashCode() {
    return 0;
What distribution do we expect?

We would expect all of the items in our Hash Table to be in bucket 0. As we discussed in the previous section, our Hash Table would place all elements in the 0th bucket because the hashCode tells it to. In the 0th bucket, there will be a LinkedList of all elements from the data yielding a very inefficient linear lookup time compared to the constant time we are expecting. No matter what key we provide, our hashCode always tells the HashMap to only add to the 0th bucket which is why we get this long LinkedList. So what do we do to make sure we get constant lookup time? We use a better hash function!

In order to get a more even distribution, what we can do is something to what we tried in the previous section where we utilize modulo. Let's say that we define the size of our Hash Table to have 4 buckets. This means it has 4 corresponding LinkedLists and 4 bucket indices labeled {0, 1, 2, 3}. The modding is not required in our hashCode() function as it is being done for us in the hash table to guarantee we can add to that bucket. As we said the hash code could really be any integer in the range of 4 billion unique values!

By using modulo, we ensure that our hashcode yields a number that can be represented as an index and clearly identifies which LinkedList to add to. Additionally, when adding a series of numbers at once, we see that we get an even distribution of numbers in our LinkedList yielding a constant lookup time.

public int hashCode() {
    return num;

This hash function should yield a much more even distribution! Objects with different num will now be more spread out across the buckets instead of all living in the 0th bucket. If our class does not explicitly override the hashCode() function, Java will use the default implementation, which returns the object's address in memory as its hash code!

Why Bother With Custom Hash Functions?

Let's discuss if the default hashCode function is a good hashCode function! It actually is a good spread as it relies on the fact that different objects will live in different places in the memory, and the memory address is effectively random. We will get a good distribution, since objects are basically assigned random indices to insert into the hash table.

This really raises an interesting question: why do we care about other custom hash functions when the default hashcode gets good spread? We'll read about this in the next section.

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