Ruby Hash Examples

This Ruby tutorial uses the Hash class to store keys and values. Hash enables fast lookups.

Hash. A hash is an optimized collection. It stores keys and values.

We use keys to access the values—this is called a hash lookup. In Ruby, we use the Hash class.



Operations. We add, remove, enumerate and benchmark hashes. These lookup tables are powerful. They can be combined with Arrays to solve complex problems.



New example. A hash is created by calling In this example, we pass no argument to new. This means the hash has no special default value when a key is not found.


First: We add three string keys that have integer values. Theses are key-value pairs.

Brackets: We use the square brackets, "[" and "]" to specify the key we are using. The value we add is specified by assignment.

Based on:

Ruby 2

Ruby program that creates a hash

# Create a new hash.
items =

# Store these key-value pairs in it.
items["milk"] = 5
items["eggs"] = 10
items["bread"] = 15

# Display the values.
puts items["milk"]
puts items["eggs"]
puts items["bread"]



Default value. A hash can have a custom default value. This is returned when a nonexistent key is accessed. Here we try to access a key that does not exist. The hash returns -1.

Also: We use values of type integer (32) and of type string ("medium") in the hash. A hash is flexible and can contain different types.

Ruby program that uses default value

# Use the default value of -1.
sizes =

# Add keys and values.
sizes["jeans"] = 32
sizes["shirt"] = "medium"

# Access existing data.
puts sizes["jeans"]
puts sizes["shirt"]

# This doesn't exist.
puts sizes["jacket"]



Count, delete. In this example, we use the count() method—this returns the number of keys in the collection. We then use the delete() method to remove a key and its value.

Note: Before the delete() method is called, there are four elements. After it is invoked, there are only three.

Ruby program that uses count, delete

# Add data to the new hash.
elements =
elements[100] = "a"
elements[200] = "b"
elements[300] = "c"
elements[400] = "d"

# Display count.
print "Count: ", elements.count(), "\n"

# Delete a key and its value.

# Display new count.
print "Count: ", elements.count(), "\n"


Count: 4
Count: 3

Delete_if. This method receives a block argument. In the block, the keys and values are evaluated in pairs. We must return true or false based on the key and value.

Here: We delete keys of length greater than 3. The key "rabbit" is deleted, but the other two ("cat" and "dog") remain.

Note: We can also delete based on the value. Just test the second parameter in the block.

Ruby program that uses delete_if

# A hash with three pairs.
values = {"cat" => 1, "dog" => 2, "rabbit" => 4}

# Delete keys longer than 3 chars.
values.delete_if{|key, value| key.length > 3}
puts values


{"cat"=>1, "dog"=>2}

Loop, keys. A for-loop can be used over the keys in a Hash. We call the keys() method on the hash variable in the for-loop statement. We must then access the value with a lookup.

Ruby program that uses keys, for-loop

# Add names.
names =
names["charlotte"] = "stant"
names["maggie"] = "verver"
names["adam"] = "verver"

# Use for-loop on keys.
for key in names.keys()
    print key, "/", names[key], "\n"



Each. With this iterator, we loop over each pair in a hash. We must declare two variables. We use the names key and value for them. This is the current key and value in the hash.

Do: The each iterator requires the "do" keyword if you do not place the entire statement on one line.

Each_pair: The each_pair method is aliased to each. There is no advantage in using it. In my experience, each is more standard.

Ruby program that uses each, hash

numbers = {10 => 100, 20 => 200, 30 => 300}

# Use each to enumerate the pairs in the hash.
numbers.each do |key, value|
    # Display the key and value.
    print "  KEY: ", key, "\n"
    print "VALUE: ", value, "\n"


  KEY: 10
VALUE: 100
  KEY: 20
VALUE: 200
  KEY: 30
VALUE: 300

One-line syntax. We do not need multiple lines to use each over a hash. Here we use the each method on a hash with a block contained by curly brackets. We print the keys and values.

Ruby that uses each, one-line

numbers = {100 => "A", 200 => "B", 300 => "C"}

# Use each with one-line syntax.
numbers.each {|k, v| print k, " ", v, "\n"}


100 A
200 B
300 C

Empty. With count() we can see if a hash is empty by checking it for zero elements. But the "empty?" method is another syntax for this check. If it returns true, the hash has no elements.

Tip: In some program logic, testing to see if a hash is empty may help performance. We can avoid testing for specific keys.

Ruby that uses empty method

# New hash.
items =

# Check emptiness.
if items.empty?
    puts "Empty"

# Add something.
items["sam"] = 1

# It is no longer empty.
if !items.empty?
    puts "Not empty"


Not empty

Merge. It is sometimes necessary to combine (union, or merge) two hashes into one. This puts all distinct keys from both hashes into a single hash. Duplicates are removed.

Duplicates: The resulting merged hash has only one value for "b"—this is 2. But in the hashes, the key "b" has two values, 2 and 3.

So: The duplicate value was lost in the merged hash. This could be a problem if there are two valid values.

Ruby that merges hashes

# Two input hashes.
one = Hash["a" => 1, "b" => 2]
two = Hash["b" => 3, "c" => 0, "d" => 3]

# Merge them into a third.
both = two.merge(one)

# Display result.
puts both


{"b"=>2, "c"=>0, "d"=>3, "a"=>1}

Invert. In a hash, each key points to one value. We can quickly access keys, but not values. To efficiently access values, we can use the invert() method to create an inverted hash.

Then: We can use a fast lookup on a value to get its original key. And this optimizes certain program requirements.

Ruby that inverts a hash

# Create a hash and invert it.
one = Hash["a" => 1, "b" => 2]
two = one.invert()

# Display both hashes.
puts one
puts two


{"a"=>1, "b"=>2}
{1=>"a", 2=>"b"}

Keys. How can we test a key for existence? In Ruby, the "key?" and "has_key?" methods are effective. These methods, which have the same functionality, return true or false.

Note: These methods are fast—they just perform a lookup. Two methods in Ruby, member and include, are equivalent.

Ruby that checks keys for existence

# A hash of utensils
silverware = Hash["spoon" => 10, "fork" => 20]

# See if key exists.
if silverware.key?("fork")
    puts "Found: fork"

# Check that key does not exist.
if !silverware.has_key?("knife")
    puts "Not found: knife"


Found: fork
Not found: knife

Flatten. Sometimes we want to place a hash's pairs into an array. Flatten() has this effect. It places keys and values into a single array. The ordering of key, then value, is retained.

Tip: Flatten has the same effect as calling keys() and values() and then combining the two into a third array.

However: It is better to use flatten() when this combined data structure is required—it is simpler.

Ruby that calls flatten

# Create and flatten a hash.
numbers = Hash[1 => 10, 2 => 20, 3 => 30]
flat = numbers.flatten()

# Display flattened array.
puts flat



Eql method. Next, the "eql?" method compares two hashes for exact content equality. It checks all keys and all values. If any difference is found, "eql?" returns false.

Here: Three hashes are created. The first hash, fruit1, is equal to the third hash, fruit3. But the second hash is not equal.

Ruby that uses eql

# Create three hashes.
fruit1 = Hash["apple" => 1, "pear" => 2]
fruit2 = Hash["guava" => 3, "apricot" => 4]
fruit3 = Hash["pear" => 2, "apple" => 1]

# See if first hash equals second hash.
if !fruit1.eql?(fruit2)
    puts "1 not equal to 2"

# First hash equals third hash.
# ... Ordering does not matter.
if fruit1.eql?(fruit3)
    puts "1 equals 3"


1 not equal to 2
1 equals 3

Inspect. A hash is converted to a string with inspect(). This is helpful when we want to store string representations in a file or in memory.

Note: With inspect(), we can make further changes to the hash but keep the same string.

Characters: The string representation returned by inspect() uses the => characters to separate keys and values.

Ruby that uses inspect

# An input hash.
values = ["a" => 10, "b" => 20];

# Convert to string.
s = values.inspect

# Display the string.
puts s

# String length.
puts s.length


[{"a"=>10, "b"=>20}]

Nested. A hash can contain other hashes. We can then access items by chaining lookups. This allows us to create a tree-like data structure. For small nested lookups, this is effective.

Here: We create a hash with two nested hashes in it. Then we perform lookups on the hash located at "cat" and the one at "dog."

Ruby that uses nested hash

lookup = Hash[]

# Create and add a subhash.
subhash = Hash[]
subhash["paws"] = 4
subhash["fur"] = "orange"

lookup["cat"] = subhash

# Create another subhash.
subhash = Hash[]
subhash["tail"] = 1
subhash["ears"] = 2

lookup["dog"] = subhash

# Display nested hashes.
puts lookup["cat"]
puts lookup["dog"]

# Get values from nested hashes.
puts lookup["cat"]["paws"]
puts lookup["dog"]["ears"]


{"paws"=>4, "fur"=>"orange"}
{"tail"=>1, "ears"=>2}

Performance. One goal of Hash is to improve performance. When a lookup is done, a hash code is computed. This estimates the element's location in memory and speeds searching.

Here: We test lookups in a hash. Then we search for those same elements in a similar Array.

In the results: We find Hash improves performance. Even on a small collection of five elements, it locates about 50% faster than an array.

Caution: Performance of high-level languages (like Ruby) is hard to measure. Benchmarks quickly become outdated as implementations change.

Ruby that times hash, array

h = Hash["one" => 0, "two" => 1, "three" => 2,
	 "four" => 3, "five" => 4]
a = Array["one", "two", "three", "four", "five"]
count = 100000

n1 =

count.times do
    # Two hash lookups.
    v = h["four"]
    v = h["two"]

n2 =

count.times do
    # Two array find operations.
    v = a.index("four")
    v = a.index("two")

n3 =

# Compute milliseconds total.
puts ((n2 - n1) / 1000)
puts ((n3 - n2) / 1000)


55 ms   Hash lookup
86 ms   Array index

Sort. A hash can be sorted. When we call sort on it, Ruby converts it into a sortable array of key-value pairs. By default, the keys are sorted, in ascending order (from lowest to highest).

Ruby that sorts on keys

plants = {"carrot" => 5, "turnip" => 10, "apple" => 8}

# Sort the hash by its keys.
plants.sort.each do |key, value|
    # Display the entry.
    puts key + ": " + String(value)


apple: 8
carrot: 5
turnip: 10

Sort on values. We can also use the sort method to create an array sorted by a hash's values. We specify a block with sort. In it, we compare the second element in each pair (at index 1).

Note: There is no in-place sorting method on a hash. Calling "sort!" causes an error. We must always copy into a new variable.

Ruby that sorts on values

plants = {"carrot" => 5, "turnip" => 10, "apple" => 8}

# Sort the hash by its values.
# ... Iterate over the resulting array.
result = plants.sort{|x, y| x[1] <=> y[1]}
result.each do |key, value|
    puts String(value) + "..." + key



In code, we often have a choice of data structures. If lookups predominate, a hash is fastest. If elements must be unique, a hash is also easiest. It instantly detects duplicates.


This class. The Hash class is a key part of Ruby. It is part of the core library, which makes it simple to use. It can have keys and values of many types.