VB.NET

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Lookup

Dictionary. This collection allows fast key lookups. A generic type, it can use any types for its keys and values. Its syntax is at first confusing.


Dictionary

Many functions. Compared to alternatives,
a Dictionary is easy to use
and effective. It has many functions (like ContainsKey and TryGetValue) that do lookups.


Key: used to access value

Add example. This subroutine requires two arguments. The first is the key of the element to add. And the second is the value that key should have.

Note:Internally, Add computes the key's hash code value, and then stores the data in the hash bucket.

And:Because of this step, adding to Dictionary collections is slower than adding to other collections like List.

Based on:

.NET 4.5

VB.NET program that uses Dictionary Of String

Module Module1
    Sub Main()
	' Create a Dictionary.
	Dim dictionary As New Dictionary(Of String, Integer)
	' Add four entries.
	dictionary.Add("Dot", 20)
	dictionary.Add("Net", 1)
	dictionary.Add("Perls", 10)
	dictionary.Add("Visual", -1)
    End Sub
End Module
Error

Add, error. If you add keys to the Dictionary and one is already present, you will get an exception. We often must check with ContainsKey that the key is not present.

Alternatively:You can catch possible exceptions with Try and Catch. This often causes a performance loss.

VB.NET program that uses Add, causes error

Module Module1
    Sub Main()
	Dim lookup As Dictionary(Of String, Integer) =
	    New Dictionary(Of String, Integer)
	lookup.Add("cat", 10)
	' This causes an error.
	lookup.Add("cat", 100)
    End Sub
End Module

Output

Unhandled Exception: System.ArgumentException:
    An item with the same key has already been added.
    at System.ThrowHelper.ThrowArgumentException...
Question

ContainsKey. This function returns a Boolean value, which means you can use it in an If conditional statement. One common use of ContainsKey is to prevent exceptions before calling Add.

Also:Another use is simply to see if the key exists in the hash table, before you take further action.

Tip:You can store the result of ContainsKey in a Dim Boolean, and test that variable with the = and <> binary operators.

VB.NET program that uses ContainsKey

Module Module1
    Sub Main()
	' Declare new Dictionary with String keys.
	Dim dictionary As New Dictionary(Of String, Integer)

	' Add two keys.
	dictionary.Add("carrot", 7)
	dictionary.Add("perl", 15)

	' See if this key exists.
	If dictionary.ContainsKey("carrot") Then
	    ' Write value of the key.
	    Dim num As Integer = dictionary.Item("carrot")
	    Console.WriteLine(num)
	End If

	' See if this key also exists (it doesn't).
	If dictionary.ContainsKey("python") Then
	    Console.WriteLine(False)
	End If
    End Sub
End Module

Output

7
Try

TryGetValue. Frequently we test a value through a key in a Dictionary collection. Then we act upon that value. The TryGetValue Function combines the two steps. It enables optimizations.

ContainsKey:In the slow version of the code, ContainsKey is called and the Dictionary value is incremented.

TryGetValue:The fast version follows: it only requires two lookups because the initial lookup returns the value and we reuse that.

VB.NET program that uses TryGetValue function

Module Module1
    Sub Main()
	' Create a new Dictionary instance.
	Dim dict As Dictionary(Of String, Integer) =
	    New Dictionary(Of String, Integer)
	dict.Add("key", 0)

	' Slow version: use ContainsKey and then increment at a key.
	If (dict.ContainsKey("key")) Then
	    dict("key") += 1
	End If

	' Fast version: use TryGetValue and only do two lookups.
	Dim value As Integer
	If (dict.TryGetValue("key", value)) Then
	    dict("key") = value + 1
	End If

	' Write output.
	Console.WriteLine(dict("key"))
    End Sub
End Module

Output

2
Programming tip

Item. The Item member is a Property accessor. It sets or gets an element in the Dictionary. It is equivalent to Add when you assign it.

And:You can assign it to a nonexistent key, but you cannot access a nonexistent key without an exception.


Arrow indicates looping

Loop. You can loop over the entries in your Dictionary. It is usually easiest to use the For Each iterative statement to loop over the KeyValuePair structures.

Note:We access the Key and Value properties on each pair. They have the types of the Dictionary keys and values so no casting is required.

VB.NET program that loops over entries

Module Module1
    Sub Main()
	' Put four keys into a Dictionary Of String.
	Dim dictionary As New Dictionary(Of String, Integer)
	dictionary.Add("please", 32)
	dictionary.Add("help", 16)
	dictionary.Add("program", 256)
	dictionary.Add("computers", -1)

	' Loop over entries.
	Dim pair As KeyValuePair(Of String, Integer)
	For Each pair In dictionary
	    ' Display Key and Value.
	    Console.WriteLine("{0}, {1}", pair.Key, pair.Value)
	Next
    End Sub
End Module

Output

please, 32
help, 16
program, 256
computers, -1
KeyValuePair: Key and Value properties

KeyValuePair. This type is implemented as a Structure. It is used as a value. Its contents are contained in the variable storage location itself. This can sometimes improve performance.

KeyValuePair
List

Keys. You can get a List of the Dictionary keys. Dictionary has a get accessor property with the identifier Keys. You can pass the Keys to a List constructor to obtain a List of the keys.

Tip:The keys have the same type as that from the source Dictionary. We can loop over the resulting collection.

VB.NET program that gets List of keys

Module Module1
    Sub Main()
	' Put four keys and values in the Dictionary.
	Dim dictionary As New Dictionary(Of String, Integer)
	dictionary.Add("please", 12)
	dictionary.Add("help", 11)
	dictionary.Add("poor", 10)
	dictionary.Add("people", -11)

	' Put keys into List Of String.
	Dim list As New List(Of String)(dictionary.Keys)

	' Loop over each string.
	Dim str As String
	For Each str In list
	    ' Print string and also Item(string), which is the value.
	    Console.WriteLine("{0}, {1}", str, dictionary.Item(str))
	Next
    End Sub
End Module

Output

please, 12
help, 11
poor, 10
people, -11
String-type

Types. Dictionary can use types for its keys and values. But you must specify these types when the Dictionary is declared. This example uses Integer keys and String values.

Note:The compiler disallows incompatible types being used as the keys or values. This can result in much higher quality code.

VB.NET that uses Integer keys

Module Module1
    Sub Main()
	' Put two Integer keys into Dictionary Of Integer.
	Dim dictionary As New Dictionary(Of Integer, String)
	dictionary.Add(100, "Bill")
	dictionary.Add(200, "Steve")

	' See if this key exists.
	If dictionary.ContainsKey(200) Then
	    ' Print value at this key.
	    Console.WriteLine(True)
	End If
    End Sub
End Module

Output

True
Question

ContainsValue. This returns a Boolean that tells whether any value in the Dictionary is equal to the argument. It is implemented as a For-loop over the entries in the Dictionary.

Tip:ContainsValue has no performance advantage over a List that uses linear searching. Accessing keys in your Dictionary is much faster.

VB.NET that uses ContainsValue

Module Module1
    Sub Main()
	' Create new Dictionary with Integer values.
	Dim dictionary As New Dictionary(Of String, Integer)
	dictionary.Add("pelican", 11)
	dictionary.Add("robin", 21)

	' See if Dictionary contains the value 21 (it does).
	If dictionary.ContainsValue(21) Then
	    ' Prints true.
	    Console.WriteLine(True)
	End If
    End Sub
End Module

Output

True
The VB.NET programming language

Remove. Here we use Remove. You must pass one parameter to this method, indicating which key you want to have removed from the Dictionary instance.

VB.NET that removes keys

Module Module1
    Sub Main()
	' Create Dictionary and add two keys.
	Dim dictionary As New Dictionary(Of String, Integer)
	dictionary.Add("fish", 32)
	dictionary.Add("microsoft", 23)

	' Remove two keys.
	dictionary.Remove("fish")  ' Will remove this key.
	dictionary.Remove("apple") ' Doesn't change anything.
    End Sub
End Module
Class

Field. We use a Dictionary in a class. We store it as Private member variable, and then access it through Public methods on the enclosing class.

Often:A Dictionary field is more useful than a local dictionary variable. This is an effective way to store data and reuse it.

VB.NET that uses class, Dictionary

Module Module1
    ''' <summary>
    ''' Stores class-level Dictionary instance.
    ''' </summary>
    Class Example

	Private _dictionary

	Public Sub New()
	    ' Allocate and populate the field Dictionary.
	    Me._dictionary = New Dictionary(Of String, Integer)
	    Me._dictionary.Add("make", 55)
	    Me._dictionary.Add("model", 44)
	    Me._dictionary.Add("color", 12)
	End Sub

	Public Function GetValue() As Integer
	    ' Return value from private Dictionary.
	    Return Me._dictionary.Item("make")
	End Function

    End Class

    Sub Main()
	' Allocate an instance of the class.
	Dim example As New Example

	' Write a value from the class.
	Console.WriteLine(example.GetValue())
    End Sub
End Module

Output

55
Concept

Reference. Dictionary is a reference type. It contains a reference or pointer to the actual data contained in the Dictionary. The actual data is stored in the managed heap.

And:The variable and the storage location is stored in the method's stack. So returning, or passing, a Dictionary is fast.


Performance

Performance. Dictionary is an optimization for key lookups. It can make a slow program many times faster. But in certain cases a Dictionary reduces performance.

Info:This occurs on small collections. It happens when few lookups are required—a List would be better for storage.


Property

Count. You can count the number of entries with the Count accessor property. Internally, the Count property subtracts two integers. This means it is fast.

Note:You do not need to specify the parentheses after the Count property access.

Property
VB.NET that uses Count

Module Module1
    Sub Main()
	Dim dictionary As New Dictionary(Of String, Integer)
	dictionary.Add("a", 5)
	dictionary.Add("b", 8)
	dictionary.Add("c", 13)
	dictionary.Add("d", 14)

	' Get count.
	Console.WriteLine(dictionary.Count)
    End Sub
End Module

Output

4
Copy: new object copied

Copy. It is possible to copy the entire contents of the Dictionary. You can do this by declaring a new Dictionary reference and using the copy constructor.

Tip:In the Dictionary constructor, pass the Dictionary you want to copy as the parameter.


Sort

Sort. It is possible to logically sort the keys in a Dictionary. You cannot mutate the Dictionary's internal storage to reorder the elements. But you can sort its keys.

Sort Dictionary

Keys:With the result of keys, we can convert to a List and then call Sort on the List class.


LINQ: Language Integrated Query

ToDictionary. We can quickly construct a new Dictionary from a collection (array, List) with the ToDictionary extension method. ToDictionary returns a Dictionary.

Functions:We provide two functions. These indicate how the key and value are created from the collection's elements.

Here:ToDictionary has two lambda arguments. They both receive one argument: the String from the source array.

And:They return a String (for the first, key selector function) and an Integer (for the value selector function).

VB.NET that uses ToDictionary method

Module Module1
    Sub Main()
	' Create an array of four string literal elements.
	Dim array() As String = {"dog", "cat", "rat", "mouse"}

	' Use ToDictionary.
	' ... Use each string as the key.
	' ... Use each string length as the value.
	Dim dict As Dictionary(Of String, Integer) =
	    array.ToDictionary(Function(value As String)
				   Return value
			       End Function,
				   Function(value As String)
				       Return value.Length
				   End Function)
	' Display dictionary.
	For Each pair In dict
	    Console.WriteLine(pair)
	Next
    End Sub
End Module

Output

[dog, 3]
[cat, 3]
[rat, 3]
[mouse, 5]

A summary. The Dictionary collection is powerful. It is designed for super-fast lookups. It improves the performance of applications. It makes programs simpler by checking for duplicates.