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The canonical text discussing how this is achieved refers to data structures optimized for immutability as "purely functional data structures". [1] These type of data structures are the default for Clojure as well, and there are a number of blog posts and presentations discussing their implementation. [2] [3]

It's a reasonably complicated topic, but the basic idea is that since the data structures are immutable, much of their structure can be shared between versions with few changes. Most of these data structures end up using a Tree of some sort. Performance characteristics can be influenced to an extent by using bucketing to control the width/height of the tree.

[1] : Purely Functional Data Structures (Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Purely-Functional-Structures-Chris-Ok...) [2] http://hypirion.com/musings/understanding-persistent-vector-... [3] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7BFF50BHPPo

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