I am trying to solve a problem in which I have a list of two-dimensional coordinates, and I want to find the shortest path that connects all of them.

At first I thought this was a case of the Traveling Salesman Problem, however:

  • You don't need to get back to the starting city, which I believe TSP wants you to.
  • On this two-dimensional plane where we work with the euclidean distance metric, the triangle inequality holds, which the normal TSP algorithms don't care about, if I recall correctly.
  • There is no 'you only can visit a node once' rule in this problem; the 'shortest path' could form a tree.

I then thought to 'just make a graph and use Prim's or Kruskal's algorithm to find the (length of the) minimum spanning tree'. However, the graph representations commonly used are either an adjacency matrix, which seems a waste for an undirected graph, or an adjacency list, which is slower for a sparse graph (and a fully-connected graph is of course the exact opposite of sparse).

I have the feeling that I am discarding information this specific problem has, which will result in using more time and/or memory that would be required to solve the shortest connecting path problem for a fully-connected, undirected graph in 2d-space.


  • What would be the most efficient practical data representation to store this graph in?
  • What would be the most efficient algorithm to find the length of the shortest path connecting all nodes?
  • Possibly dumb question: if the triangle inequality holds, why would you ever visit a node twice? Mar 26, 2017 at 23:35
  • @PhilipKendall What I mean is that the optimal path might form a tree, not necessarily a 'snake' as the TSP requires.
    – Qqwy
    Mar 27, 2017 at 9:30

1 Answer 1


For storing the complete graph use an adjacency matrix because you're going to need to store the distance between every two node [n*(n+1)/2 edges for n nodes]. You'd need to insert n*(n+1) edges if you use an adjacency list.

For storing the minimum spanning tree (MST) use an adjacency list since you only need to store only n-1 edges for a graph of n nodes

For finding the MST you're better off with Prim's algorithm. It works in O(E log(V)) when used with adjacency list. [E edges, V nodes]

Kruskal's algorithm needs to sort all the edges first which in this case is not a good idea because you have a lot of edges.

  • So the fact that this graph is undirected does not change anything?
    – Qqwy
    Mar 26, 2017 at 17:18
  • It halves the size of your adjacency matrix as D(a, b) == D(b, a). For a directed graph, you'd need n * (n-1) entries. Mar 26, 2017 at 23:31

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