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COSC122 Lab 1
Introduction to Data Structures
and Algorithms
Goals
This lab will give you some experience with different searching algorithms and a high-level overview of
some of the data structures you will encounter in this course. This lab is designed to give you a taste
of some of the material you will encounter — future labs will cover these topics (and others) in much
greater detail.
Labs and Lab Quizzes
Welcome to the first lab for the course! These labs build upon the material presented in lectures and
described in your textbook by giving you some experience with writing, using, and adapting various
data structures and algorithms. The primary emphasis of these labs is on analysing and understanding,
rather than writing code.
Material in these labs will often build upon examples shown in your textbook. As such, it is strongly
recommended that you read the associated chapters/sections of the textbook before attempting these
labs. Links to the online version of the textbook will usually be provided in footnotes. You might also
want to bookmark the main textbook page (here).
For Lab 1, you are not expected to know how searching algorithms work. But if you are interested
sections 6.2 (link) and 3.5 (link) in the online textbook cover the relevant details.
As with the introduction to programming course, each lab has a Quiz Server quiz associated with it.
These quizzes must be completed and submitted by the due date given in each quiz (they are typically
due on a Friday evening—but remain open until the Sunday in case you are a bit late).
Searching Algorithms
In the archive for this lab is the arrays.py module, which contains a few classes that implement a data
structure for an array that stores positive integers. The three classes in the module are:
1. LinearArray—uses a Python list for storing items.
2. SortedArray—uses a sorted Python list for storing items.
3. BitVectorArray—using a modified bit vector for storing items (see the “Comparing Search Methods” section).
However, some of the methods in these classes aren’t finished yet—you will have to complete them
before you can try them out.
Linear Searching
Please note, the linear search method is also known as sequential search and the textbook refers to it as
sequential search. Given the simplicity of this method, it should be clear that linear and sequential can
easily be interchanged. Linear refers more to the time complexity for the method and sequential refers
more to the way we search through a list of items. If the list is laid out in a straight line then both ideas
are very similar, ie, a search is just a walk along the line of items until we find the one we are looking for.
The LinearArray class contains the code for storing a simple Python list of ints, with a few methods
to insert new values, delete existing values, and check to see if a particular value exists in the array.
Although a Python list already comes with this functionality, we want to experiment with potentially
more efficient ways of doing things.
You will need to complete the find_index method to search the self.data list for the provided value,
returning the index of the item if it is found within the list. Use the comments in the method as a guide,
and remember to count the number of comparisons with data in the array using the self.comparisons
variable.
To test your code, you can create a new instance of the LinearArray class and manually test inserting,
deleting, and checking for the existence of elements:
from arrays import LinearArray
x = LinearArray()
# Insert some items
x.insert(3)
x.insert(2)
x.insert(1)
# Look for an item; should return True
x.contains(2)
# Remove an item
x.remove(2)
# Look for an item; should return False
x.contains(2)
The archive also contains a few data files that you can use to test the class and the number of comparisons required for each operation. There first four files: file0.txt, file1.txt, file2.txt, and file3.txt;
with 10, 100, 1000, and 10000 inserts into the array, respectively. The test files are basically lists of commands to run on the various arrays. These trace files allow us to test the arrays with exactly the same
sequence of commands so we can see the difference in performance for the same workload. The data
files from number 4 onward contain various sized batches of commands that can be used for testing
and comparison—and lab quiz questions. The start of test file 0 looks like:
i 89
i 97
c 97
i 11
c 11
i 0
c 11
i 88

Where:
• i stands for insert
• c stands for contains? (or more specifically check whether a number is in an array)
• d stands for delete/remove number from array
Open the array_tests.py file and have a look at the process_file function. If you run the array_tests.
py module then it will run the main_tests function that will run the following example:
# for example
filename = ‘file0.txt’
print(‘Processing’, filename , ‘with a linear array’)
test_array = LinearArray() # initialise a LinearArray
process_file(filename , test_array)
This will produce the following output for file0.txt, where the first number is the index of the trace
line being run:
Processing file0.txt with a linear array
0: insert 89 0 comparisons
1: insert 97 0 comparisons
2: contains 97 2 comparisons (found)
3: insert 11 0 comparisons
4: contains 11 3 comparisons (found)
5: insert 0 0 comparisons
2
6: contains 11 3 comparisons (found)
7: insert 88 0 comparisons
8: contains 0 4 comparisons (found)
9: insert 55 0 comparisons
10: insert 76 0 comparisons
11: insert 27 0 comparisons
12: contains 97 2 comparisons (found)
13: contains 88 5 comparisons (found)
14: contains 89 1 comparisons (found)
15: insert 6 0 comparisons
16: contains 11 3 comparisons (found)
17: contains 27 8 comparisons (found)
18: insert 64 0 comparisons
Once LinearArray is working and giving the correct output, you can try the other input files as well.
Note that inserting an element in a LinearArray takes no comparisons at all, while checking whether
or not an array contains an element can take a long time for those inserted relatively recently (as they
are near the end of the list). In the upcoming sections we will see that Sorted and BitVector arrays work
differently, eg, the sorted array will use some comparisons when adding and the BitVector will only need
one comparison when searching . . .
> Now you can answer the Linear search questions in Quiz1.
Binary Searching
The SortedArray class performs the same operations as LinearArray, but uses a binary search algorithm
to insert and check if an array contains elements.
This time, all of the methods have been completed for you, however: you need to add the code
to count the number of data comparisons (not index comparisons) in the appropriate places in both
insert and find_index.
Once you have completed this, you can test your code by processing the data files. The output when
processing file0.txt with a sorted array should look like:
Processing file0.txt with a sorted array
0: insert 89 0 comparisons
1: insert 97 1 comparisons
2: contains 97 1 comparisons (found)
3: insert 11 2 comparisons
4: contains 11 3 comparisons (found)
5: insert 0 2 comparisons
6: contains 11 3 comparisons (found)
7: insert 88 2 comparisons
8: contains 0 5 comparisons (found)
9: insert 55 2 comparisons
10: insert 76 3 comparisons
11: insert 27 3 comparisons
12: contains 97 5 comparisons (found)
13: contains 88 5 comparisons (found)
14: contains 89 3 comparisons (found)
15: insert 6 4 comparisons
16: contains 11 3 comparisons (found)
17: contains 27 5 comparisons (found)
18: insert 64 4 comparisons
NOTE: If Wing truncates (leaves out) some of the output with longer files then you should run your
program in debug mode (click the red bug icon instead of the green B play button.)
> Now you can answer the Binary Search questions in Lab Quiz 1.
Once you have had a play and understand the search methods and data files you should consider
the following questions:
• Which search is better for failed contains operations? Why?
• Why are there no comparisons needed for the insert operation in the linear search, but a few are
needed for the binary search?
3
• For linear search, how is the number of comparisons needed to check that an item exists related
to that item? Why does looking for 5635 in file3 take fewer comparisons in linear search than in
binary search?
Comparing Search Methods
Performing a comparison between two data values is one of the slowest operations and the most frequent operations in a searching algorithm, which is why algorithms seek to minimise the number of
comparisons they make. In addition to printing out the number of comparisons, the get_time() function provided in the template files allows you to examine how long it actually takes code to execute.
1
The array_tests.py module imports time and provides a timing example in the time_sorted_trial
function (as shown below):
def time_sorted_trial(filename):
test_array = SortedArray()
print (‘\nRunning trial on sorted array with’,filename)
start_time = get_time()
process_file(filename , test_array)
end_time = get_time()
time_taken = end_time – start_time
print (‘Took {0:.3f} seconds.’.format(time_taken))
Try using time on a SortedArray and a LinearArray – note the difference in execution time. You will
want to write a time_linear_trial function that is very similar to the provided time_sorted_trial function.
Use files file1, file2 and file3 to look at how the relative performance of each implementation changes
as the input size increases.
> Now you can answer the Linear vs Binary question(s) in Lab Quiz 1.
The arrays module also contains a BitVectorArray class. This is an implementation that uses a variation of a bit vector or bitmap data structure to store its data—instead of storing each inserted value in
the list, it simply records how many times a particular value is inserted. This data structure isn’t covered
in the textbook, so don’t worry if you don’t understand it—it’s used here because it happens to work well
for this particular kind of data (and is part of a good answer to Google’s question to Barack Obama2
).
You can use the BitVectorArray as you have for the LinearArray and SortedArray with one difference:
when you’re creating the BitVectorArray, you need to tell it what the largest possible value you will store
is:
b1 = BitVectorArray (100)
process_file(‘file0.txt’, b1)
b3 = BitVectorArray (10000)
process_file(‘file3.txt’, b3)
Use time to examine how fast the BitVectorArray is, and compare its results to that of the other two
implementations (especially when you use files file2 and file3).
Although a bit vector is extremely fast and efficient (compared to linear and binary searching), this
doesn’t mean it’s the panacea of searching algorithms; it has some major disadvantages. 3
1get_time has be set to point to time.clock or time.perf_counter depending on the Python version you are running. That
is, time.clock in Python versions <3.3 and time.perf_counter in versions >= 3.3. Check out the Python documentation for
3The fact that you need to tell it how big the largest item you want to store is might give you a hint about what some of those
4
Testing Python’s List and Set Implementations
Sets have been covered in the introduction to programming course. Please read section 3.5 to 3.8 of
the online textbook. In this section, we will compare the behaviour of the Python ’in’ operation (which
checks whether an item is contained in the given list or set) using a list and a set implementation.
Note: In this section you will run tests for various list sizes (n’s) but you will run each test a number
of times and report the average time taken for the given list size (n).
• Run the appropriate code in internal_trials.py to test searching in a Python list. Plot the results
in a graph. See notes below for graphing ideas.
• Change the number of trials to 5, 10, 100, etc. and use a graph to compare the behaviour of ’in’ in
a list. Try 1000 trial runs if you don’t get too bored waiting… See graphing tips below.
• Complete the code in run_set_trials so that it tests the ’in’ operation on a set. The code will be
very similar to the run_list_trials function except you will need to execute a statement like (found
= value_to_find in test_set) multiple times as specified by variable num_trials. Make sure that
the program displays the average time taken by a single search, as the size of the set changes.
• Change the number of executions to 5, 10, 100, etc. and use a graph to compare the behaviour of
’in’ in a set. Try 1000 trial runs, hopefully it is a bearable wait… See graphing tips below.
• Running more trials shouldn’t greatly affect the time per ’in’ operation, so why is it important to
use multiple trials? Think about the nature of modern multi-tasking, multi-processor computers.
• Compare the two implementations by plotting, in a single graph, the values for both implementations for 100 trials. You should get a graph similar to the graph at the bottom of section 2.7 of
the online text book.
Graphing Tips
Installing matplotlib
Lab computers have Python and matplotlib installed so don’t try to install them there!
If you are running Python on your own computer then you will need to make sure you install matplotlib
.
The easiest way to install maplotlib is to open the install_numpy_and_matplotlib.py in Wing101 and
run it. This will ensure maplotlib is set-up for your user in the Wing environment that you will be running
it.
We have some simple matplotlib install instructions here. Or, check out the matplotlib install page
directly, here. Either way, if you are using Windows, the important thing is to make sure you checked
the Add Python 3.x to PATH option when installing Python.
Generating data and graphs
Tab delimiting your output (as shown in the run_list_trials function) will allow you to cut and paste
output in to Excel (or Open Office Calc). But, investing a little time in setting up some graphing code in
Python will make experimenting a lot easier. Therefore, we recommend you try using matplotlib to get
scatter plots of the output. The following gives you an example of how to use matplotlib and is included
in the internal_trials.py file as the function graph_example
from matplotlib import pyplot
n_trials = 10
list_xs , list_ys = run_list_trials(n_trials)
set_xs , set_ys = run_set_trials(n_trials)
pyplot.plot(list_xs , list_ys , ‘bo’) # use blue o’s as markers
pyplot.plot(set_xs , set_ys , ‘ro’) # use red o’s as markers
pyplot.title(f’Locate Testing , {n_trials} Trial runs’)
5
pyplot.xlabel(‘n’)
pyplot.ylabel(‘Average Time per locate’)
pyplot.show()
Check out the graph_one_series_example and graph_two_series_example functions for some graphing
that we already had in the oven. The one series function currently plots the results of list tests but you
can easily change it so that it runs set tests instead.
> Now you should be able to answer the Comparing Structures questions in Lab Quiz 1.
Sorting Algorithms
Experiment with the sorting algorithm animations at http://www.sorting-algorithms.com/ and
make notes about which method is the fastest and how they deteriorate as the problem size changes.
You do not need to understand how the algorithms work, just examine the performance characteristics
of each under various conditions.
> Now you can answer the Comparing Sorts questions in Lab Quiz 1.
Complexity
To end the main part of this lab we have a quick review of asymptotic complexity.
Simple method to determine Big Oh for an algorithm
1. Find an operation that the algorithm does at least as much as any other.
2. Count how often it is done (in terms of the input size, n).
3. Take highest order term only
(increasing order is 1, logn, n, n logn, n
2
, n
3
, n
4
,…, 2n
, 3n
, n!) and drop any constant that it is
multiplied by.
4. Remove any constants.
For example, if an algorithm uses 6+5n +6n
2 +3n
3 operations we would say it is O(n
3
) because n
3
is the part that will grow the quickest. We don’t worry about constant multiples so we wouldn’t write it
as O(3n
3
).
Note you can think of constants as const ant × 1, eg, an algorithm that takes 6 operations can be
thought of as taking 6×1 operations and therefore we can treat it as O(1). Basically, any constant term
is treated as O(1).
> Now you can answer the Complexity – Big Oh questions in Lab Quiz 1.
Extras
• Change the contains method in SortedArray to use fewer comparisons (down to roughly half in the
best case). Hints: When searching for x, in initial comparisons, is x more likely to be less than the
indexed value or equal to the indexed value? If x is less than (or greater than) the indexed item do
you need to also check if it is equal to the indexed item?
• For file3, what percentage of entries are faster to check for existence in binary search compared
with linear search?
6 Lab 1 Introduction to Data Structures and Algorithms
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