I wrote a minimal implementation of a hashtable in python as an exercise.

from copy import copy

def init_nested_array(size):
  arr = []
  for i in range(size):
  return arr

class hashtable:
  def __init__(self):
    self.mod = 3
    self.num_items = 0
    self.arr = init_nested_array(self.mod)

  def __str__(self):
    return str(self.arr)

  def __repr__(self):
    return str(self)

  def __len__(self):
    return self.num_items

  def __getitem__(self, key):
    return self.get_item(key)

  def __setitem__(self, key, value):
    return self.set_item(key, value)

  def hash_function(self, key):
    return hash(key) % self.mod

  def get_item(self, key):
    bucket = self.arr[self.hash_function(key)]
    for pair in bucket:
      if pair[0] == key:
        return pair[1]
    raise KeyError("Item not found", key)

  def set_item(self, key, value):
    bucket = self.arr[self.hash_function(key)]
    for pair in bucket:
      if pair[0] == key:
        pair[1] = value
    self.arr[self.hash_function(key)].append([key, value])
    self.num_items += 1
    if self.num_items >= .7*self.mod:

  def expand(self):
    # Ideally we'd expand to new prime number. But at least we'll stick to odds
    self.mod = self.mod*2 + 1
    old_arr = copy(self.arr)
    num_items = self.num_items
    self.arr = init_nested_array(self.mod)
    for bucket in old_arr:
      for pair in bucket:
        self.set_item(pair[0], pair[1])
    self.num_items = num_items

The things I've noticed for potential improvement in my code:

  • it isn't immediately obvious why init_nested_array is necessary and when it should be used. A comment for that method would probably be appropriate
  • I used the rule of thumb that hash tables shouldn't exceed a load of 70% but this is buried as a magic number in set_item. This should probably either be a private class variable with a comment as to why I picked that number or a global constant. It seems that if I want to allow the user to adjust this I should make it a class member and otherwise make it a global constant. Do you agree?
  • I just learned that repr is meant to allow eval to be called on it. Since I currently don't allow the user to initialize the dictionary with a list of elements it doesn't seem possible for eval to recreate the original instance. I've been using repr as a way to interact a pretty print for the interactive shell. It seems like that's incorrect. Should I just leave repr unimplemented then?
  • hash_function should probably have a leading underscore since it seems best as a private method. Should I also change self.mod and self.num_items and self.arr to have leading underscores? Is it really necessary to have leading underscores for class variables?

Please assume that anything I didn't mention is because I don't yet know the relevant concept. Looking forward to any criticisms or observations.


1 Answer 1

  • init_nested_array in idiomatic python is

    def init_nested_array(size):
        return [ [] for _ in range(size) ]

    Since you are concerned with its reason to exist (a desire to put a defensive comment usually indicates a problem of that sort), you may want to use it inline:

        self.arr = [ [] for _ in range(self.mod) ]

    It would be even more clear if you call it self.buckets instead of (pretty meaningless) self.arr.

  • Initial mod and the .7 factor should be default (or named) constructor arguments:

    def __init__(self, mod = 3, threshold = 0.7):
        self.mod = mod
        self.threshold = threshold
  • Mutual recursion of set_item and expand looks scary. I understand that it terminates, but the reviewer shudders for a moment. I would consider having a non-recursive set_item_safe() helper to be used along the lines of:

    def set_item():
        if need_to_expand:


    def expand():
  • \$\begingroup\$ I really like your suggestions! Is there any merit to the idea that the user shouldn't be able to pick the load/mod because they'll pick a bad value? I assume you think we're responsible adults and a comment advising the user how to pick the values is enough. The set_item_safe idea is interesting but I'm having trouble thinking of a descriptive name for set_item_safe. Do you think its good enough name as is? \$\endgroup\$
    – emschorsch
    Feb 3, 2016 at 5:17
  • \$\begingroup\$ @emschorsch Re good/bad values. Unless a theorem is proven that your defaults work best in all cases, let the client to decide. Put some guidelines in the docstring. Re set_item_safe. I don't know really, and I almost of have no objections, as long as it is not exposed to the client. place_item perhaps. \$\endgroup\$
    – vnp
    Feb 3, 2016 at 5:27

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