Pairing Functions: Cantor & Szudzik
Overview
A pairing function is a function which maps two values to a single, unique value.
$$pair(x, y) = z$$
This is useful in a wide variety of applications, and have personally used pairing functions in shaders, map systems, and renderers. Essentially any time you want to compose a unique identifier from a pair of values. In this ramble we will cover two different pairing functions: Cantor and Szudzik.
Try them out in the demo below:
szudzik(, ) = 0
Cantor Pairing
$$index = {(x + y)(x + y + 1) \over 2} + y$$
This can be easily implemented in any language. An example in JavaScript:


How Cantor pairing works is that you can imagine traversing a 2D field, where each real number point is given a value based on the order it which it was visited. For the Cantor function, this graph is traversed in a diagonal function is illustrated in the graphic below.
Limitations of Cantor
The primary downside to the Cantor function is that it is inefficient in terms of value packing. In a perfectly efficient function we would expect the value of pair(9, 9)
to be 99
. This means that all one hundred possible variations of ([09], [09])
would be covered (keeping in mind our values are 0indexed).
However, cantor(9, 9) = 200
. So we use 200 pair values for the first 100 combinations, an efficiency of 50%.
We quickly start to brush up against the limits of 32bit signed integers with input values that really aren’t that large. For example, cantor(33000, 33000) = 2,178,066,000
which would result in an overflow.
Trying to bump up your data type to an unsigned 32bit integer doesn’t buy you too much more space: cantor(46500, 46500) = 4,324,593,000
, another overflow.
Szudzik Pairing
Like Cantor, the Szudzik function can be easily implemented anywhere. Another JavaScript example:


Szudzik can also be visualized as traversing a 2D field, but it covers it in a boxlike pattern. This graphics demonstrates the path that Szudzik takes over the field:
The primary benefit of the Szudzik function is that it has more efficient value packing. Comparing against Cantor we see:
cantor(9, 9) = 200
szudzik(9, 9) = 99
Yes, the Szudzik function has 100% packing efficiency. As such, we can calculate the max input pair to Szudzik to be the square root of the maximum integer value. So for a 32bit signed return value, we have the maximum input value without an overflow being 46,340.
For a 32bit unsigned return value the maximum input value for Szudzik is 65,535.
Signed Pairing
Neither Cantor nor Szudzik pairing functions work natively with negative input values.
However, a simple transformation can be applied so that negative input can be used. It should be noted though that all returned pair values are still positive, as such the packing efficiency for both functions will degrade.
Signed Cantor
In JavaScript:


Signed Szudzik
In JavaScript:


Signed Szudzik, Improved Packing
Additional space can be saved, giving improved packing efficiency, by transferring half to the negative axis.
In JavaScript:


Performance Comparison
The performance between Cantor and Szudzik is virtually identical, with Szudzik having a slight advantage.
Implementation  Ops/sec  % 

Szudzik  894,767,289  100.00 
Cantor  888,441,837  99.29 
Szudzik Signed  885,070,104  98.92 
Cantor Signed  884,386,294  98.84 
Szudzik Signed (Alt)  863,042,799  96.45 
The full results of the performance comparison can be found on jsperf.
References
It should be noted that this article was adapted from an earlier jsfiddle of mine.
That fiddle makes note of the following references:
 Szudzik, Matthew. An Elegant Pairing Function. http://szudzik.com/ElegantPairing.pdf.
 Pairing Functions. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pairing_function