Binary Search Algorithm

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Published Jan 19, 2024
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Binary Search is an algorithm for searching an element within a sorted collection of items, primarily implemented with arrays or lists. The binary search algorithm follows a divide-and-conquer approach by repeatedly dividing the collection into two halves and comparing the target value with the middle element of the current search space. If there is a match, it provides the index of the middle element; otherwise, it proceeds to either side of the array, depending on the current comparison result.

Note: The collection must be sorted and have constant time indexing such as arrays to implement the binary search algorithm. Binary search is incompatible with data structures that do not support constant-time indexing.

The Algorithm

The steps for the binary search algorithm are as follows:

  1. Set the start pointer to the beginning of the collection (index 0).
  2. Set the end pointer to the end of the collection (length(collection) - 1).
  3. While the start is less than or equal to the end pointer, repeat these steps:
    1. Calculate the middle element index: mid = start + (end - start) / 2.
    2. Compare the value at middle index (mid) with the target value.
      1. If arr[mid] is equal to the target value, return mid (search successful).
      2. If arr[mid] is less than the target value, set the start to mid + 1.
      3. If arr[mid] is greater than the target value, set the end to mid - 1.
  4. If the start pointer becomes greater than the end pointer, the target value is not in the collection. Return -1 to indicate that the target is not present.

Complexities for Binary Search Algorithm

Time Complexity

  • Average Case: O(log n)
  • Worst Case: O(log n)
  • Best Case: O(1)

The binary search algorithm has logarithmic time complexity because it divides the array repeatedly until the target element is discovered or the search space is empty.

In the worst-case scenario, the target element does not exist in the collection. In such cases, the algorithm keeps dividing the collection until it has exhausted the search space.

Space Complexity

Binary search has a space complexity of O(1) as it is a space-efficient algorithm.


In the example below, a sorted array has elements such as [1, 3, 4, 6, 8, 9, 11]. The aim is to implement the binary search algorithm for searching the number 9.

Sorted Array

In the first iteration, start is at 0, end is at 6, and mid becomes 3 after calculating. The algorithm compares mid to the target value. Since the target value (9) is greater than the middle element (6), the algorithm proceeds the search to the right half by updating the start index to mid + 1, which is 4. Now, the algorithm will focus on finding the target value in the array’s right portion(index 4 to 6).

First Iteration of Binary Search

In the second iteration, mid becomes 5, which is the index of the target value (9). Since the target value is equal to the mid, the algorithm identifies the element’s position.

However, the search is not instantly completed; instead, the algorithm changes the search range. In this case, the start index is set to mid + 1 which starts a narrowed search on the right part of the array.

Second Iteration of Binary Search

In the last iteration, the binary search algorithm has narrowed down the search to a single element. The middle index mid, start, and end, are now pointing directly to the target value (9).

The algorithm recognizes the match, and the search concludes that the target value is found at index 5 and the binary search is successful.

Last Iteration of Binary Search

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