Association lists (see Association Lists) are very similar to property lists. In contrast to association lists, the order of the pairs in the property list is not significant, since the property names must be distinct.
Property lists are better than association lists for attaching
information to various Lisp function names or variables. If your
program keeps all such information in one association list, it will
typically need to search that entire list each time it checks for an
association for a particular Lisp function name or variable, which
could be slow. By contrast, if you keep the same information in the
property lists of the function names or variables themselves, each
search will scan only the length of one property list, which is
usually short. This is why the documentation for a variable is
recorded in a property named
variable-documentation. The byte
compiler likewise uses properties to record those functions needing
However, association lists have their own advantages. Depending on your application, it may be faster to add an association to the front of an association list than to update a property. All properties for a symbol are stored in the same property list, so there is a possibility of a conflict between different uses of a property name. (For this reason, it is a good idea to choose property names that are probably unique, such as by beginning the property name with the program’s usual name-prefix for variables and functions.) An association list may be used like a stack where associations are pushed on the front of the list and later discarded; this is not possible with a property list.