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Developer Guide

This guide is meant as an entry point for developer. It both gives the philisophy behind the design of this package and some concrete details, such as invariants.

Why does this package exist?

This package exists to offer a different performance/functionality trade-off vis-a-vis ordered container packages (e.g. containers). Hashing-based data structures tend to be faster than comparison-based ones, at the cost of not providing operations the rely on the data being ordered.

This means that this package must be faster than ordered containers, or there would be no reason for it to exist, given that its functionality is a strict subset of ordered containers. This might seem obvious, but the author has rejected several proposals in the past (e.g. to switch to higher quality but slower hash functions) that would have made unordered-containers too slow to motivate its existance.

A note on hash functions

While the hashable package is a separate package, it was co-designed with this package. Its main role is to support this package and not to provide good general purpose hash functions (e.g. to use when fingerprinting a text file).

The hash functions used (by default) were picked to make data structures fast. The actual functions used oftens surprise developers who have learned about hashing during their studies but haven't looked at which functions are actually used in practice.

For example, integers are hashed to themselves. This might seemed contrary to what you might have learned about hashing (e.g. that you need avalanche behavior; changing one bit of input changes half of the bits in the output). It turns out that this isn't what typically is done in practice (take a little tour of the various programming languages standard libraries to see this for yourself). Hashing integers to themselves is both faster (i.e. free) and the improved locality can be helpful given common input patterns.

Another interesting example of hashing is string hashing, where FNV is used. FNV is a decent hash function, but hash worse properties than say MurmurHash. However, it's much faster. The fact that it's faster is not obvious given the way hash function performance is often quoted, namely by giving the average throughput on large inputs. Most inputs (e.g. keys) aren't large, often no more than 10 characters long. Hash functions typically have a start-up cost and many functions that have high throughput (such as MurmurHash) are more expensive for short strings than FNV.

Security

There's an uncomfortable trade-off with regards to security threats posed by e.g. denial of service attacks. Always using more secure hash function, like SipHash, would provide security by default. However, those functions would make the performance of the data structures no better than that of ordered containers, which defeats the purpose of this package.

Previous versions of this package tried to switch to SipHash (and a different hash function for integers). Those changes eventually had to be rolled back after failing to make a fast enough implementation (using SSE instructions where possible) that also wasn't crashing on some platforms.

The current, someone frustrating, state is that you have to know which data structures can be tampered with by users and either use SipHash just for those or switch to ordered containers that don't have collision problems. This package uses fast hash functions by default.

Data structure design

The data structures are based on the hash array mapped trie (HAMT) data structures. There are several persistent implementations of the HAMT, including in Clojure and Scala.

The actual implementation is as follows:

data HashMap k v
    = Empty
    | BitmapIndexed !Bitmap !(A.Array (HashMap k v))
    | Leaf !Hash !(Leaf k v)
    | Full !(A.Array (HashMap k v))
    | Collision !Hash !(A.Array (Leaf k v))

Here's a quick overview in order of simplicty:

  • Empty -- The empty map.
  • Leaf -- A key-value pair.
  • Collision -- An array of key-value pairs where the keys have identical hash values. Element order doesn't matter.
  • Full -- An array of 2^B children. Given a key you can find the child it is part of by taking B bits of the hash value for the key and indexing into the key. Which bits to use depends on the tree level.
  • BitmapIndexed -- Similar to above except that the array is implemented as a sparse array (to avoid storing Empty values). A bitmask and popcount is used to convert from the index taken from the hash value, just like above, to the actual index in the array. This node gets upgraded to a Full node when it contains 2^B elements.

The number of bits of the hash value to use at each level of the tree, B, is a compiled time constant (i.e. 4). In general a larger B improves lookup performance (shallower tree) but hurts modification (large nodes to copy when updating the spine of the tree).

Full is just an optimized version of BitmapIndexed that allows us faster indexing, faster copying on modification (given that its size is statically know), and lower memory use.

Why things are fast

Performance is largely dominated by memory layout and allocation. The code has been carefully tuned by looking at the GHC core output and sometimes the assembly output. In particular there's no unnecessary allocation in the most important functions and the memory layout is about as good as we can get using GHC.

Avoiding allocation is done by making things strict (laziness is the enemy of predictable performance) and using INLINABLE to allow to be specialized at the call site (so key and value arguments to functions are passed as values rather than pointers to heap objects).

The main remaining bottlenecks are due to e.g. GHC not allowing us to unpack an array into a constructor. Two examples: the Full constructor is a separate heap object from the array it contains and the Leaf constructor contains pointers to the key and value instead of unpacking them into the constructor. There's nothing we can do about this at the moment.

Backwards compatibility policy

We support the last 3 major GHC releases.

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