What Is HyperLogLog Data Structure?


Larry Thompson

The HyperLogLog data structure is a probabilistic algorithm used to estimate the cardinality, or the number of distinct elements, in a set. It was introduced by Philippe Flajolet and Éric Fusy in 2007.

How Does HyperLogLog Work?

HyperLogLog uses a clever approach to estimate the cardinality of a set with very low memory usage. Instead of storing each element in the set, it uses a fixed-size array of registers.

The algorithm works by applying a hash function to each element in the set. The hash function maps each element to a binary string of fixed length. The leading zeros in this binary string are then used to determine the register index to update.

By keeping track of the maximum number of leading zeros seen for each register, HyperLogLog can estimate the number of distinct elements in the set based on these maximum values. The more trailing zeros there are, the larger the estimated cardinality will be.

Advantages and Limitations

The HyperLogLog data structure has several advantages compared to traditional approaches for estimating cardinality:

  • Memory Efficiency: HyperLogLog uses significantly less memory compared to storing each element in the set individually.
  • Faster Processing: Because it only needs to perform simple bitwise operations and lookups, it can process large sets quickly.
  • Accuracy: Despite being a probabilistic algorithm, HyperLogLog provides accurate estimates for large sets with small memory footprints.

However, it’s important to note that HyperLogLog has limitations:

  • Precision: The accuracy of estimation depends on the chosen number of registers. Increasing the number of registers improves the accuracy but also increases memory usage.
  • Small Sets: HyperLogLog can provide inaccurate estimates for small sets or sets with very low cardinality.

Use Cases

The HyperLogLog data structure finds applications in various domains, including:

  • Big Data: HyperLogLog is commonly used in big data platforms to estimate the number of unique users, IP addresses, or other distinct elements in large datasets.
  • Distributed Systems: It is useful for distributed systems that need to track unique events across multiple nodes without storing all the data centrally.
  • Data Streaming: HyperLogLog is effective for estimating distinct elements in real-time streaming data where memory usage needs to be minimized.


The HyperLogLog data structure is a powerful tool for estimating the cardinality of a set with low memory requirements. By leveraging probabilistic algorithms and clever hash functions, it provides accurate estimates even for large datasets. Understanding its advantages and limitations can help you decide whether it’s suitable for your use case.

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