ROB 599: Programming for Robotics: Homework 4

Problem 1: bigrams

In this problem we will finish implementing our hash table and we will use it to find the most common bigrams (pairs of consecutive words) in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice (the book.txt also used in the last class assignment).

The implementation we are using is very loosely based on/inspired by the Google Abseil (a C++ library) “Swiss Table” family of hashtables. If/when you write actual code in C++ and you need a hashtable, I would highly recommend this library!

Hiding implementation

We will start by making a pair of files, hashtable.h and hashtable.c. We will use the header (.h) file to declare and define the interface (functions) of our hash table while including as little information as possible about its implementation. We will only be able to access our hashtable through those functions.

In order to hide the details of our hash table, we will use something called an incomplete type. Use the following line in hashtable.h:

typedef struct hashtable hashtable_t;

This line says we have a type hashtable_t and gives no more information about it. Any program that includes hashtable.h will only ever be able to work with pointers to hashtable_t, because the compiler does not know how big the type is, or what fields it has. Pointers, on the other hand, always have a known size.

The rest of the function definitions we put in hashtable.h will always work with those pointers, and only our implementation in hashtable.c will have the actual type definition and the functions that work on those internals.

This means that one day, we could make massive changes to our hashtable_t type and hashtable.c implementation and code using our hash table will still work correctly!

Linear probing

As we saw in the previous class, hash tables invariably have to deal with hash collisions, and most kinds of hash tables are defined by how they handle these collisions. The idea of linear probing is that if a spot in the table is already taken, simply try the next one until you find an empty spot. And when looking up a key, continue searching until either you find your key or you find an empty spot. If we get to the end of the hash table, we wrap back to the beginning to continue the search.

The reason this works so well is because of something called cache locality or locality of reference. In essence, when the computer is loading memory to the processor, it tends to load the memory in small chunks. When we load the next spot in our hash table, there is a high chance the memory is already in the processor and the load is practically free! On the other hand, if it is not already in the processor’s cache, then we have a cache miss and have to load another chunk of memory into the processor. In general, loading memory will always be the slowest operation for any data structure.

The key to making a fast data structure is to minimize the number of random-access memory look-ups. In general, arrays are very fast when accessed sequentially because the memory loaded in chunks. On the other hand, linked-lists are slow because every link involves following a pointer and a new random-access look-up.

In our hash table implementation, looking up an element requires a memory access to calculate the hash of the key, another access to find our location in the hash table, and one more access to compare the two keys. For each time this comparison fails, we use one more memory access to compare against the new key.

In contrast, some hash tables use “chaining” to resolve collisions, and have a linked list as the base element in each spot of the hash table. Every key that hashes to this location gets to have an entry in that linked list. Each time the key comparison fails, this will use two additional memory accesses instead of one, because we have to follow the linked list before we get the new key.

By way of example, Google’s SwissTable hash tables for C++ use highly optimized linear probing.

Implementing the hash table

The choice of linear probing also helps make our data structure relatively simple.

Give your hashtable_t the following three data fields in hashtable.c:

  • The main table of entries hashtable_entry_t, which consist of a key (char *) and value (int).
  • The total size of our main table; the table size.
  • The number of distinct keys in our table; the number of entries in the hash table; the size of our data structure from the user’s perspective. (Three definitions of the same variable!)

Write a hashtable_create function to create an empty hash table with a default table size of 128. Make sure to use calloc to allocate memory for the main table because we will use null keys to indicate empty spots.

Next, write your hashtable_set function, which will take a key and value.

  1. Use your fxhash32 and fibonacci32_reduce functions from the class assignment to get a hash of the correct bit size for your current table size.
  2. Using the reduced hash value as your index, check if the main hash table has an empty slot there. If it does, copy over the key and value into that entry, and increment size by 1.
  3. If the slot is not empty, compare the keys. If they match, update the entry’s value.
  4. If the keys do not match, increment the hash index, and repeat back to step 2.

Now write hashtable_get, which should take a key and a value pointer (int *), and return a boolean.

  1. Same as above.
  2. Using the reduced hash value as your index, check if the main hash table has an empty slot there. If it does, return false because the hash table does not contain this key.
  3. If the slot is not empty, compare the keys. If they match, copy out the value of this entry using the value pointer (for example *val = entry.value;) and return true.
  4. If the keys do not match, increment the hash index, and repeat back to step 2.

Test these functions with some simple inputs and make sure they work before going on!

char *bigram = strdup("as we"); // malloc'ed memory for the string literal
hashtable_set(ht, bigram, 1);

int count = 0;
hashtable_get(ht, bigram, &count); // count will stay 0 if bigram isn't in ht
printf("Count for bigram '%s' is %d\n", bigram, count);

Load factor and rehashing

In general, most hash tables in real-world applications remain small. Because of this, we want our hash table size to also remain relatively small if it only has a few elements in it. On the other hand, as the hash table fills up there will be increasingly more collisions and it can slow down.

The load factor of a hash table is defined as the number of distinct keys contained in the table divided by the table size. Using the names from the above section, this would be size divided by table_size. Depending on how collisions are resolved by the table, we choose a maximum load factor to allow. Once the load factor reaches this maximum, we make a new hash table with an increased table size, and move all the hash table entries into this new table. We recalculate the reduced hashes for all the entries, and the number of collisions naturally drops. We will use a maximum load factor of 0.5.

Write a new function to perform this table growing and rehashing.

  1. Create a new hash table with double the table size
  2. Iterate through the old table and for each populated entry, use hashtable_set on the new table to copy over that entry.
  3. Carefully overwrite/update the old table’s contents/data with the new one’s. Although we made a new hash table internally, we need the user’s pointer to the original hash table to remain valid. We can’t give the user the pointer to our new hash table, so instead we need to exchange the fields of the new and old hash table. Finally, we need to free unneeded memory that is left over after this operation.

And now we also modify hashtable_set to have an additional check at the very beginning:

  1. If the current load factor of the hash table is equal to or greater than the maximum load factor (i.e. 0.5), call the above function to grow and rehash the table.

With these changes, your code should be able to process any number of entries, so let’s start looking at the getting back to our bigram problem.


A bigram is a sequence of two things. For this problem we are interested in counting the English word bigrams in book.txt.

This text file contains punctuation and line breaks that we don’t want to affect our results. First, write a function that uses fgetc to read the file character by character and parse out a single alphabetical word, with only consecutive letters. We will keep both lower and upper-case letters and we will treat them as distinct. You may find it helpful to allocate a buffer for the parsed output and then give your read-word function both this buffer as well as its length, for example:

char *word = malloc(256);
read_word(f, word, 256);

If the input is “Ben’s blue-eyed dog”, then the words are: “Ben”, “s”, “blue”, “eyed”, “dog”.

After the first word, every word you read in from the file completes a new bigram. Use malloc and snprintf to create this bigram as a new string. Then use your hash table to count the number of times you have seen this specific bigram. snprintf works exactly the same as printf, except that it prints into a string buffer instead of printing to the screen.

#define BIGRAM_SIZE 256

char *word1 = "we";
char *word2 = "do";
char *bigram = malloc(BIGRAM_SIZE);
snprintf(bigram, BIGRAM_SIZE, "%s %s", word1, word2); // now bigram has string "we do"

For example, if you have the text “we do as we do”, we get the following bigrams:

  • we do
  • do as
  • as we
  • we do

And after this text our hash table should have the following entries (see the next section):

  • we do -> 2
  • do as -> 1
  • as we -> 1

Iterating through the table

In order to find the most common bigrams, we need some way to search through the hash table without knowing all the keys. We can do this by allowing the user to look through the raw hash table itself, but we still need to hide the specific implementation details of our table.

More sophisticated languages have better ways to support iteration, and we will just do something simple for our hash table.

Implement a hashtable_probe_max function to return the size of the internal table.

Implement a hashtable_probe to take an integer from 0 to hashtable_probe_max, exclusive, and if present, return the key and value for an entry at that index.

Your definitions could look like these:

// Use this alongside hashtable_probe
// to iterate through the table
int hashtable_probe_max(hashtable_t *ht);

// permits iterating through the table
// iterate with i from 0 to hashtable_probe_max
// and if this function returns true, key and val are copied to.
// Do not mutate key!
bool hashtable_probe(hashtable_t *ht, int i, char **key, int *val);

By using these values to iterate through the table you will also be able to dump the entire table contents, which may be helpful for debugging.

The idea of these functions is to let us iterate through the table. Ideally we could just do this:

for (int i = 0; i < ht->n; i++) {
    char *key = ht->entries[i].key;
    int val = ht->entries[i].val;
    if (key) {

But we can’t because we hid the implementation of the hashtable!
If we try to use the above we should get an error: dereferencing pointer to incomplete type ‘hashtable_t {aka struct hashtable}’

So instead we write that loop like this:

int n = hashtable_probe_max(ht);
for (int i = 0; i < n; i++) {
    char *key;
    int val;
    if (hashtable_probe(ht, i, &key, &val)) {

Putting it all together

You will need to implement two more functions: hashtable_destroy and hashtable_size (the actual number of entries).

Your program should read all the bigrams from book.txt and do the following:

  1. Each time your hash table rehashes, print out the number of collisions in the table before and after the resizing. Count collisions with a function just like in hashcomp.
  2. After reading the whole text, print out all the bigrams with at least 200 occurrences. If there are no bigrams with that many occurrences, print out all the bigrams.
  3. Finally, output the number of distinct bigrams found.
Rehashing reduced collisions from XX to XX
Bigram 'of the' has count of XXX
Total of XXXXX different bigrams recorded