Under the hood, two things are done differently. First, the key is copied
with hons-copy; this lets us use EQL-based hash tables instead of
EQUAL-based hash tables for better performance. Second, assuming there is a
valid hash table associated with this alist, we destructively update the hash
table by binding key to val. The hash table will no longer be associated with
alist, but will instead be associated with the new alist returned by
Hash Table Creation
A new hash table is created by
1. As a size hint
By default, the new hash table will be given a quite modest default capacity of 60 elements. As more elements are added, the table may need to be resized to accommodate them, and this resizing has some runtime cost.
When a natural number is used as a fast alist's name, we interpret it as a
size hint. For example,
Because of hash collisions, hash tables typically need to have a larger size than the actual number of elements they contain. The hash tables for fast alists are told to grow when they reach 70% full. So, an easy rule of thumb might be: multiply the expected number of elements you need by 1.5 to keep your hash tables about 2/3 full.
2. As an alist name
We also frequently use a symbol for alist, and think of this symbol as the name of the new alist. We have found that naming alists can be valuable for two reasons:
First, the name can be helpful in identifying fast alists that should have been freed, see fast-alist-summary.
Second, names can sometimes be used to avoid a subtle and insidious table-stealing phenomenon that occurs when using fast-alists that are themselves normed; see hons-acons!.
At the moment, there is no way to simultaneously name a fast alist and also give it a size hint. We may eventually allow strings to include embedded name and size components, but for now we have not implemented this capability.