Hash Table Based Sets

In this section, we walk through the pseudocode for some basic set operations built on our hash table class above. In this new version of the set class, we declare mySet as a hash table and use that throughout our operations.

mySet = new HashTable()

When using a hash table to implement sets, one of the most important choices we must make is what to use for a key. This is really difficult in the case of sets since we do not know exactly what types of objects may be put into the set. Our only real option at this point is just to use the entire object as our key. Our choice to use a default hash function in our hash table turns out to be a good one (at least in modern languages such as Python, Java, and C#), since most default hash functions work on any type of objects.

Next, we discuss the implementation of the important set operations using hash tables.


The contains operation is straightforward since we are using the entire object as the key. We simply return the value from the hash table containsKey operation, which performs the exact function we need.

function contains(object o) returns boolean
    return mySet.containsKey(o)
end function


The add operation maps almost exactly to the hash table put operation except that the put operation does not return a boolean value. So, we first check to see if the key is already contained in the hash table. If so, we just return false, since we don’t need to add the value to the set. Otherwise, we add a new tuple to the hash table, and then return true.

function add(object o) returns boolean
    if mySet.containsKey(o)
        return false
    end if
    mySet.put(o, o)
    return true
end function


The set remove operation maps almost exactly to the hash table remove operation, so we just call it and then check to see if the result is not null. If it is null, we will return false since the element was not in the set; otherwise we return true.

function remove(object o) returns boolean
    return mySet.remove(o) != null
end function


The intersection operation creates a new set that has only elements which exist in both sets under consideration. In code, we basically accomplish this by looping through the elements in one set and then checking to see if they exist in the other set. If they do, then we include them in the intersection.

The pseudocode follows that basic algorithm using the hash table iterator to loop through and look at each element in set1. We start by creating a new set, result, to hold the intersection of set1 and set2 in line 2. Then we get the first element pair from set1 by calling the hash table reset operation in line 2 and the getNext operation in line 3.

 1function intersection(set1, set2) returns set
 2    result = new Set()
 4    set1.reset()
 5    current = set1.getNext()
 6    while current != null
 7        if set2.contains(current.getKey())
 8            result.add(current.getKey())
 9        end if
10        current = set1.getNext()
11    end while
13    return result
14end function

Lines 6 - 10 implement the loop that walks through each element in set1. If the current element is contained in set2 (line 7), the operation calls the add operation to insert the key of the current element into the result set. Line 10 gets the next element from set1 and loops back to the top. Eventually, we look at each element in set1 and fall out of the loop. When that happens, the intersection operation is complete, and it returns the result set in line 13.


The union operation is similar to the intersection operation in that we need to use the hash table iterator operations to walk through our sets. The difference lies in what we include in the new result set. While we only walked through set1 in the intersection operation, picking only those objects that existed in set2, here we start by copying all elements from set2 into the result set and then walk through set1 adding each of its elements to the result set as well. (Here we don’t need to worry about adding duplicates since the add operation takes care of that for us.)

The code starts in line 2 by making a copy of set2 and assigning it to our new result set. Then, lines 4 and 5 reset the set1 iterator and get the first item from set1. Lines 6 - 8 form the while loop that we use to walk through each element in set1. This time, however, we simply add every element we find in line 7 before getting the next object in line 8. Once the loop exists we are done and we return the result set in line 11.

 1function union(set1, set2) returns set
 2    result = set2.copy()
 4    set1.reset()
 5    current = set1.getNext()
 6    while current != null
 7        result.add(current.getKey())
 8        current = set1.getNext()
 9    end while
11    return result
12end function


The isSubset operation below is very much like the intersection operation above as we have a loop in lines 4 - 8 that checks each element of set1 and checks to see if it is in set2. The difference between the two operations is that in the isSubset operation, we do not build a third result set. Instead, if any element in set1 is not found in set2, then we return false since not all elements of set1 are contained in set2. If we get all the way through the loop, we have checked that each element in set1 was found in set2 and we can return true; set1 is a subset of set2.

 1function isSubset (set1, set2) returns boolean
 2    set1.reset()
 3    current = set1.getNext()
 4    while current != null
 5        if set2.contains(current.getKey())
 6            return false
 7        end if
 8        current = set1.getNext()
 9    end while
11    return true
12end function