Section 3 - Open Hashing
While the goal of a hash function is to minimize collisions, some collisions unavoidable in practice. Thus, hashing implementations must include some form of collision resolution policy. Collision resolution techniques can be broken into two classes: open hashing (also called separate chaining) and closed hashing (also called open addressing). (Yes, it is confusing when ``open hashing'' means the opposite of ``open addressing,'' but unfortunately, that is the way it is.) The difference between the two has to do with whether collisions are stored outside the table (open hashing), or whether collisions result in storing one of the records at another slot in the table (closed hashing). Open hashing is treated in this section, and closed hashing in Section 4 and Section 5.
The simplest form of open hashing defines each slot in the hash table to be the head of a linked list. All records that hash to a particular slot are placed on that slot's linked list. The figure illustrates a hash table where each slot stores one record and a link pointer to the rest of the list.
The following applet will let you try out open hashing for yourself. Is there any real limit to how many records can be stored?
Records within a slot's list can be ordered in several ways: by insertion order, by key value order, or by frequency-of-access order. Ordering the list by key value provides an advantage in the case of an unsuccessful search, because we know to stop searching the list once we encounter a key that is greater than the one being searched for. If records on the list are unordered or ordered by frequency, then an unsuccessful search will need to visit every record on the list.
Given a table of size M storing N records, the hash function will (ideally) spread the records evenly among the M positions in the table, yielding on average N/M records for each list. Assuming that the table has more slots than there are records to be stored, we can hope that few slots will contain more than one record. In the case where a list is empty or has only one record, a search requires only one access to the list. Thus, the average cost for hashing should be Θ(1). However, if clustering causes many records to hash to only a few of the slots, then the cost to access a record will be much higher because many elements on the linked list must be searched.
Open hashing is most appropriate when the hash table is kept in main memory, with the lists implemented by a standard in-memory linked list. Storing an open hash table on disk in an efficient way is difficult, because members of a given linked list might be stored on different disk blocks. This would result in multiple disk accesses when searching for a particular key value, which defeats the purpose of using hashing.
There are similarities between open hashing and Binsort. One way to view open hashing is that each record is simply placed in a bin. While multiple records may hash to the same bin, this initial binning should still greatly reduce the number of records accessed by a search operation. In a similar fashion, a simple Binsort reduces the number of records in each bin to a small number that can be sorted in some other way.