A Hash is a dictionary-like collection of unique keys and their values. Also called associative arrays, they are similar to Arrays, but where an Array uses integers as its index, a Hash allows you to use any object type.

Hashes enumerate their values in the order that the corresponding keys were inserted.

A Hash can be easily created by using its implicit form:

grades = { "Jane Doe" => 10, "Jim Doe" => 6 }

Hashes allow an alternate syntax for keys that are symbols. Instead of

options = { :font_size => 10, :font_family => "Arial" }

You could write it as:

options = { font_size: 10, font_family: "Arial" }

Each named key is a symbol you can access in hash:

options[:font_size]  # => 10

A Hash can also be created through its ::new method:

grades = Hash.new
grades["Dorothy Doe"] = 9

Hashes have a default value that is returned when accessing keys that do not exist in the hash. If no default is set nil is used. You can set the default value by sending it as an argument to Hash.new:

grades = Hash.new(0)

Or by using the #default= method:

grades = {"Timmy Doe" => 8}
grades.default = 0

Accessing a value in a Hash requires using its key:

puts grades["Jane Doe"] # => 0

Common Uses

Hashes are an easy way to represent data structures, such as

books         = {}
books[:matz]  = "The Ruby Programming Language"
books[:black] = "The Well-Grounded Rubyist"

Hashes are also commonly used as a way to have named parameters in functions. Note that no brackets are used below. If a hash is the last argument on a method call, no braces are needed, thus creating a really clean interface:

Person.create(name: "John Doe", age: 27)

def self.create(params)
  @name = params[:name]
  @age  = params[:age]

Hash Keys

Two objects refer to the same hash key when their hash value is identical and the two objects are eql? to each other.

A user-defined class may be used as a hash key if the hash and eql? methods are overridden to provide meaningful behavior. By default, separate instances refer to separate hash keys.

A typical implementation of hash is based on the object’s data while eql? is usually aliased to the overridden == method:

class Book
  attr_reader :author, :title

  def initialize(author, title)
    @author = author
    @title = title

  def ==(other)
    self.class === other and
      other.author == @author and
      other.title == @title

  alias eql? ==

  def hash
    @author.hash ^ @title.hash # XOR

book1 = Book.new 'matz', 'Ruby in a Nutshell'
book2 = Book.new 'matz', 'Ruby in a Nutshell'

reviews = {}

reviews[book1] = 'Great reference!'
reviews[book2] = 'Nice and compact!'

reviews.length #=> 1

See also Object#hash and Object#eql?

Hash Reference