Binary Search: Python
Recursive Binary Search: Review and Refactor

Congratulations, you implemented a version of the binary search algorithm using recursion!

Let’s recap how we solved this problem:

  1. We know our inputs will be sorted, which helps us make assertions about where to search for values.
  2. We divide the list in half and compare our target value with the middle element.
  3. If they match, we return the index
  4. If they don’t match, we begin again at the first step with the appropriate half of the original list.
  5. When the list is empty, the target is not found.

Our original solution solved the problem of reducing the sorted input list by making a smaller copy of the list.

This is wasteful! At each recursive call we’re copying N/2 elements where N is the length of the sorted list.

We can do better by using pointers instead of copying the list. Pointers are indices stored in a variable that mark the beginning and end of a list:

vehicles = ["car", "jet", "camel", "boat"] start_of_list = 0 end_of_list = len(vehicles) # 4 vehicles[start_of_list : end_of_list] # ["car", "jet", "camel", "boat"] middle_of_list = len(vehicles) // 2 # 2 vehicles[start_of_list : middle_of_list] # ["car", "jet"] vehicles[middle_of_list : end_of_list] # ["camel", "boat"] # This example copies the list to show what portion is covered # We won't need to copy in the algorithm!

With pointers, we’ll track which sub-list we’re searching within the original input and there’s no need for copying.

Our overall strategy is the same, but we’ll need to change the following sections:

  • binary_search() has two parameters
    • It should have four
  • Our base case checks for an empty list
    • It should check whether the pointers indicate an empty sub-list
  • Our recursive calls use copied sub-lists
    • They should update the pointers to indicate which portion of the list we’re searching.
  • Our “right-half” recursive calls do some arithmetic.
    • That’s no longer necessary!



Run the new version of binary_search() which uses pointers instead of copying lists.

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