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Google Guava BiMaps

Next up on my tour of Guava, is the BiMap, another useful collection type. It’s pretty simple really, a BiMap is simply a two way map.

Inverting a Map

A normal java map is a set of keys and values, and you can look up values by key, very useful, eg lets say I wanted to create a (very rudimentary) British English to American English dictionary:

Map<String,String> britishToAmerican = Maps.newHashMap();

But what if you want an American to British dictionary? Well you could write some code to invert the map:

    // Generic method to reverse map.
    public %lt;S,T> Map<T,S> getInverseMap(Map<S,T> map) {
  Map<T,S> inverseMap = new HashMap<T,S>();
  for(Entry<S,T> entry: map.entrySet()) {
   inverseMap.put(entry.getValue(), entry.getKey());
  return inverseMap;

It’ll do the job, but there’s several complications you might need to think about.

  • How do we handle duplicate values in the original map? At the moment they’ll be silently overwritten in the reverse map.
  • What if we want to put a new entry in the reversed map? We’d also have to update the original map! This could get annoying.


Well, guess what? This is the sort of situation a BiMap is designed for! And here’s how you might use it.

BiMap<String,String> britishToAmerican = HashBiMap.create();

// Initialise and use just like a normal map

System.out.println(britishToAmerican.get('aubergine')); // eggplant

BiMap<String,String> americanToBritish = britishToAmerican.inverse();

System.out.println(americanToBritish.get('eggplant')); // aubergine
System.out.println(americanToBritish.get('zucchini')); // courgette

Pretty simple really, but there’s a few things to notice.

Enforcing uniqueness

Firstly the BiMap enforces uniqueness of it’s values, and will give you an illegal argument exception if you try to insert a duplicate value, ie

britishToAmerican.put('sweet','dessert'); // IllegalArgumentException.

If you need to add a values that has already been added there’s a forcePut method that will overwrite the entry with the duplicate value.

britishToAmerican.forcePut('sweet','dessert');  // Overwrites the previous entry
System.out.println(britishToAmerican.get('sweet')); // dessert
System.out.println(britishToAmerican.get('pudding')); // null

The inverse method

The other crucial thing to understand is the inverse method, this returns the inverse BiMap, ie the a map with the keys and values switched round.
Now this inverse map, isn’t just a new map, such as my earlier reverseMap method might have created. It’s actually a view of the of the original map. This means that any subsequent changes to the inverse method will affect the original map!

americanToBritish.put('potato chips','crisps');
System.out.println(britishToAmerican.containsKey('crisps')); // true
System.out.println(britishToAmerican.get('crisps')); // potato chips

So that’s the BiMap, like I said pretty simple. As usual there are several implementations available, and as ever I recommend taking a look at the full API documentation:

Reference: Google Guava BiMaps from our JCG partner Tom Jefferys at the Tom’s Programming Blog blog.

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  1. what would be the inverse when duplicate values are enforced?

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