Question

[Solved] What is more efficient: Dictionary TryGetValue or ContainsKey+Item?

From MSDN’s entry on Dictionary.TryGetValue Method:

This method combines the functionality of the ContainsKey method and
the Item property.

If the key is not found, then the value parameter gets the appropriate
default value for the value type TValue; for example, 0 (zero) for
integer types, false for Boolean types, and null for reference types.

Use the TryGetValue method if your code frequently attempts to access
keys that are not in the dictionary. Using this method is more
efficient than catching the KeyNotFoundException thrown by the Item
property.

This method approaches an O(1) operation.

From the description, it’s not clear if it is more efficient or just more convenient than calling ContainsKey and then doing the lookup. Does the implementation of TryGetValue just call ContainsKey and then Item or is actually more efficient than that by doing a single lookup?

In other words, what is more efficient (i.e. which one performs less lookups):

Dictionary<int,int> dict;
//...//
int ival;
if(dict.ContainsKey(ikey))
{
  ival = dict[ikey];
}
else
{
  ival = default(int);
}

or

Dictionary<int,int> dict;
//...//
int ival;
dict.TryGetValue(ikey, out ival);

Note: I am not looking for a benchmark!

Enquirer: Rado

||

Solution #1:

TryGetValue will be faster.

ContainsKey uses the same check as TryGetValue, which internally refers to the actual entry location. The Item property actually has nearly identical code functionality as TryGetValue, except that it will throw an exception instead of returning false.

Using ContainsKey followed by the Item basically duplicates the lookup functionality, which is the bulk of the computation in this case.

Respondent: Reed Copsey

Solution #2:

A quick benchmark shows that TryGetValue has a slight edge:

    static void Main() {
        var d = new Dictionary<string, string> {{"a", "b"}};
        var start = DateTime.Now;
        for (int i = 0; i != 10000000; i++) {
            string x;
            if (!d.TryGetValue("a", out x)) throw new ApplicationException("Oops");
            if (d.TryGetValue("b", out x)) throw new ApplicationException("Oops");
        }
        Console.WriteLine(DateTime.Now-start);
        start = DateTime.Now;
        for (int i = 0; i != 10000000; i++) {
            string x;
            if (d.ContainsKey("a")) {
                x = d["a"];
            } else {
                x = default(string);
            }
            if (d.ContainsKey("b")) {
                x = d["b"];
            } else {
                x = default(string);
            }
        }
   }

This produces

00:00:00.7600000
00:00:01.0610000

making the ContainsKey + Item access about 40% slower assuming an even blend of hits and misses.

Moreover, when I change the program to always miss (i.e. always looking up "b") the two versions become equally fast:

00:00:00.2850000
00:00:00.2720000

When I make it “all hits”, however, the TryGetValue remains a clear winner:

00:00:00.4930000
00:00:00.8110000

Solution #3:

Since none of the answers thus far actually answer the question, here is an acceptable answer I found after some research:

If you decompile TryGetValue you see that it’s doing this:

public bool TryGetValue(TKey key, out TValue value)
{
  int index = this.FindEntry(key);
  if (index >= 0)
  {
    value = this.entries[index].value;
    return true;
  }
  value = default(TValue);
  return false;
}

whereas the ContainsKey method is:

public bool ContainsKey(TKey key)
{
  return (this.FindEntry(key) >= 0);
}

so TryGetValue is just ContainsKey plus an array lookup if the item is present.

Source

It appears that TryGetValue will be almost twice as fast as ContainsKey+Item combination.

Respondent: Rado

Solution #4:

Who cares 🙂

You’re probably asking because TryGetValue is a pain to use – so encapsulate it like this with an extension method.

public static class CollectionUtils
{
    // my original method
    // public static V GetValueOrDefault<K, V>(this Dictionary<K, V> dic, K key)
    // {
    //    V ret;
    //    bool found = dic.TryGetValue(key, out ret);
    //    if (found)
    //    {
    //        return ret;
    //    }
    //    return default(V);
    // }


    // EDIT: one of many possible improved versions
    public static TValue GetValueOrDefault<K, V>(this IDictionary<K, V> dictionary, K key)
    {
        // initialized to default value (such as 0 or null depending upon type of TValue)
        TValue value;  

        // attempt to get the value of the key from the dictionary
        dictionary.TryGetValue(key, out value);
        return value;
    }

Then just call :

dict.GetValueOrDefault("keyname")

or

(dict.GetValueOrDefault("keyname") ?? fallbackValue) 
Respondent: Simon_Weaver

Solution #5:

Why don’t you test it?

But I’m pretty sure that TryGetValue is faster, because it only does one lookup. Of course this isn’t guaranteed, i.e. different implementations might have different performance characteristics.

The way I’d implement a dictionary is by creating an internal Find function that finds the slot for an item, and then build the rest on top of that.

Respondent: CodesInChaos

Solution #6:

All of the answers so far, although good, miss a vital point.

Methods into the classes of an API (e.g. the .NET framework) form part of an interface definition (not a C# or VB interface, but an interface in the computer science meaning).

As such, it is usually incorrect to ask whether calling such a method is faster, unless speed is a part of the formal interface definition (which it isn’t in this case).

Traditionally this kind of shortcut (combining search and retrieve) is more efficient regardless of language, infrastructure, OS, platform, or machine architecture. It is also more readable, because it expresses your intent explicitly, rather than implying it (from the structure of your code).

So the answer (from a grizzled old hack) is definitely ‘Yes’ (TryGetValue is preferable to a combination of ContainsKey and Item [Get] to retrieve a value from a Dictionary).

If you think this sounds odd, think of it like this: Even if current implementations of TryGetValue, ContainsKey, and Item [Get] do not yield any speed difference, you can assume it is likely that a future implementation (e.g. .NET v5) will do (TryGetValue will be faster). Think about the lifetime of your software.

As an aside, it is interesting to note that typical modern interface definition technologies still rarely provide any means of formally defining timing constraints. Maybe .NET v5?

Respondent: debater

Solution #7:

On my machine, with loads of RAM, when run in RELEASE mode (not DEBUG), ContainsKey equals TryGetValue/try-catch if all entries in the Dictionary<> are found.

ContainsKey outperforms them all by far when there are just a few dictionary entries not found (in my example below, set MAXVAL to anything larger than ENTRIES to have some entries missed):

Results:

Finished evaluation .... Time distribution:
Size: 000010: TryGetValue: 53,24%, ContainsKey: 1,74%, try-catch: 45,01% - Total: 2.006,00
Size: 000020: TryGetValue: 37,66%, ContainsKey: 0,53%, try-catch: 61,81% - Total: 2.443,00
Size: 000040: TryGetValue: 22,02%, ContainsKey: 0,73%, try-catch: 77,25% - Total: 7.147,00
Size: 000080: TryGetValue: 31,46%, ContainsKey: 0,42%, try-catch: 68,12% - Total: 17.793,00
Size: 000160: TryGetValue: 33,66%, ContainsKey: 0,37%, try-catch: 65,97% - Total: 36.840,00
Size: 000320: TryGetValue: 34,53%, ContainsKey: 0,39%, try-catch: 65,09% - Total: 71.059,00
Size: 000640: TryGetValue: 32,91%, ContainsKey: 0,32%, try-catch: 66,77% - Total: 141.789,00
Size: 001280: TryGetValue: 39,02%, ContainsKey: 0,35%, try-catch: 60,64% - Total: 244.657,00
Size: 002560: TryGetValue: 35,48%, ContainsKey: 0,19%, try-catch: 64,33% - Total: 420.121,00
Size: 005120: TryGetValue: 43,41%, ContainsKey: 0,24%, try-catch: 56,34% - Total: 625.969,00
Size: 010240: TryGetValue: 29,64%, ContainsKey: 0,61%, try-catch: 69,75% - Total: 1.197.242,00
Size: 020480: TryGetValue: 35,14%, ContainsKey: 0,53%, try-catch: 64,33% - Total: 2.405.821,00
Size: 040960: TryGetValue: 37,28%, ContainsKey: 0,24%, try-catch: 62,48% - Total: 4.200.839,00
Size: 081920: TryGetValue: 29,68%, ContainsKey: 0,54%, try-catch: 69,77% - Total: 8.980.230,00

Here’s my code:

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

    namespace ConsoleApplication1
    {
        class Program
        {
            static void Main(string[] args)
            {
                const int ENTRIES = 10000, MAXVAL = 15000, TRIALS = 100000, MULTIPLIER = 2;
                Dictionary<int, int> values = new Dictionary<int, int>();
                Random r = new Random();
                int[] lookups = new int[TRIALS];
                int val;
                List<Tuple<long, long, long>> durations = new List<Tuple<long, long, long>>(8);

                for (int i = 0;i < ENTRIES;++i) try
                    {
                        values.Add(r.Next(MAXVAL), r.Next());
                    }
                    catch { --i; }

                for (int i = 0;i < TRIALS;++i) lookups[i] = r.Next(MAXVAL);

                Stopwatch sw = new Stopwatch();
                ConsoleColor bu = Console.ForegroundColor;

                for (int size = 10;size <= TRIALS;size *= MULTIPLIER)
                {
                    long a, b, c;

                    Console.ForegroundColor = ConsoleColor.Yellow;
                    Console.WriteLine("Loop size: {0}", size);
                    Console.ForegroundColor = bu;

                    // ---------------------------------------------------------------------
                    sw.Start();
                    for (int i = 0;i < size;++i) values.TryGetValue(lookups[i], out val);
                    sw.Stop();
                    Console.WriteLine("TryGetValue: {0}", a = sw.ElapsedTicks);

                    // ---------------------------------------------------------------------
                    sw.Restart();
                    for (int i = 0;i < size;++i) val = values.ContainsKey(lookups[i]) ? values[lookups[i]] : default(int);
                    sw.Stop();
                    Console.WriteLine("ContainsKey: {0}", b = sw.ElapsedTicks);

                    // ---------------------------------------------------------------------
                    sw.Restart();
                    for (int i = 0;i < size;++i)
                        try { val = values[lookups[i]]; }
                        catch { }
                    sw.Stop();
                    Console.WriteLine("try-catch: {0}", c = sw.ElapsedTicks);

                    // ---------------------------------------------------------------------
                    Console.WriteLine();

                    durations.Add(new Tuple<long, long, long>(a, b, c));
                }

                Console.ForegroundColor = ConsoleColor.Yellow;
                Console.WriteLine("Finished evaluation .... Time distribution:");
                Console.ForegroundColor = bu;

                val = 10;
                foreach (Tuple<long, long, long> d in durations)
                {
                    long sum = d.Item1 + d.Item2 + d.Item3;

                    Console.WriteLine("Size: {0:D6}:", val);
                    Console.WriteLine("TryGetValue: {0:P2}, ContainsKey: {1:P2}, try-catch: {2:P2} - Total: {3:N}", (decimal)d.Item1 / sum, (decimal)d.Item2 / sum, (decimal)d.Item3 / sum, sum);
                    val *= MULTIPLIER;
                }

                Console.WriteLine();
            }
        }
    }
Respondent: AxD

Solution #8:

Making a quick test program, there is definately an improvement using TryGetValue with 1 million items in a dictionary.

Results:

ContainsKey + Item for 1000000 hits: 45ms

TryGetValue for 1000000 hits: 26ms

Here is the test app:

static void Main(string[] args)
{
    const int size = 1000000;

    var dict = new Dictionary<int, string>();

    for (int i = 0; i < size; i++)
    {
        dict.Add(i, i.ToString());
    }

    var sw = new Stopwatch();
    string result;

    sw.Start();

    for (int i = 0; i < size; i++)
    {
        if (dict.ContainsKey(i))
            result = dict[i];
    }

    sw.Stop();
    Console.WriteLine("ContainsKey + Item for {0} hits: {1}ms", size, sw.ElapsedMilliseconds);

    sw.Reset();
    sw.Start();

    for (int i = 0; i < size; i++)
    {
        dict.TryGetValue(i, out result);
    }

    sw.Stop();
    Console.WriteLine("TryGetValue for {0} hits: {1}ms", size, sw.ElapsedMilliseconds);

}
Respondent: davisoa

Solution #9:

Apart from designing a microbenchmark that will give accurate results in a practical setting, you can inspect the reference source of .NET Framework.

All of them call the FindEntry(TKey) method that does most of the work and does not memoize its result, so calling TryGetValue is almost twice as fast as ContainsKey + Item.


The inconvenient interface of TryGetValue can be adapted using an extension method:

using System.Collections.Generic;

namespace Project.Common.Extensions
{
    public static class DictionaryExtensions
    {
        public static TValue GetValueOrDefault<TKey, TValue>(
            this IDictionary<TKey, TValue> dictionary,
            TKey key,
            TValue defaultValue = default(TValue))
        {
            if (dictionary.TryGetValue(key, out TValue value))
            {
                return value;
            }
            return defaultValue;
        }
    }
}

Since C# 7.1, you can replace default(TValue) with plain default. The type is inferred.

Usage:

var dict = new Dictionary<string, string>();
string val = dict.GetValueOrDefault("theKey", "value used if theKey is not found in dict");

It returns null for reference types whose lookup fails, unless an explicit default value is specified.

var dictObj = new Dictionary<string, object>();
object valObj = dictObj.GetValueOrDefault("nonexistent");
Debug.Assert(valObj == null);

val dictInt = new Dictionary<string, int>();
int valInt = dictInt.GetValueOrDefault("nonexistent");
Debug.Assert(valInt == 0);
Respondent: Palec

Solution #10:

If you’re trying to get out the value from the dictionary, the TryGetValue(key, out value) is the best option, but if you’re checking for the presence of the key, for a new insertion, without overwriting old keys, and only with that scope, ContainsKey(key) is the best option, benchmark can confirm this:

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

namespace benchmark
{
class Program
{
    public static Random m_Rand = new Random();
    public static Dictionary<int, int> testdict = new Dictionary<int, int>();
    public static Hashtable testhash = new Hashtable();

    public static void Main(string[] args)
    {
        Console.WriteLine("Adding elements into hashtable...");
        Stopwatch watch = Stopwatch.StartNew();
        for(int i=0; i<1000000; i++)
            testhash[i]=m_Rand.Next();
        watch.Stop();
        Console.WriteLine("Done in {0:F4} -- pause....", watch.Elapsed.TotalSeconds);
        Thread.Sleep(4000);
        Console.WriteLine("Adding elements into dictionary...");
        watch = Stopwatch.StartNew();
        for(int i=0; i<1000000; i++)
            testdict[i]=m_Rand.Next();
        watch.Stop();
        Console.WriteLine("Done in {0:F4} -- pause....", watch.Elapsed.TotalSeconds);
        Thread.Sleep(4000);

        Console.WriteLine("Finding the first free number for insertion");
        Console.WriteLine("First method: ContainsKey");
        watch = Stopwatch.StartNew();
        int intero=0;
        while (testdict.ContainsKey(intero))
        {
            intero++;
        }
        testdict.Add(intero, m_Rand.Next());
        watch.Stop();
        Console.WriteLine("Done in {0:F4} -- added value {1} in dictionary -- pause....", watch.Elapsed.TotalSeconds, intero);
        Thread.Sleep(4000);
        Console.WriteLine("Second method: TryGetValue");
        watch = Stopwatch.StartNew();
        intero=0;
        int result=0;
        while(testdict.TryGetValue(intero, out result))
        {
            intero++;
        }
        testdict.Add(intero, m_Rand.Next());
        watch.Stop();
        Console.WriteLine("Done in {0:F4} -- added value {1} in dictionary -- pause....", watch.Elapsed.TotalSeconds, intero);
        Thread.Sleep(4000);
        Console.WriteLine("Test hashtable");
        watch = Stopwatch.StartNew();
        intero=0;
        while(testhash.Contains(intero))
        {
            intero++;
        }
        testhash.Add(intero, m_Rand.Next());
        watch.Stop();
        Console.WriteLine("Done in {0:F4} -- added value {1} into hashtable -- pause....", watch.Elapsed.TotalSeconds, intero);
        Console.Write("Press any key to continue . . . ");
        Console.ReadKey(true);
    }
}
}

This is a true Example, I have a service that for each “Item” created, it associates a progressive number, this number, each time you create a new item, must be found free, if you delete an Item, the free number becomes free, of course this is not optimized, since I have a static var that caches the current number, but in case you end all the numbers, you can re-begin from 0 to UInt32.MaxValue

Test executed:
Adding elements into hashtable…
Done in 0,5908 — pause….
Adding elements into dictionary…
Done in 0,2679 — pause….
Finding the first free number for insertion
First method: ContainsKey
Done in 0,0561 — added value 1000000 in dictionary — pause….
Second method: TryGetValue
Done in 0,0643 — added value 1000001 in dictionary — pause….
Test hashtable
Done in 0,3015 — added value 1000000 into hashtable — pause….
Press any key to continue . .

If some of you may be asking if the ContainsKeys could have an advantage, I’ve even tried inverting the TryGetValue with Contains key, the result is the same.

So, for me, with a final consideration, it all depends on the way the program behaves.

Respondent: Fwiffo

The answers/resolutions are collected from stackoverflow, are licensed under cc by-sa 2.5 , cc by-sa 3.0 and cc by-sa 4.0 .

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