Abseil Containers (Hash Tables)

The Abseil container library contains a number of useful containers generally adhering to the STL container API contract, including a number of hash tables:

  • absl::flat_hash_map
  • absl::flat_hash_set
  • absl::node_hash_map
  • absl::node_hash_set

Collectively, these hash tables are known as “Swiss tables” and are designed to be replacements for std::unordered_map and std::unordered_set They provide several advantages over the std::unordered_* containers:

  • Provides C++11 support for C++17 mechanisms such as try_emplace().
  • Supports heterogeneous lookup.
  • Allows optimizations for emplace({key, value}) to avoid allocating a pair in most common cases.
  • Supports a heterogeneous std::initializer_list to avoid extra copies for construction and insertion.
  • Guarantees an O(1) erase method by returning void instead of an iterator.


The set of Swiss table containers support the same overload set as std::unordered_map for construction and assignment:

// Examples using node_hash_set and node_hash_map are equivalent

// Default constructor
// No allocation for the table's elements is made.
absl::flat_hash_set<std::string> set1;

absl::flat_hash_map<int, std::string> map1;

// Initializer List constructor
absl::flat_hash_set<std::string> set2 = {{"huey"}, {"dewey"}, {"louie"},};

absl::flat_hash_map<int, std::string> map2 =
    {{1, "huey"}, {2, "dewey"}, {3, "louie"},};

// Copy constructor
absl::flat_hash_set<std::string> set3(set2);

absl::flat_hash_map<int, std::string> map3(map2);

// Copy assignment operator
// Hash functor and Comparator are copied as well
absl::flat_hash_set<std::string> set4;
set4 = set3;

absl::flat_hash_map<int, std::string> map4;
map4 = map3;

// Move constructor
// Move is guaranteed efficient
absl::flat_hash_set<std::string> set5(std::move(set4));

absl::flat_hash_map<int, std::string> map5(std::move(map4));

// Move assignment operator
// May be efficient if allocators are compatible
absl::flat_hash_set<std::string> set6;
set6 = std::move(set5);

absl::flat_hash_map<int, std::string> map6;
map6 = std::move(map5);

// Range constructor
std::vector<std::string> v = {"a", "b"};
absl::flat_hash_set<std::string> set7(v.begin(), v.end());

std::vector<std::pair<int, std::string>> v = {{1, "a"}, {2, "b"}};
absl::flat_hash_map<int, std::string> set7(v.begin(), v.end());

absl::flat_hash_map and absl::flat_hash_set

absl::flat_hash_map and absl::flat_hash_set are the recommended unordered containers for general use. These are flat data structures, which store their value_type directly in the slot array.


  • Keys and values are stored inline.
  • Iterators, references, and pointers to elements are invalidated on rehash.
  • Move operations do not invalidate iterators or pointers.

Memory Usage

Flat Hash Map Memory Layout

The container uses O((sizeof(std::pair<const K, V>) + 1) * bucket_count()) bytes. The max load factor is 87.5%, after which the table doubles in size (making load factor go down by 2x). Thus size() is usually between 0.4375*bucket_count() and 0.875*bucket_count(). For tables that have never rehashed the load factor can be even lower, but these numbers are sufficient for our estimates.


Use absl::flat_hash_map most of the time.

absl::node_hash_map and absl::node_hash_set

These are near drop-in replacement for std::unordered_map and std::unordered_set. They are useful:

  • When pointer stability1 is required for both key and value.
  • For automatic migrations from std::unordered_map, std::unordered_set, hash_map or hash_set where it’s difficult to figure out whether the code relies on pointer stability.

These are node-based data structures in the STL standard sense: each value_type is allocated in a separate node and the main table contains pointers to those nodes.


  • Nodes have stable addresses.
  • Iterators are invalidated on rehash.
  • Move operations do not invalidate iterators.

Memory Usage

Node Hash Map Memory Layout

The slot array requires (sizeof(void*) + 1) * bucket_count() bytes and the nodes themselves require sizeof(value_type) * size() bytes. Together, this is O(9*bucket_count + sizeof(std::pair<const K, V>)*size()) on most platforms.


Prefer absl::flat_hash_map or absl::flat_hash_set in most new code (see above).

Use absl::node_hash_map or absl::node_hash_set when pointer stability of both keys and values is required (rare), or for code migrations from other containers with this property. Note: Do not use popularity as a guide. You will see the “node” containers used a lot, but only because it was safe to migrate code to them from other containers.

Construction and Usage

absl::flat_hash_map<int, string> numbers =
    {{1, "one"}, {2, "two"}, {3, "three"}};
numbers.try_emplace(4, "four");

absl::flat_hash_map<string, std::unique_ptr<string>> strings;
strings.try_emplace("foo", absl::make_unique<string>("bar"));

Heterogeneous Lookup

Inserting into or looking up an element within an associative container requires a key. In general, containers require the keys to be of a specific type, which can lead to inefficiencies at call sites that need to convert between near-equivalent types (such as std::string and absl::string_view).

std::map<std::string, int> m = ...;
absl::string_view some_key = ...;
// Construct a temporary `std::string` to do the query.
// The allocation + copy + deallocation might dominate the find() call.
auto it = m.find(std::string(some_key));

To avoid this unnecessary work, the Swiss tables provide heterogeneous lookup for conversions to string types (allowing absl::string_view in the lookup, for example), and for conversions to smart pointer types (std::unique_ptr, std::shared_ptr), through the absl::Hash hashing framework. (The supporting comparators are built into absl::Hash.)

absl::flat_hash_map<std::string, int> m = ...;
absl::string_view some_key = ...;
// We can use string_view directly as the key search.
auto it = m.find(some_key);

Iteration Order Instability

While std::unordered_map makes no guarantees about iteration order, many implementations happen to have a deterministic order based on the keys and their insert order. This is not true of absl::flat_hash_map and absl::node_hash_map. Thus, converting from std::unordered_map to absl::flat_hash_map can expose latent bugs where the code incorrectly depends on iteration order.

A special case which can create a subtle bug is summing float values in an unordered container. While mathematical sums do not depend on order, floating point sums do, and it can be the case that a sum is deterministic with std::unordered_set but non-deterministic with absl::flat_hash_set.


  1. “Pointer stability” means that a pointer to an element remains valid (is not invalidated) so long as the element is present, allowing code to cache pointers to elements even when the underlying container is mutated. Saying that a container has pointer stability is the same as saying that it doesn’t move elements in memory; their addresses do not change. Pointer stability/invalidation is the same as reference stability/invalidation.