2009 12 26

I’m interested in randomly choosing an object from a set of objects, but with non-uniform probabilities that I can set. I wrote a simple helper class to do this naïvely:

template<typename T>
class ProbabilitySet
    ProbabilitySet() { }
    virtual ~ProbabilitySet() { }

    void add(const T& i_thing, int i_weight)
        if (i_weight > 0)
            size_t pos(m_things.size());
            for (int i = 0 ; i < i_weight ; ++i)

    T get() const
        int r(rand() % m_weighted_things.size());
        const size_t& pos(;

    std::vector<T> m_things;
    std::vector<size_t> m_weighted_things;

It’s used by injecting a series of objects into it with ‘weights’, which are interpreted additively. For example,

ProbabilitySet<std::string> ps;
ps.add("alpha", 1);
ps.add("beta", 2);
ps.add("delta", 1);

Calls to ps.get() will return beta ~50% of the time, and alpha or delta ~25% of the time. It seems reasonably fast in practice -- I’ve made the conscious decision to waste a little space in duplicating data (actually, pointers to data) so that I can have fast lookups, rather than saving space by implementing something like ‘ranges’ but having lookups take considerably more time. This also has the advantage of being pretty conceptually simple. But I’m curious if anyone has any ideas for optimization? I suppose I could precompute m_weighted_things.size() with each add(). Any other thoughts?

edit: fixed nasty, stupid bug I overlooked: when vectors get resized there’s no guarantee the old memory locations will be the same as the new ones, so gets occasionally returned bogus data when enough adds were made to force a resize.