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What is Map Data Structure

Last Updated on June 29, 2023 by Mayank Dham

In the world of computer science and programming, data structures play a fundamental role in organizing and manipulating data efficiently. One such essential data structure is the Map. A Map, also known as an associative array, dictionary, or symbol table, provides a powerful abstraction that allows storing and retrieving data in a key-value pair format. In this article, we will explore the map data structure, its characteristics, and its applications.
Map data structure
A map is a container for elements that are stored as a combination of keys and corresponding values. Maps, as opposed to arrays or lists, use unique keys to identify and access their associated values. This enables fast data retrieval and modification without the need to know the specific index or position.

Key Features of Map data Structure

1. Key-Value Pairing: The key-value pairing is the fundamental concept of the map data structure. Each element in the map consists of a unique key and its corresponding value.

2. Fast Access: Maps provide efficient lookup and retrieval operations based on the key. By using an underlying data structure like a balanced binary search tree or a hash table, maps can achieve constant or logarithmic time complexity for common operations.

3. Dynamic Size: Maps can dynamically grow and shrink in size as elements are added or removed. This flexibility makes them suitable for handling varying amounts of data.

4. Uniqueness of Keys: Each key within a map must be unique. Duplicate keys are not allowed, ensuring that every key-value pair represents a distinct entry.

Types of Maps in Data Structures

In computer science and data structures, there are several types of maps or dictionary data structures:

1. Hash Map

A hash map is a data structure that maps keys to array indices using a hash function. The hash function takes the key as input and returns an index into the array containing the corresponding value. Hash maps are one of the most efficient map data structures, with an average time complexity of O(1) for operations like insertion and retrieval. Hash collisions can occur when two keys map to the same index, resulting in slower performance in the worst-case scenario.

2. Tree Map

A tree map is a type of map that uses a binary search tree as its implementation. The keys in a tree map are stored in sorted order, which allows for efficient searching, insertion, and deletion operations. For operations like insertion and retrieval, tree maps have an average time complexity of O(log n), where n is the number of elements in the map.

3. Linked Hash Map

A linked hash map is a type of map that keeps a doubly-linked list of the map’s entries in the order they were inserted. This enables rapid iteration over the map’s elements, as well as efficient insertion, retrieval, and deletion operations.

4. Trie Map

A trie map, also known as a prefix tree, is a type of map used to store a collection of strings, with each node representing a prefix of one or more strings. Tries are especially useful for searching for strings that begin with a specific prefix because the search can be stopped early if the prefix is not found in the trie.

5. Bloom Filter Map

A bloom filter map is a map that employs a bloom filter, a probabilistic data structure, to determine whether or not a key exists in the map. Bloom filter maps are used when a quick response time for key existence checks is required, but an occasional false positive result is acceptable.

Map Data Structure in Different Languages

1. Maps in C++
Maps are associative containers that map elements for storage. Each element has a mapped value and a key value. No two mapped values can have the same key values.

Types of Maps in C++:

  • Order Map
  • Unordered_map
  • Multi map


Order Map - mapmp
Unordered Map - unordered_mapmp
Multi map - multimapmp

2. Maps in Java
Java includes a map interface. A mapping between a key and a value is represented by the util package. The Map interface is not a subtype of the Collection interface. Therefore it behaves a bit differently from the rest of the collection types.

Types of Maps in Java:

  • HashMap
  • Linked Hash Map
  • Tree Map


HashMap -  Map map = new HashMap<>();
Linked Hash Map -  Map map = new LinkedHashMap<>();
Tree Map - Map map = new TreeMap<>();

3. Maps in Python
The map() function returns a map object (an iterator) of the results of applying the given function to each item of an iterable (list, tuple, etc.).


map(fun, iter)

Internal Implementation of Map Data Structure

The Map data structure is made up of key-value pairs that allow for quick access to values based on their corresponding keys. The Map data structure’s internal implementation is determined by the programming language or library used.

The map data structure is typically implemented as an associative array or hash table, with each key-value pair assigned a unique index using a hash function. The value associated with that key is then stored and retrieved using this index.

Map Data Structure

When a new key-value pair is added to the Map, the hash function is used to compute the key’s index, and the value is stored at that index. If a value is already stored at that index, the new value replaces the old one.

Ordered vs Unordered Map

Ordered Map
An ordered map is implemented in C++ using the std::map container from the Standard Template Library (STL). The std::map templated container stores key-value pairs in sorted order according to the keys.

C++ Implementation of Ordered Map

using namespace std;
void countFreq(int arr[], int n)
    map mp;
    for (int i = 0; i < n; i++)
    for (auto x : mp)
        cout << x.first << " " << x.second << endl;
int main()
    int arr[] = { 1, 2, 3, 3, 4, 5, 5, 5 };
    int n = sizeof(arr) / sizeof(arr[0]);
    countFreq(arr, n);
    return 0;
import java.util.*;
class Prepbytes {
    static void countFreq(int[] arr, int n)
        Map mp = new HashMap();
        for (int i = 0; i < n; i++)
            mp.put(arr[i], mp.getOrDefault(arr[i], 0) + 1);

        for (Map.Entry entry :
            System.out.println(entry.getKey() + " "
                               + entry.getValue());
    public static void main(String[] args)
        int[] arr = { 1, 2, 3, 3, 4, 5, 5, 5 };
        int n = arr.length;
        countFreq(arr, n);
from collections import defaultdict
def countFreq(arr):
    freq = defaultdict(int)
    for i in arr:
        freq[i] += 1

    for key, value in freq.items():
        print(key, value)
if __name__ == "__main__":
    arr = [1, 2, 3, 3, 4, 5, 5, 5]

Unordered Map
An unordered map is implemented in C++ by using the std::unordered_map container from the Standard Template Library (STL). The std::unordered_map templated container stores key-value pairs in an unordered fashion based on the keys’ hash values.

Operations Associated with Map Data Structures

A map is a data structure that stores key-value pairs. Here are some of the most common operations you can perform with a map:

  • Insert: We can add a new key-value pair to the map and assign it a value.
  • Retrieve: we can retrieve the value associated with a key and pass in the key as an argument.
  • Update: We can update the value associated with a key and assign a new value to the key.
  • Delete: Using the erase() method and the key as an argument, we can delete a key-value pair from the map.
  • Lookup: We can use the count() method to see if a key exists in the map, or we can check if the value associated with the key is equal to the default value.
  • Iteration: we can iterate over the key-value pairs in the map by using a for loop or an iterator.
  • Sorting: Depending on how the map is implemented, we can sort the key-value pairs by either the keys or the values.

Properties of Map Data Structure

Here are some of the properties of the map data structure:

  • The keys in a map are all unique, which means that each key can only map to one value.

  • Maps are mutable, which means that their elements can be changed after they are created.

  • Maps associate keys with values, which means that each key is associated with exactly one value.

  • Ordering: Maps lack inherent ordering, which means that the order in which elements are inserted into a map has no bearing on the order in which they are retrieved.

  • Hashing: Hash tables are commonly used to implement maps, which means that keys are hashed to indices in an underlying array, and values are stored in the corresponding array elements.

  • Complexity: The time complexity for basic map operations like insert, lookup, and delete is usually O(1) on average, which means that these operations take the same amount of time regardless of the size of the map. However, in the case of hash collisions, the worst-case time complexity can be O(n), where n is the number of elements in the map.

Applications of Map data Structure

The map data structure finds applications in various domains and scenarios, including:

1. Dictionary: Maps are commonly used to implement dictionaries, where words (keys) are associated with their definitions (values). This allows for efficient word lookup and retrieval.

2. Caching: Maps can be employed in caching systems to store frequently accessed data. The keys represent unique identifiers, and the values store the corresponding cached data. This helps improve performance by reducing the need for expensive operations.

3. Symbol Tables: Compilers and interpreters use maps extensively to build symbol tables, associating identifiers (keys) with their corresponding variables or functions (values).

4. Database Indexing: Maps play a crucial role in database indexing structures, such as B-trees and hash indexes. They enable efficient searching and retrieval of records based on specific keys.

The map data structure provides a powerful and flexible way to store and access data based on unique keys. Its key-value pairing and efficient lookup operations make it a valuable tool in various applications, including dictionaries, caching systems, symbol tables, and database indexing. Understanding the map data structure and its capabilities empowers programmers to design efficient algorithms and handle data with ease.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Q1. What is the difference between a map and an array?
Unlike arrays that use integer indices to access elements, maps use unique keys to store and retrieve values. Maps provide a more flexible and efficient way of organizing data, as they allow for fast lookups and modifications based on keys, regardless of their position or order.

Q2. Can a map contain duplicate keys?
No, maps do not allow duplicate keys. Each key must be unique within the map. If you attempt to insert a key-value pair with a key that already exists, it will either replace the existing value or reject the insertion, depending on the implementation and programming language.

Q3. How does a map handle key-value pair insertion?
When inserting a key-value pair into a map, the map’s internal implementation ensures that the key is stored in a way that allows for efficient lookup and retrieval. The specific mechanism may vary depending on the implementation, such as using a balanced binary search tree or a hash table.

Q4. What is the time complexity for accessing elements in a map?
The time complexity for accessing elements in a map depends on the underlying implementation. In most cases, it is either constant (O(1)) or logarithmic (O(log n)), where n represents the number of elements in the map. This efficiency allows for fast access and retrieval, even for large maps.

Q5. Can I change the value associated with a key in a map?
Yes, maps provide methods to update the value associated with a specific key. You can modify the value by accessing it through the corresponding key and assigning a new value. The map will automatically update the value and maintain the key-value association.

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