A Bloom filter is a space-efficient probabilistic datastructure, conceived by Burton Howard Bloom in 1970, that is used to test whether an element is a member of a set. False positive matches are possible, but false negatives are not – in other words, a query returns either "possibly in set" or "definitely not in set". Elements can be added to the set, but not removed (though this can be addressed with a "counting" filter); the more elements that are added to the set, the larger the probability of false positives.
Bloom proposed the technique for applications where the amount of source data would require an impractically large amount of memoryif "conventional" error-free hashing techniques were applied. He gave the example of a hyphenation algorithm for a dictionary of 500,000 words, out of which 90% follow simple hyphenation rules, but the remaining 10% require expensive disk accesses to retrieve specific hyphenation patterns. With sufficient core memory, an error-free hash could be used to eliminate all unnecessary disk accesses; on the other hand, with limited core memory, Bloom's technique uses a smaller hash area but still eliminates most unnecessary accesses. For example, a hash area only 15% of the size needed by an ideal error-free hash still eliminates 85% of the disk accesses.More generally, fewer than 10 bits per element are required for a 1% false positive probability, independent of the size or number of elements in the set.
An empty Bloom filter is a bit array of m bits, all set to 0. There must also be k different hash functions defined, each of which maps or hashes some set element to one of the m array positions, generating a uniform random distribution. Typically, k is a constant, much smaller than m, which is proportional to the number of elements to be added; the precise choice of k and the constant of proportionality of m are determined by the intended false positive rate of the filter.