VB.NET Dictionary Examples

Get values by keys with the Dictionary class. Call ContainsKey and TryGetValue to look up elements.

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.

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

Add example. Most Dictionaries we use will be added to with the Add() Subroutine. Usually we create an empty Dictionary and then populate it with keys and values.
Step 1: We create Dictionary with String keys, and Integer values. The Dictionary is empty here.
Step 2: We invoke Add to populate the Dictionary. For the arguments, we pass the key we want to add, and the value.
Step 3: The Count of this dictionary, after 4 Add() calls have run, is 4—a key and value are counted together as 1 entry.
VB.NET program that uses Dictionary Add, Count Module Module1 Sub Main() ' Step 1: create a Dictionary. Dim dictionary As New Dictionary(Of String, Integer) ' Step 2: add 4 entries. dictionary.Add("bird", 20) dictionary.Add("frog", 1) dictionary.Add("snake", 10) dictionary.Add("fish", 2) ' Step 3: display count. Console.WriteLine("DICTIONARY COUNT: {0}", dictionary.Count) End Sub End Module Output DICTIONARY COUNT: 4

TryGetValue. Often we test a value through a key in a Dictionary collection. Then we act upon that value. The TryGetValue function combines the 2 steps—this enables optimizations.
Here: We create a Dictionary with string keys and values, and then add 2 pairs to it. We then invoke TryGetValue and print the result.
VB.NET program that uses TryGetValue function Module Module1 Sub Main() Dim values As Dictionary(Of String, String) = New Dictionary(Of String, String) values.Add("A", "uppercase letter A") values.Add("c", "lowercase letter C") ' Get value with TryGetValue. Dim result As String = Nothing If values.TryGetValue("c", result) Then Console.WriteLine("RESULT: {0}", result) End If End Sub End Module Output RESULT: lowercase letter C

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

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...

KeyNotFoundException. To see if a key exists in a Dictionary, we should use ContainsKey or TryGetValue. If we just access the key directly, we might get a KeyNotFoundException.
Note: We can use exception handling to detect the KeyNotFoundException, but this will be slower than not causing an exception.
VB.NET program that shows KeyNotFoundException Module Module1 Sub Main() Dim dict = New Dictionary(Of String, String)() ' We must use ContainsKey or TryGetValue. If dict("car") = "vehicle" Then Return End If End Sub End Module Output Unhandled Exception: System.Collections.Generic.KeyNotFoundException: The given key was not present in the dictionary. at System.Collections.Generic.Dictionary`2.get_Item(TKey key)...

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.
Note: Add() may be a better choice than assigning to a key in a Dictionary—it will warn you with an exception if you have a duplicate.
VB.NET program that uses Item assignment Module Module1 Sub Main() Dim dictionary = New Dictionary(Of Integer, Integer)() ' Add data by assigning to a key. dictionary(10) = 20 ' Look up value. Console.WriteLine(dictionary(10)) End Sub End Module Output 20

For Each loop. We can loop over the entries in a Dictionary. It is usually easiest to use the For Each loop. We can access each individual KeyValuePair structure in the loop body.
Step 1: Here we create a Dictionary and add 4 color names to it—blue, yellow, green and red.
Step 2: We access the Key and Value properties on each pair. They have the types of the Dictionary keys and values. No casts are required.
VB.NET program that loops over entries Module Module1 Sub Main() ' Step 1: create Dictionary with 4 keys. Dim colors As New Dictionary(Of String, Integer) colors.Add("blue", 32) colors.Add("yellow", 16) colors.Add("green", 256) colors.Add("red", 100) ' Step 2: use For Each loop over pairs. For Each pair As KeyValuePair(Of String, Integer) In colors Console.WriteLine("COLOR: {0}, VALUE: {1}", pair.Key, pair.Value) Next End Sub End Module Output COLOR: blue, VALUE: 32 COLOR: yellow, VALUE: 16 COLOR: green, VALUE: 256 COLOR: red, VALUE: 100

Keys. We can get a List of the Dictionary keys. Dictionary has a Keys property, and we can use this with types like the List that act on IEnumerable.
Step 1: We create a Dictionary and place 4 String keys (which are all animal names) in it, with Integer values.
Step 2: We use the List constructor on the Keys property. The keys have the same type as that from the source Dictionary.
Step 3: We can loop over the resulting collection. With Item() we can access the value from the Dictionary based on the String key.
For Each, For
VB.NET program that gets List of keys Module Module1 Sub Main() ' Step 1: add 4 string keys. Dim animals As New Dictionary(Of String, Integer) animals.Add("bird", 12) animals.Add("frog", 11) animals.Add("cat", 10) animals.Add("elephant", -11) ' Step 2: get List of String Keys. Dim list As New List(Of String)(animals.Keys) ' Step 3: loop over Keys and print the Dictionary values. For Each value As String In list Console.WriteLine("ANIMAL: {0}, VALUE: {1}", value, animals.Item(value)) Next End Sub End Module Output please, 12 help, 11 poor, 10 people, -11

Types. Dictionary uses typed keys and values. We specify these types when the Dictionary is declared. Here we use more a more complex value type, a String array.
Step 1: We create a Dictionary. It has Integer keys and String array values—so each int can point to an entire array.
Step 2: We use ContainsKey. When the key type is Integer, we must pass an Integer to ContainsKey.
Step 3: We get the String array value with Item, and then call String.Join to concatenate its values.
VB.NET program that uses Integers, String arrays Module Module1 Sub Main() ' Step 1: use Integer keys, String array values. Dim dictionary As New Dictionary(Of Integer, String()) dictionary.Add(100, New String() {"cat", "bird"}) dictionary.Add(200, New String() {"dog", "fish"}) ' Step 2: see if key exists. If dictionary.ContainsKey(200) Then ' Step 3: get array value, join elements, and print it. Dim value() As String = dictionary.Item(200) Console.WriteLine("RESULT: {0}", String.Join(",", value)) End If End Sub End Module Output RESULT: dog,fish

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 program 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

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 program 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

Copy. It is possible to copy the entire contents of a 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.
VB.NET program that copies existing Dictionary Module Module1 Sub Main() Dim source = New Dictionary(Of String, Integer)() source.Add("bird", 20) ' Copy the Dictionary. Dim copy = New Dictionary(Of String, Integer)(source) ' Write some details. Console.WriteLine("COPY: {0}, COUNT = {1}", copy("bird"), copy.Count) End Sub End Module Output COPY: 20, COUNT = 1

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.
Part 1: We begin in the Main Sub. We create a new instance of the Example class.
Part 2: Control enters the New() Sub in the Example class. The Dictionary field is created. We add 3 entries to the Dictionary.
Part 3: We call GetValue() on the Example instance. This returns a value from the Dictionary that was stored with the String key "make."
Tip: A Dictionary field is often more useful than a local variable. This is an effective way to store data and reuse it.
VB.NET program that uses class, Dictionary Module Module1 ''' <summary> ''' Stores class-level Dictionary instance. ''' </summary> Class Example Private _dictionary Public Sub New() ' Part 2: 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() ' Part 1: allocate an instance of the class. Dim example As New Example ' Part 3: write a value from the class. Console.WriteLine(example.GetValue()) End Sub End Module Output 55

Count. You can count the number of entries with the Count accessor property. Internally, the Count property subtracts 2 integers. This means it is fast.
Note: You do not need to specify the parentheses after the Count property access.
VB.NET program 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

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 2 functions. These indicate how the key and value are created from the collection's elements.
Here: ToDictionary has 2 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 program 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]

Benchmark, ContainsKey. Dictionary is an optimization for key lookups. It can make a slow program many times faster. Consider this benchmark, which tests Dictionary and List.Benchmarks
Version 1: This version of the code calls ContainsKey on a Dictionary with 1000 String keys.
Version 2: Here we call Contains to find a String key in a List that exists. The element is the 900th one in the List.
Result: The Dictionary is faster. In the List 900 items are looped over, but with hashing in the Dictionary, fewer items are scanned.
VB.NET program that benchmarks Dictionary and List Module Module1 Sub Main() ' Create Dictionary and List. Dim lookup As Dictionary(Of String, Integer) = New Dictionary(Of String, Integer) For i As Integer = 0 To 1000 lookup.Add(i.ToString(), 1) Next Dim list As List(Of String) = New List(Of String) For i As Integer = 0 To 1000 list.Add(i.ToString()) Next Dim m As Integer = 1000 ' Version 1: search Dictionary. Dim s1 As Stopwatch = Stopwatch.StartNew For i As Integer = 0 To m - 1 If Not lookup.ContainsKey("900") Then Return End If Next s1.Stop() Dim s2 As Stopwatch = Stopwatch.StartNew ' Version 2: search List. For i As Integer = 0 To m - 1 If Not list.Contains("900") Then Return End If Next s2.Stop() Dim u As Integer = 1000000 Console.WriteLine(((s1.Elapsed.TotalMilliseconds * u) / m).ToString("0.00 ns")) Console.WriteLine(((s2.Elapsed.TotalMilliseconds * u) / m).ToString("0.00 ns")) End Sub End Module Output 35.10 ns Dictionary ContainsKey (1000 keys) 6801.10 ns List Contains (1000 elements)

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

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.

Notes, 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.

Notes, using Dictionary. In VB.NET, the Dictionary proves to be a common optimization in real programs. It can avoid excessive looping (in a List) to find a matching key.List

Notes, performance loss. In certain cases a Dictionary reduces performance. This occurs on small collections, or when lookups are rarely done. Small arrays can be faster.

A summary. This generic type is powerful. Designed for super-fast lookups, Dictionary often improves the performance of programs. And it can simplify our logic by checking for duplicates.

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