I am currently doing some exercises with algorithms and I find myself in a huge problem.

It seems that everybody understands this type of problem but I have a really hard time figuring it out. For exercise, we have some for loops to look at, and we need to figure out the runtime for that specific algorithm. We got a solution, which is great and all, but I do not really understand it.

Here is the code for you to look at:

int sum = 0;
for (int n = N; n > 0; n /= 2)
  for (int i = 0; i < n; i++)

And the solution for this algorithm is O(n).

And for our task we need to figure out why the solution is O(n) (we need to write the Big O notation if you understand what I mean by that 0(1) + O(n)... for example.)

I have found some explanation for this task on Stack Exchange but I do not understand it at all. I am sorry if you think this is a stupid question but I just started studying software engineering.


1 Answer 1


I assume you need to prove the algorithm is O(N), not O(n).

  • During the first iteration of the first for loop, the statement (sum++) is called N times.
  • During the second iteration, it is called at most N/2 times. (Here, unlike your algorithm, it's a division of floats.) Why at most? Well, if N is odd, N/2 is rounded down, because n is an integer.
  • During the third iteration, it is called at most N/4 times.
  • Etcetera, etcetera.

The total number of times the statement is called is (at most) N + N/2 + N/4 + ... which is 2N. (The easiest way to visualize this is some sort of pie chart: half a pie + a quarter of a pie + ... = one pie.) So the algorithm is O(2N), but multiplication by a constant is 'ignored' by big O notation; see Wikipedia for details.

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