Let's implement a hash table in C. We'll write a hash table that stores strings, and to handle collisions we'll use separate chaining.

Data structures

First we define our data structures

1. We begin with our linked lists (for separate chaining):

typedef struct _list_t_ { char *string; struct _list_t_ *next; } list_t;

2. Now we need a hash table structure.

typedef struct _hash_table_t_ { int size; /* the size of the table */ list_t **table; /* the table elements */ } hash_table_t;
Why did we declare the table as list_t **table? We don't know up front how big we want the table to be. Therefore, we need to make the table a dynamic array. Remember that an array is just a big block of memory and is basically synonymous with a pointer (see the SparkNotes on arrays and pointers. What we have is a pointer to a pointer to a linked list; thus list_t **table.


What basic operations do we need to be able to perform with our hash tables?: 1) We need to be able to create a table. 2) We need to be able to hash; thus we need a hash function. 3) We need to be able to free a table. 4) We need to be able to insert into them. 5) We need to be able to lookup an element in them. That should do it for a basic implementation.

1. Creation. We need to be able to create a hash table, something like:

hash_table_t *my_hash_table; int size_of_table = 12; my_hash_table = create_hash_table(size_of_table);
The creation function might look something like this:
hash_table_t *create_hash_table(int size) { hash_table_t *new_table; if (size<1) return NULL; /* invalid size for table */ /* Attempt to allocate memory for the table structure */ if ((new_table = malloc(sizeof(hash_value_t))) == NULL) { return NULL; } /* Attempt to allocate memory for the table itself */ if ((new_table->table = malloc(sizeof(list_t *) * size)) == NULL) { return NULL; } /* Initialize the elements of the table */ for(i=0; i<size; i++) new_table->table[i] = NULL; /* Set the table's size */ new_table->size = size; return new_table; }

2. Our hash function. We'll go with a relatively simple one.

unsigned int hash(hash_table_t *hashtable, char *str) { unsigned int hashval; /* we start our hash out at 0 */ hashval = 0; /* for each character, we multiply the old hash by 31 and add the current * character. Remember that shifting a number left is equivalent to * multiplying it by 2 raised to the number of places shifted. So we * are in effect multiplying hashval by 32 and then subtracting hashval. * Why do we do this? Because shifting and subtraction are much more * efficient operations than multiplication. */ for(; *str != '\0'; str++) hashval = *str + (hashval << 5) - hashval; /* we then return the hash value mod the hashtable size so that it will * fit into the necessary range */ return hashval % hashtable->size; }

3. String lookup. Doing a string lookup is as simple as hashing the string, going to the correct index in the array, and then doing a linear search on the linked list that resides there.

list_t *lookup_string(hash_table_t *hashtable, char *str) { list_t *list; unsigned int hashval = hash(hashtable, str); /* Go to the correct list based on the hash value and see if str is * in the list. If it is, return return a pointer to the list element. * If it isn't, the item isn't in the table, so return NULL. */ for(list = hashtable->table[hashval]; list != NULL; list = list->next) { if (strcmp(str, list->str) == 0) return list; } return NULL; }

4. Inserting a string. Inserting a string is almost the same as looking up a string. Hash the string. Go to the correct place in the array. Insert the new string at the beginning.

int add_string(hash_table_t *hashtable, char *str) { list_t *new_list; list_t *current_list; unsigned int hashval = hash(hashtable, str); /* Attempt to allocate memory for list */ if ((new_list = malloc(sizeof(list_t))) == NULL) return 1; /* Does item already exist? */ current_list = lookup_string(hashtable, str); /* item already exists, don't insert it again. */ if (current_list != NULL) return 2; /* Insert into list */ new_list->str = strdup(str); new_list->next = hashtable->table[hashval]; hashtable->table[hashval] = new_list; return 0; }

5. Deleting a table. Freeing up the memory you use is a very good habit, so we write a function to clear out the hashtable.

void free_table(hash_table_t *hashtable) { int i; list_t *list, *temp; if (hashtable==NULL) return; /* Free the memory for every item in the table, including the * strings themselves. */ for(i=0; i<hashtable->size; i++) { list = hashtable->table[i]; while(list!=NULL) { temp = list; list = list->next; free(temp->str); free(temp); } } /* Free the table itself */ free(hashtable->table); free(hashtable); }