base/containers library

What goes here

This directory contains some STL-like containers.

Things should be moved here that are generally applicable across the code base. Don‘t add things here just because you need them in one place and think others may someday want something similar. You can put specialized containers in your component’s directory and we can promote them here later if we feel there is broad applicability.

Design and naming

Containers should adhere as closely to STL as possible. Functions and behaviors not present in STL should only be added when they are related to the specific data structure implemented by the container.

For STL-like containers our policy is that they should use STL-like naming even when it may conflict with the style guide. So functions and class names should be lower case with underscores. Non-STL-like classes and functions should use Google naming. Be sure to use the base namespace.

Map and set selection

Usage advice

  • Generally avoid std::unordered_set and std::unordered_map. In the common case, query performance is unlikely to be sufficiently higher than std::map to make a difference, insert performance is slightly worse, and the memory overhead is high. This makes sense mostly for large tables where you expect a lot of lookups.

  • Most maps and sets in Chrome are small and contain objects that can be moved efficiently. In this case, consider base::flat_map and base::flat_set. You need to be aware of the maximum expected size of the container since individual inserts and deletes are O(n), giving O(n^2) construction time for the entire map. But because it avoids mallocs in most cases, inserts are better or comparable to other containers even for several dozen items, and efficiently-moved types are unlikely to have performance problems for most cases until you have hundreds of items. If your container can be constructed in one shot, the constructor from vector gives O(n log n) construction times and it should be strictly better than a std::map.

  • base::small_map has better runtime memory usage without the poor mutation performance of large containers that base::flat_map has. But this advantage is partially offset by additional code size. Prefer in cases where you make many objects so that the code/heap tradeoff is good.

  • Use std::map and std::set if you can‘t decide. Even if they’re not great, they're unlikely to be bad or surprising.

Map and set details

Sizes are on 64-bit platforms. Stable iterators aren't invalidated when the container is mutated.

ContainerEmpty sizePer-item overheadStable iterators?
std::map, std::set16 bytes32 bytesYes
std::unordered_map, std::unordered_set128 bytes16-24 bytesNo
base::flat_map and base::flat_set24 bytes0 (see notes)No
base::small_map24 bytes (see notes)32 bytesNo

Takeaways: std::unordered_map and std::unordered_map have high overhead for small container sizes, prefer these only for larger workloads.

Code size comparisons for a block of code (see appendix) on Windows using strings as keys.

ContainerCode size
std::unordered_map1646 bytes
std::map1759 bytes
base::flat_map1872 bytes
base::small_map2410 bytes

Takeaways: base::small_map generates more code because of the inlining of both brute-force and red-black tree searching. This makes it less attractive for random one-off uses. But if your code is called frequently, the runtime memory benefits will be more important. The code sizes of the other maps are close enough it's not worth worrying about.

std::map and std::set

A red-black tree. Each inserted item requires the memory allocation of a node on the heap. Each node contains a left pointer, a right pointer, a parent pointer, and a “color” for the red-black tree (32-bytes per item on 64-bits).

std::unordered_map and std::unordered_set

A hash table. Implemented on Windows as a std::vector + std::list and in libc++ as the equivalent of a std::vector + a std::forward_list. Both implementations allocate an 8-entry hash table (containing iterators into the list) on initialization, and grow to 64 entries once 8 items are inserted. Above 64 items, the size doubles every time the load factor exceeds 1.

The empty size is sizeof(std::unordered_map) = 64 + the initial hash table size which is 8 pointers. The per-item overhead in the table above counts the list node (2 pointers on Windows, 1 pointer in libc++), plus amortizes the hash table assuming a 0.5 load factor on average.

In a microbenchmark on Windows, inserts of 1M integers into a std::unordered_set took 1.07x the time of std::set, and queries took 0.67x the time of std::set. For a typical 4-entry set (the statistical mode of map sizes in the browser), query performance is identical to std::set and base::flat_set. On ARM, unordered_set performance can be worse because integer division to compute the bucket is slow, and a few “less than” operations can be faster than computing a hash depending on the key type. The takeaway is that you should not default to using unordered maps because “they're faster.”

base::flat_map and base::flat_set

A sorted std::vector. Seached via binary search, inserts in the middle require moving elements to make room. Good cache locality. For large objects and large set sizes, std::vector's doubling-when-full strategy can waste memory.

Supports efficient construction from a vector of items which avoids the O(n^2) insertion time of each element separately.

The per-item overhead will depend on the underlying std::vector's reallocation strategy and the memory access pattern. Assuming items are being linearly added, one would expect it to be 3/4 full, so per-item overhead will be 0.25 * sizeof(T).

flat_set/flat_map support a notion of transparent comparisons. Therefore you can, for example, lookup base::StringPiece in a set of std::strings without constructing a temporary std::string. This functionality is based on C++14 extensions to std::set/std::map interface.

You can find more information about transparent comparisons here:

Example, smart pointer set:

// Declare a type alias using base::UniquePtrComparator.
template <typename T>
using UniquePtrSet = base::flat_set<std::unique_ptr<T>,

// ...
// Collect data.
std::vector<std::unique_ptr<int>> ptr_vec;
std::generate_n(std::back_inserter(ptr_vec), 5, []{
  return std::make_unique<int>(0);

// Construct a set.
UniquePtrSet<int> ptr_set(std::move(ptr_vec), base::KEEP_FIRST_OF_DUPES);

// Use raw pointers to lookup keys.
int* ptr = ptr_set.begin()->get();
EXPECT_TRUE(ptr_set.find(ptr) == ptr_set.begin());

Example flat_map<std::string, int>:

base::flat_map<std::string, int> str_to_int({{"a", 1}, {"c", 2},{"b", 2}},

// Does not construct temporary strings.
str_to_int.find("c")->second = 3;
EXPECT_EQ(str_to_int.end(), str_to_int.find("c")->second);

// NOTE: This does construct a temporary string. This happens since if the
// item is not in the container, then it needs to be constructed, which is
// something that transparent comparators don't have to guarantee.
str_to_int["c"] = 3;


A small inline buffer that is brute-force searched that overflows into a full std::map or std::unordered_map. This gives the memory benefit of base::flat_map for small data sizes without the degenerate insertion performance for large container sizes.

Since instantiations require both code for a std::map and a brute-force search of the inline container, plus a fancy iterator to cover both cases, code size is larger.

The initial size in the above table is assuming a very small inline table. The actual size will be sizeof(int) + min(sizeof(std::map), sizeof(T) * inline_size).


Usage advice

Chromium code should always use base::circular_deque or base::queue in preference to std::deque or std::queue due to memory usage and platform variation.

The base::circular_deque implementation (and the base::queue which uses it) provide performance consistent across platforms that better matches most programmer‘s expectations on performance (it doesn’t waste as much space as libc++ and doesn't do as many heap allocations as MSVC). It also generates less code tham std::queue: using it across the code base saves several hundred kilobytes.

Since base::deque does not have stable iterators and it will move the objects it contains, it may not be appropriate for all uses. If you need these, consider using a std::list which will provide constant time insert and erase.

std::deque and std::queue

The implementation of std::deque varies considerably which makes it hard to reason about. All implementations use a sequence of data blocks referenced by an array of pointers. The standard guarantees random access, amortized constant operations at the ends, and linear mutations in the middle.

In Microsoft's implementation, each block is the smaller of 16 bytes or the size of the contained element. This means in practice that every expansion of the deque of non-trivial classes requires a heap allocation. libc++ (on Android and Mac) uses 4K blocks which elimiates the problem of many heap allocations, but generally wastes a large amount of space (an Android analysis revealed more than 2.5MB wasted space from deque alone, resulting in some optimizations). libstdc++ uses an intermediate-size 512 byte buffer.

Microsoft's implementation never shrinks the deque capacity, so the capacity will always be the maximum number of elements ever contained. libstdc++ deallocates blocks as they are freed. libc++ keeps up to two empty blocks.

base::circular_deque and base::queue

A deque implemented as a circular buffer in an array. The underlying array will grow like a std::vector while the beginning and end of the deque will move around. The items will wrap around the underlying buffer so the storage will not be contiguous, but fast random access iterators are still possible.

When the underlying buffer is filled, it will be reallocated and the constents moved (like a std::vector). The underlying buffer will be shrunk if there is too much wasted space (unlike a std::vector). As a result, iterators are not stable across mutations.


std::stack is like std::queue in that it is a wrapper around an underlying container. The default container is std::deque so everything from the deque section applies.

Chromium provides base/containers/stack.h which defines base::stack that should be used in preference to std::stack. This changes the underlying container to base::circular_deque. The result will be very similar to manually specifying a std::vector for the underlying implementation except that the storage will shrink when it gets too empty (vector will never reallocate to a smaller size).

Watch out: with some stack usage patterns it's easy to depend on unstable behavior:

base::stack<Foo> stack;
for (...) {
  Foo& current =;
  DoStuff();  // May call stack.push(), say if writing a parser.
  current.done = true;  // Current may reference deleted item!


Code for map code size comparison

This just calls insert and query a number of times, with printfs that prevent things from being dead-code eliminated.

TEST(Foo, Bar) {
  base::small_map<std::map<std::string, Flubber>> foo;
  foo.insert(std::make_pair("foo", Flubber(8, "bar")));
  foo.insert(std::make_pair("bar", Flubber(8, "bar")));
  foo.insert(std::make_pair("foo1", Flubber(8, "bar")));
  foo.insert(std::make_pair("bar1", Flubber(8, "bar")));
  foo.insert(std::make_pair("foo", Flubber(8, "bar")));
  foo.insert(std::make_pair("bar", Flubber(8, "bar")));
  auto found = foo.find("asdf");
  printf("Found is %d\n", (int)(found == foo.end()));
  found = foo.find("foo");
  printf("Found is %d\n", (int)(found == foo.end()));
  found = foo.find("bar");
  printf("Found is %d\n", (int)(found == foo.end()));
  found = foo.find("asdfhf");
  printf("Found is %d\n", (int)(found == foo.end()));
  found = foo.find("bar1");
  printf("Found is %d\n", (int)(found == foo.end()));