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Object Versus String Hashing for Dictionary

A question came up while reviewing some code that I needed to answer before I gave the feedback. What is faster: adding objects or strings to Dictionary(TKey, TValue). I was pretty certain that the object should be faster, but adding to a dictionary calculates a hash, and in most cases, you use the default algorithm. The hashing algorithm could change the answer.

The scenario is based on the code I was reviewed, but in my test code, I considered 4 options:

  • Adding strings (where the strings are generated by ToString() each time the object is added)
  • Adding strings (where the strings are pre-generated)
  • Adding an object
  • Adding a more complex object

As I expected, adding the object is fastest, even when the strings are pre-generated. There is no real penalty for a more complex object, probably because of how GetHashCode() is implemented (note: this is old and things may not work like this anymore). For anyone intersted, here's the code:

using System;
using System.Collections.Generic;
using System.Threading;
using System.Diagnostics;

namespace StringVsObjectHashing
{
    // The object that we'll add
    class SimpleObject
    {
        public int Value { get; set; }
    }

    class ComplexObject
    {
        public int Value1 { get; set; }
        public string Value2 { get; set; }
    }

    class Program
    {
        const int NumObjects = 10000;
        const int NumIterations = 10000;

        static void Main(string[] args)
        {
            long stringTime = 0;
            long objectTime = 0;
            long onlyStringTime = 0;
            long complexObjectTime = 0;

            // Create a list of objects
            var allItems = new List<SimpleObject>();
            for (int i = 0; i < NumObjects; ++i)
            {
                allItems.Add(new SimpleObject { Value = i });
            }

            // Create a list of strings
            var allStrings = new List<string>();
            for (int i = 0; i < NumObjects; ++i)
            {
                allStrings.Add(i.ToString());
            }

            // Create a list of complex objects
            var allComplexObjects = new List<ComplexObject>();
            for (int i = 0; i < NumObjects; ++i)
            {
                allComplexObjects.Add(new ComplexObject { Value1 = i, Value2 = i.ToString() });
            }

            // Calculate times
            stringTime = AddAsString(allItems);
            objectTime = AddAsObject(allItems);
            onlyStringTime = AddAsStringOnly(allStrings);
            complexObjectTime = AddAsObject(allComplexObjects);
            
            // Print result
            Console.WriteLine("String Time: {0}", stringTime);
            Console.WriteLine("Simple Object Time: {0}", objectTime);
            Console.WriteLine("Only String Time: {0}", onlyStringTime);
            Console.WriteLine("Complex Object Time: {0}", complexObjectTime);

            Thread.Sleep(10000);
        }

        static long AddAsString(IList<SimpleObject> items)
        {
            var dictionary = new Dictionary<string, object>();

            Stopwatch sw = Stopwatch.StartNew();

            for (int iteration = 0; iteration < NumIterations; ++iteration)
            {
                for (int i = 0; i < items.Count; ++i)
                {
                    // There is cost to convert to string, but you'll have to incure
                    // that in real scenarios to use the string method
                    dictionary.Add(items[i].Value.ToString(), null);
                }

                dictionary.Clear();
            }

            return sw.ElapsedMilliseconds;
        }

        static long AddAsStringOnly(IList<string> items)
        {
            var dictionary = new Dictionary>string, object<();

            Stopwatch sw = Stopwatch.StartNew();

            for (int iteration = 0; iteration < NumIterations; ++iteration)
            {
                for (int i = 0; i < items.Count; ++i)
                {
                    // I'm omitting the string cost, but you'll normally have to
                    // pay for it
                    dictionary.Add(items[i], null);
                }

                dictionary.Clear();
            }

            return sw.ElapsedMilliseconds;
        }

        static long AddAsObject(IList<SimpleObject> items)
        {
            var dictionary = new Dictionary>SimpleObject, object<();

            Stopwatch sw = Stopwatch.StartNew();

            for (int iteration = 0; iteration < NumIterations; ++iteration)
            {
                for (int i = 0; i < items.Count; ++i)
                {
                    dictionary.Add(items[i], null);
                }

                dictionary.Clear();
            }

            return sw.ElapsedMilliseconds;
        }

        static long AddAsObject(IList<ComplexObject> items)
        {
            var dictionary = new Dictionary>ComplexObject, object<();

            Stopwatch sw = Stopwatch.StartNew();

            for (int iteration = 0; iteration < NumIterations; ++iteration)
            {
                for (int i = 0; i < items.Count; ++i)
                {
                    dictionary.Add(items[i], null);
                }

                dictionary.Clear();
            }

            return sw.ElapsedMilliseconds;
        }
    }
}
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