Using Vectors as Sets


A Set is an unordered data structure that stores entries without duplicates. Substrate's storage API does not provide a way to declare sets explicitly, but they can be implemented using either vectors or maps.

This recipe demonstrates how to implement a storage set on top of a vector, and explores the performance of the implementation. When implementing a set in your own runtime, you should compare this technique to implementing a map-set.

In this pallet we implement a set of AccountIds. We do not use the set for anything in this pallet; we simply maintain the set. Using the set is demonstrated in the recipe on pallet coupling. We provide dispatchable calls to add and remove members, ensuring that the number of members never exceeds a hard-coded maximum.

/// A maximum number of members. When membership reaches this number, no new members may join.
pub const MAX_MEMBERS: usize = 16;

Storage Item

We will store the members of our set in a Rust Vec. A Vec is a collection of elements that is ordered and may contain duplicates. Because the Vec provides more functionality than our set needs, we are able to build a set from the Vec. We declare our single storage item as so

decl_storage! {
	trait Store for Module<T: Trait> as VecSet {
		// The set of all members. Stored as a single vec
		Members get(fn members): Vec<T::AccountId>;

In order to use the Vec successfully as a set, we will need to manually ensure that no duplicate entries are added. To ensure reasonable performance, we will enforce that the Vec always remains sorted. This allows for quickly determining whether an item is present using a binary search.

Adding Members

Any user may join the membership set by calling the add_member dispatchable, providing they are not already a member and the membership limit has not been reached. We check for these two conditions first, and then insert the new member only after we are sure it is safe to do so. This is an example of the mnemonic idiom, "verify first write last".

pub fn add_member(origin) -> DispatchResult {
	let new_member = ensure_signed(origin)?;

	let mut members = Members::<T>::get();
	ensure!(members.len() < MAX_MEMBERS, Error::<T>::MembershipLimitReached);

	// We don't want to add duplicate members, so we check whether the potential new
	// member is already present in the list. Because the list is always ordered, we can
	// leverage the binary search which makes this check O(log n).
	match members.binary_search(&new_member) {
		// If the search succeeds, the caller is already a member, so just return
		Ok(_) => Err(Error::<T>::AlreadyMember.into()),
		// If the search fails, the caller is not a member and we learned the index where
		// they should be inserted
		Err(index) => {
			members.insert(index, new_member.clone());

If it turns out that the caller is not already a member, the binary search will fail. In this case it still returns the index into the Vec at which the member would have been stored had they been present. We then use this information to insert the member at the appropriate location, thus maintaining a sorted Vec.

Removing a Member

Removing a member is straightforward. We begin by looking for the caller in the list. If not present, there is no work to be done. If the caller is present, the search algorithm returns her index, and she can be removed.

fn remove_member(origin) -> DispatchResult {
	let old_member = ensure_signed(origin)?;

	let mut members = Members::<T>::get();

	// We have to find out where, in the sorted vec the member is, if anywhere.
	match members.binary_search(&old_member) {
		// If the search succeeds, the caller is a member, so remove her
		Ok(index) => {
		// If the search fails, the caller is not a member, so just return
		Err(_) => Err(Error::<T>::NotMember.into()),


Now that we have built our set, let's analyze its performance in some common operations.

Membership Check

In order to check for the presence of an item in a vec-set, we make a single storage read, decode the entire vector, and perform a binary search.

DB Reads: O(1) Decoding: O(n) Search: O(log n)


Updates to the set, such as adding and removing members as we demonstrated, requires first performing a membership check. It also requires re-encoding the entire Vec and storing it back in the database. Finally, it still costs the normal amortized constant time associated with mutating a Vec.

DB Writes: O(1) Encoding: O(n)


Iterating over all items in a vec-set is achieved by using the Vec's own iter method. The entire set can be read from storage in one go, and each item must be decoded. Finally, the actual processing you do on the items will take some time.

DB Reads: O(1) Decoding: O(n) Processing: O(n)

Because accessing the database is a relatively slow operation, reading the entire list in a single read is a big win. If you need to iterate over the data frequently, you may want a vec-set.

A Note on Weights

It is always important that the weight associated with your dispatchables represent the actual time it takes to execute them. In this pallet, we have provided an upper bound on the size of the set, which places an upper bound on the computation - this means we can use constant weight annotations. Your set operations should either have a maximum size or a custom weight function that captures the computation appropriately.