Massimo Caliman
by Massimo Caliman
3 min read


  • Programming

In older releases of the Java language, the dictionary data type was realised from the Dictionary<K,V> class of the java.util package.

The Dictionary class is the abstract parent of Hashtable, which associates keys with values.

Each key and each value is an object.

In each Dictionary object, each key is associated with at most one value.

Given a dictionary and a key, the associated element can be retrieved. Any non null object can be used as either a key or a value.

By default, the equals method must be implemented by this class to decide whether two keys are equal.

Although not yet deprecated Dictionary can be considered obsolete now, since Map is the standard interface for this kind of data collection. Dictionary remains since the concrete class HashTable is derived directly from it.

A lot of code still uses HashTable, hence its survival, necessary for backward compatibility.

However, Dictionary has been “freshened up” by Sun now Oracle by redesigning it with generics, and by reviewing the javadoc, we can get a pretty good idea of the signatures of its main methods.

abstract Enumeration<V> elements() 

returns an Enumeration of the values in the dictionary.

abstract V get(Object key) 

returns the value to which the key is mapped in the dictionary

abstract boolean isEmpty() 

returns true if the dictionary is empty, false otherwise.

abstract Enumeration<K> keys() 

returns an Enumeration of the keys in the dictionary.

abstract V put(K key, V value) 

maps the key key to value in the dictionary, i.e. inserts the pair key,value into the dictionary

abstract V remove(Object key) 

removes the key and the corresponding value from the dictionary

abstract int size() 

returns the number of distinct elements contained in the dictionary (i.e. the number of keys).

These are the classic methods of a generic data structure of the dictionary type, let’s delve into the theoretical aspect by brushing up on some notions:

A dictionary is a collection of elements to which keys taken from a totally ordered universe are associated. The notion of a datatype is used to describe the operations of interest on a collection, in other words it specifies what an operation must do, not how the operation can be carried out, this corresponds to the concept of interface in the Java language.

A pseudolanguage specification might be, for example, as follows

type: Dictionary


A set S of pairs (element,key). operations:

  1. insert(element e,key k) : add a new pair (e,k) to S.
  2. delete(key k): deletes the pair with key k from S.
  3. search(key k) -> element : if key k is present in S returns the element and associated with it

more formally, borrowing set notions (because S is a set) we have S={ (e,k) | e&isin;element,k&isin;key }

  1. insert(e,k) realizes S = S&#8746;(e,k)
  2. delete(k) realises S = S&minus;(e,k) if (e,k)&isin;S
  3. search(k) -> e realises if k in S then returns e, null otherwise.

Today in fact the HashTable class is no longer used, collections today are much more structured, clean and organic.

The place of Dictionary has been taken by Map<K,V>, which is an interface as opposed to Dictionary which is instead an abstract class,Map is therefore much more flexible from the point of view of OOP, or at least the OOP adopted by the Java language (it inherits multiple interfaces only from the point of view of interfaces at release 7)

Referring to its javadoc we have the methods

void clear()

empty the map.

boolean containsKey(Object key)

returns true if the map contains elements for the key key.

boolean containsValue(Object value)

returns true if the map contains one or more keys for the specified value

Set<Map.Entry<K,V>> entrySet()

returns a Set of the pairs (key,value) contained in the map.

boolean equals(Object o)

compares the specified object with the one in the map (equality).

V get(Object key)

returns the value associated with the key key if present in the map, null otherwise.

int hashCode()

returns the hash code for the map.

boolean isEmpty()

returns true if the map is empty.

Set<K> keySet()

returns a Set with the map keys (useful for iterating with Iterator).

V put(K key, V value)

associa il valore specificato alla chiave passata.

void putAll(Map<? extends K,? extends V> m)

copies all elements of map m into the map.

V remove(Object key)

removes the key-value pair for the passed key, if present in the map.

int size()

returns the size of the map, i.e. the number of key-value pairs it contains.

Collection<V> values()

returns a Collection with the values contained in the map.

The set of methods is quite generous, if you want to compare it to the typical abstract specification common to every map. The most common type of Map implementation is HashMap.