This lesson introduces two new extremely useful data structures: maps and sets. Together, maps and lists can be used to solve almost any problem. And sets have their uses as well. So let’s get started!
Maps represent a fundamentally new data structure for us to consider. So far we’ve looked at data structures that put items in order—like arrays and lists. We’ve also discussed using higher-dimensional arrays when needed to represent higher-dimensional data.
Maps are quite different. They don’t put items in order. Rather, they allow us to store and look up mappings between one thing and other.
More specifically, maps store mappings between keys and values. Each key in a map maps to just one value. However, the same value can be mapped to by multiple keys.
Let’s make this more concrete by looking at a few examples.
Just like Kotlin
Maps are built right in and don’t require an imports:
Note that, like
Maps also utilize type parameters within the angle brackets:
<String, String> in the example above.
Maps require two type parameters: one for the key, and a second for the value.
Lists, Kotlin has both mutable and immutable
We’ll be working primarily with mutable ones.
We can also initialize a
Map with some initial values, which allows Kotlin to infer the type of the
1 to "one" syntax above, which adds a mapping to the map between 1 (the key) and “one” (the value).
The first map we created above can be used to map
Strings to other
We can add mappings to our
Map using bracket notation, similar to what we used for modifying arrays and lists!
But instead of just integers inside the brackets, now we put the key inside the brackets and the value on the right side of the assignment.
map["challen"] = "Geoff Challen" adds a mapping to the map between “challen” (the key) and “Geoff Challen” (the value).
We also show how a second assignment to “challen” overwrites the first, since each key in the map maps to a single value.
In the example above, we show how we can establish two mappings to the same value—both “student1” and “student2” initially map to “A Student”.
To retrieve values from a
Map we also use bracket notation and place the key to retrieve inside the brackets.
The result is the value for the key, or
null if the map does not contain that key.
Sometimes we also refer to this as looking up the key in the map: so looking up the mapping for “challen” or “student1” in the example above.
As a brief but useful digression, one of the useful operators that Kotlin provides for working with
null safely is called the “null-coalescing” operator.
Or, more colorfully, the “Elvis operator”, for reasons that will be obvious shortly.
The Elvis operator evaluates to the left side if it is not
null, otherwise to its right side:
The Elvis operator is particularly useful when using Kotlin
Maps, as we’ll show in the following example, since it allows us to set a default value to use when a map does not contain a particular key.
Maps are great for solving problems where we need to save and look up information based on a key. Let’s look at an example that may hit close to home: Recording scores on a homework problem!
If you want to iterate over all of the mappings in a Kotlin
Map, there are a few different ways to do that:
Before we wrap up, let’s briefly examine one other potentially-useful data structure: sets.
A set represents an unordered collection of distinct elements.
We can add and remove items from a set, but the set either contains the item or does not, which we can test using
Items in a set don’t have an index and are not ordered or counted.
Sets are generally less useful that lists or maps. But they do come in hand sometimes, particularly when you need to record membership but don’t care about counts or ordering. Let’s look at an example where a set might come in handy:
Need more practice? Head over to the practice page.