Given a hash

my %height = (
    foo => 170,
    bar => 181,
    moo => 175,

How can I find out the highest value without looping them over using for, foreach, or each?


In order to find the highest values some piece of code must go over all the values and compare them, but you don't have to do it yourself. You don't have to write a for loop yourself, but to be clear, each one of the following solutions will go over all the hash. You can't avoid that because Perl, as other languages, don't maintain a "highest value".


The List::Util module has a function called max that will return the maximum value of a given list. The values function of perl will return all the values of a hash, in our case, it will return the numbers in the hash.

So this code, will return and then print the highest value.

use List::Util qw(max);
my $highest = max values %height;

print "$highest\n";

Getting the key of the highest value

What if you need to return the key of the highest value? In our case, you'd expect bar to be returned. In that case we cannot use the max function of List::Util, because that just looks at the values given to so we have two choices.

Write our manual solution of use the max_by function of List::UtilsBy.

max_by of List::UtilsBy

use List::UtilsBy qw(max_by);

my $highest = max_by { $height{$_} } keys %height;

print "$highest\n";
print "$height{ $highest }\n";

Alternatively, as poined out by jameswmoth, you could use the reduce function that comes with List::Util:

use List::Util qw(reduce);

my $highest = List::Util::reduce { $height{$b} > $height{$a} ? $b : $a } keys %height;

print "$highest\n";
print "$height{ $highest }\n";

The built-in keys function of perl returns the list of keys from the given hash. The max_by function allows us to define an expression using $_ as the place-holder for the "current value" that will generate the "values to be compared" from the "values to be ordered". In our case the "values to be ordered" are the keys of the hash (the names), while the "values to be compared" are the numbers (the values of the hash).

Manually using sort

In you don't want to use that module, you can always sort the keys using spaceship operator (<=>) and then fetch the value of the highest index using -1 as the index. But how?

my @heights = sort { $height{$a} <=> $height{$b} } keys %height;

my $highest = $heights[-1];

print "$highest\n";
print "$height{ $highest }\n";

Just as in the previous solution we fetch the keys of the hash - we need to sort them based on the corresponding values. Then we use the sort function of perl that allows us to designate a "sort function" using $a and $b as place-holders for the "current two values". In this sort function, instead of comparing the the two values directly, we use them as the keys of the hash, fetch the respective values from the hash and compare those using the spaceship operator.

Finally we use the -1 index that will fetch the last element of the already sorted array. That holds the key of the highest value.


Finally, if you really like to write a lot of code, you can implement your own max function specialized for hashes:

sub max {
    my (%data) = @_;

    my $max;
    while (my ($key, $value) = each %data) {
        if (not defined $max) {
            $max = $key;
        if ($data{$max} < $value) {
            $max = $key;
    return $max;

my $highest = max(%height);

print "$highest\n";
print "$height{ $highest }\n";

Here we iterate over the hash using the each function that on every iteration will return key-value pair from the hash.

$max starts out as undef and thus if it is still not defined we can just assign the $key to it and go to the next iteration.

Otherwise, if the value corresponding to the current $max key is smaller than the $value of the current $key then we set the new $max to be the current $key.

Finally, once we exhausted the whole hash, we can return $max.