What Is Meant by Hashing in Data Structure?


Scott Campbell

In data structures, hashing is a technique used to map data to a fixed-size array or table called a hash table. It is a common method used to quickly access and retrieve data based on its key. Hashing uses a hash function to generate an index, also known as a hash code, for each data item.

How Does Hashing Work?

The process of hashing involves three main steps:

  1. Hash Function: A hash function takes an input and produces a fixed-size output, which is the hash code. This function should be deterministic, meaning that it always produces the same hash code for the same input.
  2. Index Calculation: The hash code generated by the hash function is then used to calculate an index within the range of the hash table’s size.

    This index determines where the data item will be stored in the table.

  3. Data Storage: The data item is stored at the calculated index in the hash table. If multiple items have the same index, known as a collision, different techniques can be used to handle it (more on this later).

Advantages of Hashing

The use of hashing in data structures offers several benefits:

  • Fast Data Retrieval: Hashing allows for constant-time retrieval of data items by their key. Instead of searching through all elements in a collection, we can directly access the desired item based on its hashed index.
  • Ease of Implementation: Hash tables are relatively easy to implement compared to other data structures like trees or graphs.
  • Efficient Memory Usage: Hashing provides a balance between memory usage and retrieval time. With a properly sized hash table, the average time complexity for searching, inserting, and deleting elements can be O(1).

Collision Resolution

Collisions occur when different data items produce the same hash code or index. Various techniques are used to resolve collisions:

  • Separate Chaining: In separate chaining, each index in the hash table contains a linked list of data items that share the same index. When a collision occurs, new items are added to this linked list.
  • Open Addressing: Open addressing involves finding an alternative index within the hash table when a collision happens. This can be done using methods like linear probing (checking the next available slot) or quadratic probing (checking slots with quadratic intervals).

Common Applications of Hashing

Hashing is widely used in various applications such as:

  • Password Storage: Hash functions are commonly used to store passwords securely. Instead of storing actual passwords, their hash codes are stored. When a user logs in, their entered password is hashed and compared with the stored hash code.
  • Data Retrieval: Databases often use hashing to quickly retrieve records based on their primary keys.
  • Cryptography: Hash functions play a crucial role in cryptographic algorithms for data integrity checking and digital signatures.

In Conclusion

Hashing is a fundamental concept in data structures that allows for efficient storage and retrieval of data based on its key. By using a hash function and calculating an index within a hash table, data can be accessed in constant time.

Collisions can occur, but various collision resolution techniques ensure the integrity of the data structure. Hashing has numerous applications in areas like password storage, databases, and cryptography.

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