Given a sorted array
arr, Array Bisection Algorithm (a.k.a. Bisection Method, Binary Search Method) enables us to find an insertion point
i for a new element
val such that
arr[i-1] < val <= arr[i] (or,
arr[i] < val <= arr[i+1]).
Consider we want to insert a number
10 to a sorted array
[2, 4, 8, 16, 32]. Here, an insertion point should be
arr < 10 <= arr.
A naive method is sequentially walking through the elements until we hit the condition:
def search(arr, val): """ >>> search([2, 4, 8, 16, 32], 10) 3 """ if val < arr: return 0 for i in range(1, len(arr)): if arr[i-1] < val and val <= arr[i]: return i return len(arr)
The time complexity of this approach is $O(N)$, and larger arrays take more time to complete the operation.
As an optimized way to solve the problem, binary search finds out an insertion point in $O(\log N)$ time complexity.
The basic idea of the method is to repeatedly split
arr into two chunks, first-half
arr[:mid] and last-half
arr[mid+1:] of the elements, until a dividing point
mid reaches the target value
A GIF image below from penjee.com illustrates how it works in comparison with the naive method:
Although Python implements the algorithm as a standard library
bisect, let's try to implement it from scratch.
hi=len(arr)-1, what we have to do is to keep narrowing down a focused range while maintaining
arr[lo] < val <= arr[hi].
def bisect(arr, val): """Bisection algorithm Return an index of an ascending-ordered array `arr` where `val` can be inserted. A returned index `i` indicates a potential insertion point, and `arr[i:]` must come after `val` once inserted. >>> bisect([2, 4, 8, 16, 32], 1) 0 >>> bisect([2, 4, 8, 16, 32], 4) 1 >>> bisect([2, 4, 8, 16, 32], 3) 1 >>> bisect([2, 4, 8, 16, 32], 10) 3 >>> bisect([2, 4, 8, 16, 32], 64) 5 """ if len(arr) == 0: return 0 if val < arr: return 0 if arr[-1] < val: return len(arr) lo, hi = 0, len(arr) - 1 while lo < hi: if val == arr[lo]: return lo elif val == arr[hi]: return hi mid = (lo + hi) // 2 if val == arr[mid]: return mid elif val < arr[mid]: hi = mid else: lo = mid + 1 return lo
In the case of looking for a position where
10 fits in
[2, 4, 8, 16, 32], the method updates
hi as follows.
First, all elements from head to tail are considered:
2 4 8 16 32 ^ ^ ^ L M H
Next, the method realizes the first-half of the array elements is smaller than
10, and hence they are ignored so that the following process can focus only on the second half:
2 4 8 16 32 ^ ^ M H L
arr < 10 <= arr is confirmed, and
3 is returned as a potential insertion point:
2 4 8 16 32 ^ H M L
The bisection method can widely be applicable for searching a certain data point from historical records.
In real-world applications, it's safe to say that historical records arrive in the order of timestamp, and hence a target array is typically pre-ordered when we search something from there.
To give an example, assume you have a Tweet database for each user:
class User(object): def __init__(self): self.tweets =  def tweet(self, datetime, text): self.tweets.append((datetime, text))
The database sequentially stores a new tweet as soon as it's posted:
user = User() user.tweet(20100101, 'Hello, world.') # ... user.tweet(20201201, 'I am hungry.') user.tweet(20201231, 'Sleepy...') user.tweet(202101015, 'Happy New Year!') # ....
A question here could be "What was the last tweet in 2020?"
If we use
bisect, an answer to the query can be easily and efficiently found by searching an insertion point for
def last_before(timestamp, arr): """ arr[i] := (timestamp, value) """ pos = bisect(arr, (timestamp, '')) if pos == 0: return '' if pos == len(arr): return arr[-1] if arr[pos] == timestamp: return arr[pos] return arr[pos-1] last_before(20210101, user.tweets) # => "Sleepy..."
Even if a target list is not pre-sorted, growing an array while maintaining its order is not hard when we leverage heap (sorted dictionary/queue, to be more precise). It only takes $O(\log N)$ for insertion.
The method itself is simple, but the efficient searching technique could accelerate a lot of real-life applications we can think of.
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Author: Takuya Kitazawa
Takuya Kitazawa is a software engineer based in Vancouver. I have worked as a full-stack software engineer, OSS developer, data scientist, machine learning engineer, and product manager for 6+ years.
Opinions are my own and do not represent the views of organizations I am/was belonging to.