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# Classification of Algorithms

Classification by implementation

## • Recursion or iteration: A recursive algorithm is one that invokes (makes reference

to) itself repeatedly until a certain condition matches, which is a method common to
functional programming. Iterative algorithms use repetitive constructs like loops and
sometimes additional data structures like stacks to solve the given problems. Some
problems are naturally suited for one implementation or the other. For example,
towers of hanoi is well understood in recursive implementation. Every recursive
version has an equivalent (but possibly more or less complex) iterative version, and
vice versa.

## • Logical: An algorithm may be viewed as controlled logical deduction. This notion

may be expressed as: Algorithm = logic + control (Kowalski 1979). The logic
component expresses the axioms that may be used in the computation and the control
component determines the way in which deduction is applied to the axioms. This is
the basis for the logic programming paradigm. In pure logic programming languages
the control component is fixed and algorithms are specified by supplying only the
logic component. The appeal of this approach is the elegant semantics: a change in the
axioms has a well defined change in the algorithm.

## • Serial or parallel or distributed: Algorithms are usually discussed with the

assumption that computers execute one instruction of an algorithm at a time. Those
computers are sometimes called serial computers. An algorithm designed for such an
environment is called a serial algorithm, as opposed to parallel algorithms or
distributed algorithms. Parallel algorithms take advantage of computer architectures
where several processors can work on a problem at the same time, whereas distributed
algorithms utilize multiple machines connected with a network. Parallel or distributed
algorithms divide the problem into more symmetrical or asymmetrical subproblems
and collect the results back together. The resource consumption in such algorithms is
not only processor cycles on each processor but also the communication overhead
between the processors. Sorting algorithms can be parallelized efficiently, but their
communication overhead is expensive. Iterative algorithms are generally
parallelizable. Some problems have no parallel algorithms, and are called inherently
serial problems.

## • Deterministic or non-deterministic: Deterministic algorithms solve the problem

with exact decision at every step of the algorithm whereas non-deterministic
algorithm solve problems via guessing although typical guesses are made more
accurate through the use of heuristics.

## • Exact or approximate: While many algorithms reach an exact solution,

approximation algorithms seek an approximation that is close to the true solution.
Approximation may use either a deterministic or a random strategy. Such algorithms
have practical value for many hard problems.

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Another way of classifying algorithms is by their design methodology or paradigm. There is a
certain number of paradigms, each different from the other. Furthermore, each of these
categories will include many different types of algorithms. Some commonly found paradigms
include:

• Divide and conquer. A divide and conquer algorithm repeatedly reduces an instance
of a problem to one or more smaller instances of the same problem (usually
recursively), until the instances are small enough to solve easily. One such example of
divide and conquer is merge sorting. Sorting can be done on each segment of data
after dividing data into segments and sorting of entire data can be obtained in conquer
phase by merging them. A simpler variant of divide and conquer is called decrease
and conquer algorithm, that solves an identical subproblem and uses the solution of
this subproblem to solve the bigger problem. Divide and conquer divides the problem
into multiple subproblems and so conquer stage will be more complex than decrease
and conquer algorithms. An example of decrease and conquer algorithm is binary
search algorithm.
• Dynamic programming. When a problem shows optimal substructure, meaning the
optimal solution to a problem can be constructed from optimal solutions to
subproblems, and overlapping subproblems, meaning the same subproblems are used
to solve many different problem instances, a quicker approach called dynamic
programming avoids recomputing solutions that have already been computed. For
example, the shortest path to a goal from a vertex in a weighted graph can be found by
using the shortest path to the goal from all adjacent vertices. Dynamic programming
and memoization go together. The main difference between dynamic programming
and divide and conquer is that subproblems are more or less independent in divide and
conquer, whereas subproblems overlap in dynamic programming. The difference
between dynamic programming and straightforward recursion is in caching or
memoization of recursive calls. When subproblems are independent and there is no
repetition, memoization does not help; hence dynamic programming is not a solution
for all complex problems. By using memoization or maintaining a table of
subproblems already solved, dynamic programming reduces the exponential nature of
many problems to polynomial complexity.
• The greedy method. A greedy algorithm is similar to a dynamic programming
algorithm, but the difference is that solutions to the subproblems do not have to be
known at each stage; instead a "greedy" choice can be made of what looks best for the
moment. The greedy method extends the solution with the best possible decision (not
all feasible decisions) at an algorithmic stage based on the current local optimum and
the best decision (not all possible decisions) made in previous stage. It is not
exhaustive, and does not give accurate answer to many problems. But when it works,
it will be the fastest method. The most popular greedy algorithm is finding the
minimal spanning tree as given by Kruskal.
• Linear programming. When solving a problem using linear programming, specific
inequalities involving the inputs are found and then an attempt is made to maximize
(or minimize) some linear function of the inputs. Many problems (such as the
maximum flow for directed graphs) can be stated in a linear programming way, and
then be solved by a 'generic' algorithm such as the simplex algorithm. A more
complex variant of linear programming is called integer programming, where the
solution space is restricted to the integers.
• Reduction. This technique involves solving a difficult problem by transforming it
into a better known problem for which we have (hopefully) asymptotically optimal

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algorithms. The goal is to find a reducing algorithm whose complexity is not
dominated by the resulting reduced algorithm's. For example, one selection algorithm
for finding the median in an unsorted list involves first sorting the list (the expensive
portion) and then pulling out the middle element in the sorted list (the cheap portion).
This technique is also known as transform and conquer.
• Search and enumeration. Many problems (such as playing chess) can be modeled as
problems on graphs. A graph exploration algorithm specifies rules for moving around
a graph and is useful for such problems. This category also includes search
algorithms, branch and bound enumeration and backtracking.
• The probabilistic and heuristic paradigm. Algorithms belonging to this class fit the
definition of an algorithm more loosely.

1. Probabilistic algorithms are those that make some choices randomly (or pseudo-
randomly); for some problems, it can in fact be proven that the fastest solutions must
involve some randomness.
2. Genetic algorithms attempt to find solutions to problems by mimicking biological
evolutionary processes, with a cycle of random mutations yielding successive
generations of "solutions". Thus, they emulate reproduction and "survival of the
fittest". In genetic programming, this approach is extended to algorithms, by
regarding the algorithm itself as a "solution" to a problem.
3. Heuristic algorithms, whose general purpose is not to find an optimal solution, but an
approximate solution where the time or resources are limited. They are not practical to
find perfect solutions. An example of this would be local search, tabu search, or
simulated annealing algorithms, a class of heuristic probabilistic algorithms that vary
the solution of a problem by a random amount. The name "simulated annealing"
alludes to the metallurgic term meaning the heating and cooling of metal to achieve
freedom from defects. The purpose of the random variance is to find close to globally
optimal solutions rather than simply locally optimal ones, the idea being that the
random element will be decreased as the algorithm settles down to a solution.

## Classification by field of study

Every field of science has its own problems and needs efficient algorithms. Related problems
in one field are often studied together. Some example classes are search algorithms, sorting
algorithms, merge algorithms, numerical algorithms, graph algorithms, string algorithms,
computational geometric algorithms, combinatorial algorithms, machine learning,
cryptography, data compression algorithms and parsing techniques.

Fields tend to overlap with each other, and algorithm advances in one field may improve
those of other, sometimes completely unrelated, fields. For example, dynamic programming
was originally invented for optimization of resource consumption in industry, but is now used
in solving a broad range of problems in many fields.

Classification by complexity

Algorithms can be classified by the amount of time they need to complete compared to their
input size. There is a wide variety: some algorithms complete in linear time relative to input
size, some do so in an exponential amount of time or even worse, and some never halt.
Additionally, some problems may have multiple algorithms of differing complexity, while
other problems might have no algorithms or no known efficient algorithms. There are also

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mappings from some problems to other problems. Owing to this, it was found to be more
suitable to classify the problems themselves instead of the algorithms into equivalence classes
based on the complexity of the best possible algorithms for them.

## Another way to classify algorithms is by computing power. This is typically done by

considering some collection (class) of algorithms. A recursive class of algorithms is one that
includes algorithms for all Turing computable functions. Looking at classes of algorithms
allows for the possibility of restricting the available computational resources (time and
memory) used in a computation. A subrecursive class of algorithms is one in which not all
Turing computable functions can be obtained. For example, the algorithms that run in
polynomial time suffice for many important types of computation but do not exhaust all
Turing computable functions. The class algorithms implemented by primitive recursive
functions is another subrecursive class.

Burgin (2005, p. 24) uses a generalized definition of algorithms that relaxes the common
requirement that the output of the algorithm that computes a function must be determined
after a finite number of steps. He defines a super-recursive class of algorithms as "a class of
algorithms in which it is possible to compute functions not computable by any Turing
machine" (Burgin 2005, p. 107). This is closely related to the study of methods of
hypercomputation.

Classification by purpose

Each algorithm has a goal, for example, the purpose of the Quick Sort algorithm is to sort data in
ascending or descending order. But the number of goals is infinite, and we have to group them by
kind of purposes:

• Textual
• Graphical
• Mathematical
• Common routines
• Cryptography
• Data compression
• Lists: sorting, searching.
• Parsing

Classification by implementation

## An algorithm may be implemeted according to different basical principles.

• Recursive or iterative
A recursive algorithm is one that calls itself repeatedly until a certain condition matches. It
is a method common to functional programming.
Iterative algorithms use repetitive constructs like loops.
Some problems are better suited for one implementation or the other. For example, the
towers of hanoi problem is well understood in recursive implementation. Every recursive
version has an iterative equivalent iterative, and vice versa.

• Logical or procedural
An algorithm may be viewed as controlled logical deduction.
A logic component expresses the axioms which may be used in the computation and a
control component determines the way in which deduction is applied to the axioms.

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This is the basis of the logic programming. In pure logic programming languages the
control component is fixed and algorithms are specified by supplying only the logic
component.

• Serial or parallel
Algorithms are usually discussed with the assumption that computers execute one
instruction of an algorithm at a time. This is a serial algorithm, as opposed to parallel
algorithms, which take advantage of computer architectures to process several instructions
at once. They divide the problem into sub-problems and pass them to several processors.
Iterative algorithms are generally parallelizable. Sorting algorithms can be parallelized
efficiently.

• Deterministic or non-deterministic
Deterministic algorithms solve the problem with a predefined process whereas non-
deterministic algorithm must perform guesses of best solution at each step through the
use of heuristics.

A design paradigm is a domain in research or class of problems that requires a dedicated kind of
algorithm:

## • Divide and conquer

A divide and conquer algorithm repeatedly reduces an instance of a problem to one or
more smaller instances of the same problem (usually recursively), until the instances are
small enough to solve easily. One such example of divide and conquer is merge sorting.
Sorting can be done on each segment of data after dividing data into segments and sorting
of entire data can be obtained in conquer phase by merging them.
The binary search algorithm is an example of a variant of divide and conquer called
decrease and conquer algorithm, that solves an identical subproblem and uses the
solution of this subproblem to solve the bigger problem.

• Dynamic programming
The shortest path in a weighted graph can be found by using the shortest path to the goal
When the optimal solution to a problem can be constructed from optimal solutions to
subproblems, using dynamic programming avoids recomputing solutions that have already
been computed.
- The main difference with the "divide and conquer" approach is, subproblems are
independent in divide and conquer, where as the overlap of subproblems occur in dynamic
programming.
- Dynamic programming and memoization go together. The difference with straightforward
recursion is in caching or memoization of recursive calls. Where subproblems are
independent, this is useless. By using memoization or maintaining a table of subproblems
already solved, dynamic programming reduces the exponential nature of many problems
to polynomial complexity.

## • The greedy method

A greedy algorithm is similar to a dynamic programming algorithm, but the difference is
that solutions to the subproblems do not have to be known at each stage. Instead a
"greedy" choice can be made of what looks the best solution for the moment.
The most popular greedy algorithm is finding the minimal spanning tree as given by
Kruskal.

• Linear programming
The problem is expressed as a set of linear inequalities and then an attempt is made to
maximize or minimize the inputs. This can solve many problems such as the maximum
flow for directed graphs, notably by using the simplex algorithm.
A complex variant of linear programming is called integer programming, where the
solution space is restricted to all integers.

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• Reduction also called transform and conquer
Solve a problem by transforming it into another problem. A simple example: finding the
median in an unsorted list is first translating this problem into sorting problem and finding
the middle element in sorted list. The main goal of reduction is finding the simplest
transformation possible.

• Using graphs
Many problems, such as playing chess, can be modeled as problems on graphs. A graph
exploration algorithms are used.
This category also includes the search algorithms and backtracking.

## • The probabilistic and heuristic paradigm

1. Probabilistic
Those that make some choices randomly.
2. Genetic
Attempt to find solutions to problems by mimicking biological evolutionary
processes, with a cycle of random mutations yielding successive generations of
"solutions". Thus, they emulate reproduction and "survival of the fittest".
3. Heuristic
Whose general purpose is not to find an optimal solution, but an approximate
solution where the time or resources to find a perfect solution are not practical.

Classification by complexity

Some algorithms complete in linear time, and some complete in exponential amount of time, and
some never complete.