A hashCode is a way of computing a small (32-bit) digest numeric key from a long String or even an arbitrary clump of bytes. The numeric key itself is meaningless and the hashCode functions for computing them can look a bit insane. However, when you go to look for something, you can do the same digest calculation on the long alphabetic key you are looking for, and no matter how bizarre an algorithm you used, you will calculate the same hashCode, and will be able to look up numerically with it. Of course there is always the possibility two different Strings will have the same digest hashCode. However, even then, all is not lost; it greatly narrows down the search, hence speeding it up.

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