Here’s one task related to the tree data structure. Given two nodes, can you find their lowest common ancestor?

In a matter of fact this task always has a proper solution, because at least the root node is a common ancestor of all pairs of nodes. However here the task is to find the lowest one, which can be quite far from the root.

We don’t care what kind of trees we have. However the solution, as we will see, can be very different depending on the tree type. Indeed finding the lowest common ancestor can have linear complexity for binary search trees, which isn’t true for ordinary trees. Continue reading Computer Algorithms: Finding the Lowest Common Ancestor→

The binary search tree is a very useful data structure, where searching can be significantly faster than searching into a linked list. However in some cases searching into a binary tree can be as slow as searching into a linked list and this mainly depends on the input sequence. Indeed in case the input is sorted the binary tree will seem much like a linked list and the search will be slow.

To overcome this we must change a bit the data structure in order to stay well balanced. It’s intuitively clear that the searching process will be better if the tree is well branched. This is when finding an item will become faster with minimal effort.

Since we know how to construct a binary search tree the only thing left is to keep it balanced. Obviously we will need to re-balance the tree on each insert and delete, which will make this data structure more difficult to maintain compared to non-balanced search trees, but searching into it will be significantly faster. Continue reading Computer Algorithms: Balancing a Binary Search Tree→

Constructing a linked list is a fairly simple task. Linked lists are a linear structure and the items are located one after another, each pointing to its predecessor and its successor. Almost every operation is easy to code in few lines and doesn’t require advanced skills. Operations like insert, delete, etc. over linked lists are performed in a linear time. Of course on small data sets this works fine, but as the data grows these operations, especially the search operation becomes too slow.

Indeed searching in a linked list has a linear complexity and in the worst case we must go through the entire list in order to find the desired element. The worst case is when the item doesn’t belong to the list and we must check every single item of the list even the last one without success. This approach seems much like the sequential search over arrays. Of course this is bad when we talk about large data sets.

I wrote about binary search in my previous post, which is indeed one very fast searching algorithm, but in some cases we can achieve even faster results. Such an algorithm is the “interpolation search” – perhaps the most interesting of all searching algorithms. However we shouldn’t forget that the data must follow some limitations. In first place the array must be sorted. Also we must know the bounds of the interval.

Why is that? Well, this algorithm tries to follow the way we search a name in a phone book, or a word in the dictionary. We, humans, know in advance that in case the name we’re searching starts with a “B”, like “Bond” for instance, we should start searching near the beginning of the phone book. Thus if we’re searching the word “algorithm” in the dictionary, you know that it should be placed somewhere at the beginning. This is because we know the order of the letters, we know the interval (a-z), and somehow we intuitively know that the words are dispersed equally. These facts are enough to realize that the binary search can be a bad choice. Indeed the binary search algorithm divides the list in two equal sub-lists, which is useless if we know in advance that the searched item is somewhere in the beginning or the end of the list. Yes, we can use also jump search if the item is at the beginning, but not if it is at the end, in that case this algorithm is not so effective.

So the interpolation search is based on some simple facts. The binary search divides the interval on two equal sub-lists, as shown on the image bellow.

What will happen if we don’t use the constant ½, but another more accurate constant “C”, that can lead us closer to the searched item.