[erlang-questions] Best Practice in Map keys: Atoms or Binaries (or Strings)?

Grzegorz Junka list1@REDACTED
Sun Oct 2 13:07:40 CEST 2016

I don't think Ruel was asking about differences between maps and 
records, only what datatype is optimal for map's keys?

I was hoping someone from the OTP team will take on this question, but 
from what I understand the key is always hashed using some C functions. 
So, the shorter is the key the faster will be the hashing, but the 
difference will be so small, that only noticeable on really big data 
structures (like long lists/strings, binaries or deep data structures, 
like dicts, where it has to be traversed, and by long I mean a few 
dozens of bytes).


On 01/10/2016 19:24, Jesper Louis Andersen wrote:
> Hi,
> You have to define optimal. Do you want efficient lookup or do you 
> want to save space? For static keys, using atoms has the advantage of 
> being fast to compare and rather small (1 machine word). For small 
> maps, lookup speeds are so quick I don't think it really matters too 
> much if a record is marginally faster. I'd go for readability over 
> efficiency in almost all situations.
> As for the record vs maps discussion: I tend to use an algebraic 
> datatype instead, so I can avoid representing state which is not 
> valid. In some circumstances, a map is fit for the representation. One 
> weakness of a record is that if we define
> -record(state, { name, socket }).
> then we need to have #state { socket = undefined } at some point if we 
> don't have a valid socket. With a map, we can simply initialize to the 
> state #{ name => Name } and then when the socket is opened later, we 
> can do State#{ socket => Sock } in the code and extend the state with 
> a socket key. In a language such as OCaml, we could represent it as 
> the type
> -type state() :: {unconnected, name()} | {connected, name(), socket()}.
> And I've done this in Erlang as well. It depends on the complexity of 
> the representation. As for the goal: the goal is to build a state 
> which is very hard to accidentally pattern match wrongly on in the 
> code base. If your state has no socket, a match such as
> barney(#{ socket := Sock }) -> ...
> cannot match, even by accident. In turn, it forces the code to fail on 
> the match itself, not later on when you try to do something with an 
> undefined socket.
> On Sat, Oct 1, 2016 at 12:37 PM, Pagayon, Ruel <ruel@REDACTED 
> <mailto:ruel@REDACTED>> wrote:
>     Hi everyone,
>     I'm just wondering (assuming the keys of my maps in my application
>     is not dynamically generated):
>     1. What is the most optimal key type for maps?
>     2. If there is little to no effect in performance (or resources in
>     general), as a convention, which is the best to use?
>     Thank you in advance for your responses.
>     Cheers,
>     Ruel
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> -- 
> J.
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