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What notation do you use for the average time complexity of an algorithm? It occurs to me that the proper way would be to use big-theta to refer to a set of results (even when a specific try may differ). For example, average array search would be Θ(n+1)/2.

Is this right?

Explanation of average search time being Θ(n+1)/2: Given that the access time sum for the n first integers is n(n+1)/2, the average time for a large number of random access to the array will be (n(n+1)/2)/n = (n+1)/2. In this case I would say that Θ(n+1)/2 will be the average access time. It makes sense (to me) but since I'm new to asymptotic notation (and programming in general), I'd like to know if this is common practice.

I'm asking because I'm confused to see big-O being used for everywhere in pages like http://bigocheatsheet.com. eg: average case of array search O(n).

  • Yeah, lots of people misuse big Oh to varying degrees. – user7043 May 11 '13 at 15:34
  • The thing is you retain only the highest order term, nothing else. Thus O((n+1)/2) is O(n). – Loren Pechtel May 11 '13 at 18:15
  • If you have done some math, the formal definitions help a lot: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/… O-notation is not magic, its just provides the terms/unit for talking about comprexity. Like f in O(g) means g is an upper bound to the growth of f aside of a constant factor. Theta is just upper & lower bound so f and g grow pretty much exactly the same except for a constant factor. – sleeplessnerd May 12 '13 at 0:08
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    and then avg/worst case just specifies what you mean by f. – sleeplessnerd May 12 '13 at 0:09
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f ∈ Θ(g)

is the same as

f ∈ Ο(g) ∧ f ∈ Ω(g)

So, if you can prove that f ∈ Ο(g) ∧ f ∈ Ω(g), then by all means use Θ.

Note that this has absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with time complexity of algorithms, average or otherwise. Θ, Ο, ο, Ω and ω are about the growth rate of functions; whether those functions describe average time/step/space complexity of an algorithm, worst-case time/step/space complexity of an algorithm, best-case time/step/space complexity of an algorithm, expected case time/step/space complexity of an algorithm, the population of China, the number of users on StackOverflow, or the size of Lara Croft's bra is completely irrelevant.

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    I'm sorry, but the size of Lara Croft's bra is always relevant. – Florian Margaine May 11 '13 at 15:49

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