Necessity for a Hash Key

The only restriction for a hash key is that it must reply to the message hash with a hash value, and the hash value for a given key must not alter. This means that certain classes (such as Array and Hash, as of this writing) can’t conveniently be used as keys, because their hash values can change based on their contents.

If you keep an external reference to an object that is used as a key, and use that reference to alter the object and change its hash value, the hash lookup based on that key may not work.
Because strings are the most frequently used keys, and because string contents are often altered, Ruby treats string keys specially. If you use a String object as a hash key, the hash will replace the string internally and will use that duplicate as its key. Any changes afterward made to the original string will not influence the hash.

If you write your own classes and use instances of them as hash keys, you need to make sure that either (a) the hashes of the key objects don’t change once the objects have been created or (b) you bear in mind to call the Hash#rehash method to reindex the hash whenever a key hash is altered.

Leave a comment

* - Required fields