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Java HashMap vs TreeMap: A Comprehensive Comparison

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Java’s HashMap and TreeMap are two of the most commonly used Map implementations in the Java Collections Framework. While both store key-value pairs, they have very different internal implementations and performance characteristics.

Understanding when to use a HashMap versus a TreeMap is critical for any Java developer. Choosing the right map implementation can have significant impacts on your application’s performance, scalability, and memory overhead.

Introduction to HashMap and TreeMap

The Java Collections Framework provides several general-purpose Map implementations for storing key-value pairs. The two most common are:

  • HashMap: This class implements the Map interface by using a hash table. It provides constant-time O(1) operations for adding, accessing and removing entries. However, iterations are performed in arbitrary order.
  • TreeMap: This class implements the SortedMap interface by using a Red-Black tree structure. Keys are sorted according to their natural ordering or a custom comparator. Operations such as contains, add, and remove have O(log n) time complexity.

So in summary:

  • HashMap provides blazing fast lookups at the cost of ordering. Best for cache-like use cases.
  • TreeMap maintains sorted key order. Excellent for sorted key traversal and range queries.

Now let’s explore some of the major differences between these important collections in more detail.

Internal Implementation

First, understanding the internal data structures is key to grasping the performance profile of HashMaps and TreeMaps.

HashMap Internal Implementation

The HashMap class is implemented using an array of LinkedList nodes. This allows for constant-time O(1) operations by mapping keys to array indices via a hash function.

Here is a high-level overview:

  • The HashMap maintains an array of “buckets”. Each bucket is the head of a LinkedList of entries (key-value pairs).
  • When a new entry is added, the key is hashed to determine the correct bucket. The entry is appended to the end of the LinkedList for that bucket.
  • To lookup a value by key, the key is hashed again to find the correct bucket. That LinkedList is iterated through to find the matching key and return its value.
  • Collisions occur when different keys hash to the same bucket. As load increases, the number of collisions also increases, resulting in slower lookups.
  • To handle collisions, HashMap will dynamically grow its internal array when the load factor exceeds a threshold. Existing entries must be rehashed and remapped to new bucket locations.

So in summary, HashMap provides lightning fast lookups by leveraging hashing to map keys to buckets stored in an array. Collisions are handled by chaining entries together in a LinkedList.

TreeMap Internal Implementation

In contrast, the TreeMap class implements the Map interface using a Red-Black Tree data structure.

Here is a high-level overview:

  • TreeMap maintains a rooted Red-Black tree of entries (key-value pairs)
  • Each node stores one entry. The tree is ordered by the key’s natural ordering or a custom comparator.
  • On add/put operations, the key is compared with existing keys to maintain the binary search tree ordering invariant.
  • Contains, get, and remove operations leverage the ordered structure to enable O(log n) lookups via binary search.
  • Every operation such as add, remove and containsKey maintains the tree structure by performing tree rotations and re-coloring nodes.

So in summary, TreeMap provides O(log n) operations by storing entries in a self-balancing binary search tree ordered by key. The Red-Black tree structure ensures lookups remain efficient even as entries are added and removed.

Comparing Internal Implementations

To recap, the two maps have very different internal representations:

  • HashMap uses an array of buckets with LinkedList chains to enable O(1) operations via hashing.
  • TreeMap maintains order by storing entries in a self-balancing Red-Black binary search tree.

These represent optimal implementations for the use cases of unordered, fast key-value lookup vs maintain sorted key order with efficient log(n) access.

Ordering of Keys and Values

One of the major differences between HashMap and TreeMap is the ordering guarantees they provide.

HashMap Ordering

HashMap makes absolutely no guarantees about the order of keys, values, or entries:

  • Iteration order is not guaranteed to be consistent across modifications.
  • Adding or removing entries can arbitrarily change the iteration order.
  • Do not rely on HashMap iteration order in your code.

For example:

Map<String, Integer> hashMap = new HashMap<>();

hashMap.put("Alice", 25); 
hashMap.put("Bob", 30);
hashMap.put("Charlie", 20);

// Iteration order is undefined
for (Map.Entry<String, Integer> entry : hashMap.entrySet()) {

The entries will be printed in some arbitrary, undefined order. The order could change completely if entries are added or removed from the HashMap.

TreeMap Ordering

In contrast, TreeMap provides guaranteed ordering of entries:

  • By default, entries are sorted by the natural ordering of the keys
  • You can provide a custom Comparator to define a different sort order
  • Iteration order will always be ascending based on the keys

For example:

Map<String, Integer> treeMap = new TreeMap<>();

treeMap.put("Alice", 25);
treeMap.put("Bob", 30);  
treeMap.put("Charlie", 20);

// Entries iterated in ascending key order
for (Map.Entry<String, Integer> entry : treeMap.entrySet()) {

This will print the entries ordered by the String key. The iteration order will remain consistent regardless of modifications.

Comparing Ordering

In summary:

  • HashMap has undefined ordering and iterations. Do not rely on any consistent key or value order.
  • TreeMap maintains keys in sorted ascending order. Iteration order is predictable.

Allowed Key Types

The requirements on keys also differs between the maps.

HashMap Keys

A HashMap can accept any object as a key as long as it abides by these requirements:

  • The key’s class should override equals() and hashCode() for key comparisons to work correctly.
  • The key should be immutable – its hashCode must not change after insertion.
  • null is allowed as a key, but there can only be one null key with a value.

This allows HashMaps to handle arbitrary key types, such as:

Map<String, Integer> hashMap = new HashMap<>();
Map<User, String> hashMap = new HashMap<>(); 
Map<LocalDate, BigDecimal> hashMap = new HashMap<>();

TreeMap Keys

However, since TreeMap relies on key ordering and comparisons, it has more strict requirements:

  • The keys must implement Comparable or you must provide a Comparator
  • Keys must be unique – no duplicates allowed
  • null keys are prohibited

So custom key classes should implement Comparable:

class User implements Comparable {


public int compareTo(User other) {
return name.compareTo(;

Map treeMap = new TreeMap<>();

And common types like String, Integer, etc are Comparable by default.

Overall, TreeMaps require well-defined key ordering, whereas HashMaps can handle arbitrary key types.

Performance Comparison

Now let’s compare the performance and scalability of HashMaps and TreeMaps. This is a key consideration when choosing which implementation to use.

HashMap Performance

The performance of a HashMap stems from its use of hashing to map keys to bucket array indices.

  • Inserts, updates, lookups: O(1) on average. Hashing provides constant-time operations.
  • Search: O(1) on average. Hashing enables fast key searches.
  • Iteration: Depends on capacity and collisions. More collisions leads to slower iteration.

However, there are some caveats:

  • Load factor – As load increases, collisions increase and performance decreases. Rehashing is required to handle higher loads.
  • Hash function – A poor hash leads to collisions and slows down operations.
  • Collisions – More collisions leads to LinkedLists growing longer, which impacts iteration speeds.

So in general, HashMap provides extremely fast constant-time O(1) performance for basic operations. But performance depends heavily on avoiding collisions and rehashing when required.

TreeMap Performance

TreeMap provides O(log n) times for most operations by leveraging the underlying Red-Black tree structure:

  • Inserts, updates, lookups: O(log n) for typical operations
  • Search: O(log n) via binary tree search
  • Iteration: O(n) linear traversal of tree

However, the balancing operations do add some overhead:

  • Tree rotations and recoloring – On inserts/removals, tree structure must be maintained.
  • Rebuilding – If the tree becomes imbalanced, rebuilding will be required.

So in general, TreeMap provides very efficient O(log n) operations by utilizing a self-balancing binary search tree. But maintenance of the tree structure induces some overhead.

Comparing Performance

To summarize the performance:

  • HashMap offers faster O(1) lookups but risks collisions. Load factors and hash quality impact performance.
  • TreeMap reliable O(log n) performance. Slower than O(1) but faster than O(n). Overhead to balance the tree.

So HashMaps will outperform TreeMaps for basic operations in most average use cases. But at very large scale, balancing overhead and collisions may shift this balance.

Memory Overhead

In addition to pure performance, we should also consider memory overhead.

HashMap Memory Overhead

Although extremely fast, HashMaps do carry quite a bit of memory overhead:

  • The internal bucket array is usually initialized to a fixed capacity and must have spare room for new entries.
  • Collisions lead to increased memory use as more LinkedList nodes get added to buckets.
  • Rehashing requires a new enlarged bucket array. Old entries must be remapped from scratch.

So HashMap speed comes at the cost of increased memory footprint, especially as collisions increase load.

TreeMap Memory Overhead

TreeMaps utilize memory more efficiently:

  • The Red-Black tree only needs to be large enough to hold existing entries. No empty buckets.
  • Well-balanced trees like Red-Black minimize node height, limiting overhead.
  • The tree can grow gradually as needed. No need to rehash/remap.

So TreeMaps have generally smaller memory footprint than HashMaps, only storing data actually needed.

Choosing Between HashMap and TreeMap

Now that we have thoroughly compared HashMaps and TreeMaps, let’s discuss when to choose one over the other.

When to Use HashMap

You should prefer HashMap in these scenarios:

  • You need constant time O(1) insert and lookup operations. Raw speed is the priority.
  • The map will be moderately sized for the use case. Collisions will be minimized.
  • You don’t need to iterate through the map in any predicable order.
  • You need fast serialization/deserialization of the map.
  • Your keys are arbitrary objects without a natural ordering.
  • You want the most memory efficient concurrent map implementation.

Some examples use cases:

  • Caching/memoization to speed up lookups
  • Storing user sessions in a web application
  • Implementing inverted indexes for fast document retrieval

When to Use TreeMap

You should prefer TreeMap in these scenarios:

  • You need to be able to iterate through the map in a sorted key order.
  • You want to efficiently query ranges of keys (e.g. keys between x and y).
  • Your map will be very large, so O(log n) operations will be faster than O(1) with many collisions.
  • You want the overhead of balancing the tree to avoid collisions and rehashing.
  • Your keys have a clear natural ordering or sorting criteria.

Some example use cases:

  • Storing configuration values that need to be ordered
  • Efficiently finding closest matches/recommendations
  • Implementing ordered leaderboards or rankings
  • Computing analytics over sorted data

HashMap and TreeMap Examples

Let’s look at some code examples to see HashMaps and TreeMaps in action.

Creating a HashMap

Creating a HashMap is straightforward – just specify the key and value types:

// Key is String, Value is Integer
Map hashMap = new HashMap<>();

We can add some key-value pairs:

hashMap.put("Alice", 25);
hashMap.put("Bob", 30);
hashMap.put("Charlie", 20);

And retrieve values by key:

Integer alicesAge = hashMap.get("Alice"); // 25

Creating a TreeMap

We create a TreeMap similarly:

// Key is String, Value is Integer
Map treeMap = new TreeMap<>();

Adding values will keep keys ordered:

treeMap.put("Alice", 25);
treeMap.put("Bob", 30);
treeMap.put("Charlie", 20);

We can iterate through the sorted keys:

for (String key : treeMap.keySet()) {
System.out.println(key); // Alice, Bob, Charlie

And easily retrieve ranges:

// Get entries between A and B
treeMap.subMap("A", "B");

Hopefully these examples demonstrate how HashMaps and TreeMaps can be used in code!


Java’s HashMap and TreeMap are two of the most important collection classes.HashMap provides lightning fast O(1) operations by leveraging hashing and collisions. It is ideal for general key-value lookup use cases.TreeMap maintains keys in sorted order. It enables ordered traversal and efficient queries over ranges. But at the cost of O(log n) access times.

Anand Das

Anand Das

Anand is Co-founder and CTO of Bito. He leads technical strategy and engineering, and is our biggest user! Formerly, Anand was CTO of Eyeota, a data company acquired by Dun & Bradstreet. He is co-founder of PubMatic, where he led the building of an ad exchange system that handles over 1 Trillion bids per day.

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