Thursday, April 8, 2010

Binary search on a linked list

The answer is ofcourse, you can write a C program to do this. But, the question is, do you really think it will be as efficient as a C program which does a binary search on an array?

Think hard, real hard.

Do you know what exactly makes the binary search on an array so fast and efficient? Its the ability to access any element in the array in constant time. This is what makes it so fast. You can get to the middle of the array just by saying array[middle]!. Now, can you do the same with a linked list? The answer is No. You will have to write your own, possibly inefficient algorithm to get the value of the middle node of a linked list. In a linked list, you loosse the ability to get the value of any node in a constant time.

One solution to the inefficiency of getting the middle of the linked list during a binary search is to have the first node contain one additional pointer that points to the node in the middle. Decide at the first node if you need to check the first or the second half of the linked list. Continue doing that with each half-list.