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Chapter 3  ArrayList

This chapter kills two birds with one stone: I present solutions to the previous exercise and demonstrate a way to classify algorithms using amortized analysis.

3.1  Classifying MyArrayList methods

For many methods, we can identify the order of growth by examining the code. For example, here’s the implementation of get from MyArrayList:

    public E get(int index) {
        if (index < 0 || index >= size) {
            throw new IndexOutOfBoundsException();
        return array[index];

Everything in get is constant time, so get is constant time. No problem.

Now that we’ve classified get, we can classify set, which uses it. Here is our implementation of set from the previous exercise:

    public E set(int index, E element) {
        E old = get(index);
        array[index] = element;
        return old;

One slightly clever part of this solution is that it does not check the bounds of the array explicitly; it takes advantage of get, which raises an exception if the index is invalid.

Everything in set, including the invocation of get, is constant time, so set is also constant time.

Next we’ll look at some linear methods. For example, here’s my implementation of indexOf:

    public int indexOf(Object target) {
        for (int i = 0; i<size; i++) {
            if (equals(target, array[i])) {
                return i;
        return -1;

Each time through the loop, indexOf invokes equals, so we have to classify equals first. Here it is:

    private boolean equals(Object target, Object element) {
        if (target == null) {
            return element == null;
        } else {
            return target.equals(element);

This method invokes target.equals; the run time of this method might depend on the size of target or element, but it probably doesn’t depend on the size of the array, so we consider it constant time for purposes of analyzing indexOf.

Getting back to indexOf, everything inside the loop is constant time, so the next question we have to consider is: how many times does the loop execute?

If we get lucky, we might find the target object right away and return after testing only one element. If we are unlucky, we might have to test all of the elements. On average, we expect to test half of the elements, so this method is considered linear (except in the unlikely case that we know the target element is at the beginning of the array).

The analysis of remove is similar. Here’s my implementation:

    public E remove(int index) {
        E element = get(index);
        for (int i=index; i<size-1; i++) {
            array[i] = array[i+1];
        return element;

It uses get, which is constant time, and then loops through the array, starting from index. If we remove the element at the end of the list, the loop never runs and this method is constant time. If we remove the first element, we loop through all of the remaining elements, which is linear. So, again, this method is considered linear (except in the special case where we know the element is at the end or a constant distance from the end).

3.2  Classifying add

Here’s a version of add that takes an index and an element as parameters:

    public void add(int index, E element) {
        if (index < 0 || index > size) {
            throw new IndexOutOfBoundsException();
        // add the element to get the resizing
        // shift the other elements
        for (int i=size-1; i>index; i--) {
            array[i] = array[i-1];
        // put the new one in the right place
        array[index] = element;

This two-parameter version, called add(int, E), uses the one-parameter version, called add(E), which puts the new element at the end. Then it shifts the other elements to the right, and puts the new element in the correct place.

Before we can classify the two-parameter add(int, E), we have to classify the one-parameter add(E):

    public boolean add(E element) {
        if (size >= array.length) {
            // make a bigger array and copy over the elements
            E[] bigger = (E[]) new Object[array.length * 2];
            System.arraycopy(array, 0, bigger, 0, array.length);
            array = bigger;
        array[size] = element;
        return true;

The one-parameter version turns out to be hard to analyze. If there is an unused space in the array, it is constant time, but if we have to resize the array, it’s linear because System.arraycopy takes time proportional to the size of the array.

So is add constant time or linear? We can classify this method by thinking about the average number of operations per add over a series of n adds. For simplicity, assume we start with an array that has room for 2 elements.

  • The first time we call add, it finds unused space in the array, so it stores 1 element.
  • The second time, it finds unused space in the array, so it stores 1 element.
  • The third time, we have to resize the array, copy 2 elements, and store 1 element. Now the size of the array is 4.
  • The fourth time stores 1 element.
  • The fifth time resizes the array, copies 4 elements, and stores 1 element. Now the size of the array is 8.
  • The next 3 adds store 3 elements.
  • The next add copies 8 and stores 1. Now the size is 16.
  • The next 7 adds store 7 elements.

And so on. Adding things up:

  • After 4 adds, we’ve stored 4 elements and copied 2.
  • After 8 adds, we’ve stored 8 elements and copied 6.
  • After 16 adds, we’ve stored 16 elements and copied 14.

By now you should see the pattern: to do n adds, we have to store n elements and copy n−2. So the total number of operations is n + n − 2, which is 2n−2.

To get the average number of operations per add, we divide the total by n; the result is 2 − 2/n. As n gets big, the second term, 2/n, gets small. Invoking the principle that we only care about the largest exponent of n, we can think of add as constant time.

It might seem strange that an algorithm that is sometimes linear can be constant time on average. The key is that we double the length of the array each time it gets resized. That limits the number of times each element gets copied. Otherwise — if we add a fixed amount to the length of the array, rather than multiplying by a fixed amount — the analysis doesn’t work.

This way of classifying an algorithm, by computing the average time in a series of invocations, is called amortized analysis. You can read more about it at The key idea is that the extra cost of copying the array is spread, or “amortized”, over a series of invocations.

Now, if add(E) is constant time, what about add(int, E)? After calling add(E), it loops through part of the array and shifts elements. This loop is linear, except in the special case where we are adding at the end of the list. So add(int, E) is linear.

3.3  Problem Size

The last example we’ll consider is removeAll; here’s the implementation in MyArrayList:

    public boolean removeAll(Collection<?> collection) {
        boolean flag = true;
        for (Object obj: collection) {
            flag &= remove(obj);
        return flag;

Each time through the loop, removeAll invokes remove, which is linear. So it is tempting to think that removeAll is quadratic. But that’s not necessarily the case.

In this method, the loop runs once for each element in collection. If collection contains m elements and the list we are removing from contains n elements, this method is in O(nm). If the size of collection can be considered constant, removeAll is linear with respect to n. But if the size of the collection is proportional to n, removeAll is quadratic. For example, if collection always contains 100 or fewer elements, removeAll is linear. But if collection generally contains 1% of the elements in the list, removeAll is quadratic.

When we talk about problem size, we have to be careful about which size, or sizes, we are talking about. This example demonstrates a pitfall of algorithm analysis: the tempting shortcut of counting loops. If there is one loop, the algorithm is often linear. If there are two loops (one nested inside the other), the algorithm is often quadratic. But be careful! You have to think about how many times each loop runs. If the number of iterations is proportional to n for all loops, you can get away with just counting the loops. But if, as in this example, the number of iterations is not always proportional to n, you have to give it more thought.

3.4  Linked Data Structures

For the next exercise I provide a partial implementation of the List interface that uses a linked list to store the elements. If you are not familiar with linked lists, you can read about them at, but this section provides a brief introduction.

A data structure is “linked” if it is made up of objects, often called “nodes”, that contain references to other nodes. In a linked list, each node contains a reference to the next node in the list. Other linked structures include trees and graphs, in which nodes can contain references to more than one other node.

Here’s a class definition for a simple node:

public class ListNode {

    public Object data;
    public ListNode next;

    public ListNode() { = null; = null;

    public ListNode(Object data) { = data; = null;

    public ListNode(Object data, ListNode next) { = data; = next;

    public String toString() {
        return "ListNode(" + data.toString() + ")";

The ListNode object has two instance variables: data is a reference to some kind of Object, and next is a reference to the next node in the list. In the last node in the list, by convention, next is null.

ListNode provides several constructors, allowing you to provide values for data and next, or initialize them to the default value, null.

You can think of each ListNode as a list with a single element, but more generally, a list can contain any number of nodes. There are several ways to make a new list. A simple option is to create a set of ListNode objects, like this:

        ListNode node1 = new ListNode(1);
        ListNode node2 = new ListNode(2);
        ListNode node3 = new ListNode(3);

And then link them up, like this: = node2; = node3; = null;

Alternatively, you can create a node and link it at the same time. For example, if you want to add a new node at the beginning of a list, you can do it like this:

        ListNode node0 = new ListNode(0, node1);

After this sequence of instructions, we have four nodes containing the Integers 0, 1, 2, and 3 as data, linked up in increasing order. In the last node, the next field is null.

Figure 3.1: Object diagram of a linked list.

Figure 3.1 is an object diagram that shows these variables and the objects they refer to. In an object diagram, variables appear as names inside boxes, with arrows that show what they refer to. Objects appear as boxes with their type on the outside (like ListNode and Integer) and their instance variables on the inside.

3.5  Exercise 3

In the repository for this book, you’ll find the source files you need for this exercise:

  • contains a partial implementation of the List interface using a linked list to store the elements.
  • contains JUnit tests for MyLinkedList.

Run ant MyArrayList to run, which contains a few simple tests.

Then you can run ant MyArrayListTest to run the JUnit tests. Several of them should fail. If you examine the source code, you’ll find three TODO comments indicating the methods you should fill in.

Before you start, let’s walk through some of the code. Here are the instance variables and the constructor for MyLinkedList:

public class MyLinkedList<E> implements List<E> {

    private int size;            // keeps track of the number of elements
    private Node head;           // reference to the first node

    public MyLinkedList() {
        head = null;
        size = 0;

As the comments indicate, size keeps track of how many elements are in MyLinkedList; head is a reference to the first Node in the list or null if the list is empty.

Storing the number of elements is not necessary, and in general it is risky to keep redundant information, because if it’s not updated correctly, it creates opportunities for error. It also takes a little bit of extra space.

But if we store size explicitly, we can implement the size method in constant time; otherwise, we would have to traverse the list and count the elements, which requires linear time.

Because we store size explicitly, we have to update it each time we add or remove an element, so that slows down those methods a little, but it doesn’t change their order of growth, so it’s probably worth it.

The constructor sets head to null, which indicates an empty list, and sets size to 0.

This class uses the type parameter E for the type of the elements. If you are not familiar with type parameters, you might want to read this tutorial:

The type parameter also appears in the definition of Node, which is nested inside MyLinkedList:

    private class Node {
        public E data;
        public Node next;

        public Node(E data, Node next) {
   = data;
   = next;

Other than that, Node is similar to ListNode above.

Finally, here’s my implementation of add:

    public boolean add(E element) {
        if (head == null) {
            head = new Node(element);
        } else {
            Node node = head;
            // loop until the last node
            for ( ; != null; node = {}
   = new Node(element);
        return true;

This example demonstrates two patterns you’ll need for your solutions:

  1. For many methods, we have to handle the first element of the list as a special case. In this example, if we are adding the first element of a list, we have to modify head. Otherwise, we traverse the list, find the end, and add the new node.
  2. This method shows how to use a for loop to traverse the nodes in a list. In your solutions, you will probably write several variations on this loop. Notice that we have to declare node before the loop so we can access it after the loop.

Now it’s your turn. Fill in the body of indexOf. As usual, you should read the documentation, at, so you know what it is supposed to do. In particular, notice how it’s supposed to handle null.

As in the previous exercise, I provide a helper method called equals that compares an element from the array to a target value and checks whether they are equal — and it handles null correctly. This method is private because it is used inside this class but it is not part of the List interface.

When you are done, run the tests again; testIndexOf should pass now, as well as the other tests that depend on it.

Next, you should fill in the two-parameter version of add, which takes an index and stores the new value at the given index. Again, read the documentation at, write an implementation, and run the tests for confirmation.

Last one: fill in the body of remove. The documentation is here: When you finish this one, all tests should pass.

Once you have your implementation working, compare it to the version in the solution directory of the repository.

3.6  A note on garbage collection

In MyArrayList from the previous exercise, the array grows if necessary, but it never shrinks. The array never gets garbage collected, and the elements don’t get garbage collected until the list itself is destroyed.

One advantage of the linked list implementation is that it shrinks when elements are removed, and the unused nodes can get garbage collected immediately.

Here is my implementation of the clear method:

    public void clear() {
        head = null;
        size = 0;

When we set head to null, we remove a reference to the first Node. If there are no other references to that Node (and there shouldn’t be), it will get garbage collected. At that point, the reference to the second Node is removed, so it gets garbage collected, too. This process continues until all nodes are collected.

So how should we classify clear? The method itself contains two constant time operations, so it sure looks like it’s constant time. But when you invoke it, you make the garbage collector do work that’s proportional to the number of elements. So maybe we should consider it linear!

This is an example of what is sometimes called a performance bug: a program that is correct in the sense that it does the right thing, but it doesn’t belong to the order of growth we expected. In languages like Java that do a lot of work, like garbage collection, behind the scenes, this kind of bug can be hard to find.

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