HashSet, IEquatable and Contains September 5, 2019

I recently came across some unintuitive and confusing (but understandable) behaviour when dealing with HashSet<T> where T : IEquatable. I’d written a class that implemented IEquatable based purely on the ID of the object. The trouble was that HashSet.Contains was saying that it didn’t contain the object I was passing it even though it contained an object with the same ID.

Here’s a trimmed-down example that exhibits the same behaviour:

class Foo : IEquatable<Foo>
    public int Id { get; private set; }

    public Foo(int id)
        this.Id = id;

    public bool Equals(Foo other)
        return this.Id == other.Id;

var l = new List<Foo> { new Foo(1) };
Console.WriteLine(l.Contains(new Foo(1))); // true
var h = new HashSet<Foo> { new Foo(1) };
Console.WriteLine(h.Contains(new Foo(1))); // false

The reason the second Console.WriteLine outputs false is because of the hash part of HashSet. The HashSet implementation of Contains will first try to retrieve the object you give it using whatever GetHashCode returns when called on that object. If it doesn’t find anything then Contains simply returns false. The List implementation actually makes use of Equals to discern whether or not the collection contains the relevant object (or rather one that Equals dictates is the same object).

The trouble is that I’ve read in numerous places that you shouldn’t override GetHashCode for non-value types (objects that will change their state over the course of their lifetime), so the options are either to ignore that advice for non-value types or to use a data structure that doesn’t rely on hash lookups.