Dictionary in Python

Tim Peters tim_one at email.msn.com
Mon Mar 13 21:02:23 EST 2000

> ...
> I'm going to have a look at how python decides to resize
> the hash table.

A hash table is a contiguous vector of records, whose slots come in three

1. Slots with key+value pairs.  Call these citizens.
2. Not-yet-used slots.  Call these virgins.
3. Slots that were once citizens, but whose key got deleted, and where
   another key+value pair hasn't yet overwritten the slot.  Call these
   turds (that's the technical term <0.9 wink>).

Python resizes the table when the number of virgins falls below a third of
the total number of slots.  In the usual case, Python doubles the table size
(up to a current maximum of 1,073,741,824 slots).  However, if many
deletions leave behind many turds, it's possible for the number of virgins
to get very low despite that few citizens remain; in that case, Python
actually shrinks the table (down to a current minimum of 4 slots).

To avoid thrashing when a mix of additions and deletions are made when the
table is near a resize threshold, Python doesn't actually check the # of
virgins after a delete (in effect, it assumes you'll soon be replacing the
turds with citizens again).  So, curiously enough, deleting a key *never*
shrinks the table.  A long sequence of deletes followed by an add may shrink
it, though.  A way to force possible shrinkage without adding a key is:

    dict = dict.copy()

dict.copy() always returns a turd-free dictionary, of the smallest
power-of-2 size that leaves at least a third of the slots virgin.

dryly y'rs  - tim

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