C++ Inserting elements


An element can be inserted into a std::map only if its key is not already present in the map. Given for example:

std::map< std::string, size_t > fruits_count;
  • A key-value pair is inserted into a std::map through the insert() member function. It requires a pair as an argument:

    fruits_count.insert({"grapes", 20});
    fruits_count.insert(make_pair("orange", 30));
    fruits_count.insert(pair<std::string, size_t>("banana", 40));
    fruits_count.insert(map<std::string, size_t>::value_type("cherry", 50));

    The insert() function returns a pair consisting of an iterator and a bool value:

    • If the insertion was successful, the iterator points to the newly inserted element, and the bool value is true.
    • If there was already an element with the same key, the insertion fails. When that happens, the iterator points to the element causing the conflict, and the bool is value is false.

    The following method can be used to combine insertion and searching operation:

    auto success = fruits_count.insert({"grapes", 20});
    if (!success.second) {           // we already have 'grapes' in the map
        success.first->second += 20; // access the iterator to update the value
  • For convenience, the std::map container provides the subscript operator to access elements in the map and to insert new ones if they don't exist:

    fruits_count["apple"] = 10;

    While simpler, it prevents the user from checking if the element already exists. If an element is missing, std::map::operator[] implicitly creates it, initializing it with the default constructor before overwriting it with the supplied value.

  • insert() can be used to add several elements at once using a braced list of pairs. This version of insert() returns void:

    fruits_count.insert({{"apricot", 1}, {"jackfruit", 1}, {"lime", 1}, {"mango", 7}}); 
  • insert() can also be used to add elements by using iterators denoting the begin and end of value_type values:

    std::map< std::string, size_t > fruit_list{ {"lemon", 0}, {"olive", 0}, {"plum", 0}};
    fruits_count.insert(fruit_list.begin(), fruit_list.end()); 


std::map<std::string, size_t> fruits_count;
std::string fruit;
while(std::cin >> fruit){
    // insert an element with 'fruit' as key and '1' as value
    // (if the key is already stored in fruits_count, insert does nothing)
    auto ret = fruits_count.insert({fruit, 1});
    if(!ret.second){            // 'fruit' is already in the map 
        ++ret.first->second;    // increment the counter

Time complexity for an insertion operation is O(log n) because std::map are implemented as trees.


A pair can be constructed explicitly using make_pair() and emplace():

std::map< std::string , int > runs;
runs.emplace("Babe Ruth", 714);
runs.insert(make_pair("Barry Bonds", 762));

If we know where the new element will be inserted, then we can use emplace_hint() to specify an iterator hint. If the new element can be inserted just before hint, then the insertion can be done in constant time. Otherwise it behaves in the same way as emplace():

std::map< std::string , int > runs;
auto it = runs.emplace("Barry Bonds", 762); // get iterator to the inserted element
// the next element will be before "Barry Bonds", so it is inserted before 'it'
runs.emplace_hint(it, "Babe Ruth", 714);