Graphs are a generalization of trees. Like trees, graphs have nodes and edges. (The nodes are sometimes called vertices and the edges are sometimes called arcs.) However, graphs are more general than trees: in a graph, a node can have any number of incoming edges (in a tree, the root node cannot have any incoming edges and the other nodes can only have one incoming edge). Every tree is a graph, but not every graph is a tree.

There are two kinds of graphs, directed and undirected:

Note that in a directed graph, the edges are arrows (are directed from one node to another) while in the undirected graph the edges are plain lines (they have no direction). In a directed graph, you can only go from node to node following the direction of the arrows, while in an undirected graph, you can go either way along an edge. This means that in a directed graph it is possible to reach a "dead end" (to get to a node from which you cannot leave).


Here are two example graphs (one directed and one undirected) and the terminology to describe them.

In the directed graph, there is an edge from node 2 to node 1; therefore:

In the undirected graph, there is an edge between node 1 and node 3; therefore:

Now consider the following (directed) graph:

In this graph, there is a path from node 2 to node 5: 2→1→5. There is a path from node 1 to node 2: 1→3→4→2. There is also a path from node 1 back to itself: 1→3→4→2→1. The first two paths are acyclic paths: no node is repeated; the last path is a cyclic path because node 1 occurs twice.

Note that the layout of the graph is arbitrary -- the important thing is which nodes are connected to which other nodes. So, for example, the following graph is the same as the one given above, it's just been drawn differently:

Also note that an edge can connect a node to itself; for example:

Some special kinds of graphs


For each of the following graphs, say whether it is:

If the graph is a directed graph, also say whether it is cyclic or acyclic.


Uses for Graphs

In general, the nodes of a graph represent objects and the edges represent relationships. Here are some examples:

The reason graphs are good representations in cases like those described above is that there are many standard graph algorithms (operations on graphs) that can be used to answer useful questions like:

Representing Graphs

In a tree, all nodes can be reached from the root node, so a tree can be represented using two classes: a Treenode class (used to represent each individual node) and a Tree class that contains a pointer to the root node. Some graphs have a similar property, i.e., there is a special "root" node from which all other nodes are reachable (control-flow graphs often have this property). In that case, a graph can also be represented using a Graphnode class for the individual nodes and a Graph class that contains a pointer to the root node. However, if there is no root node, then the Graph class needs to use some other data structure to keep track of the nodes in the graph. There are many possibilities: an array, a List, or a Set of Graphnodes could be used.

The Graphnodes will contain whatever data is stored in a node (e.g., the name of a city, the name of a CS class, the statement represented by a control-flow graph node). The nodes will also contain pointers to their successors (stored, e.g., in an array, a List, or a Set).

Here's one reasonable pair of (incomplete) class definitions for directed graphs, using ArrayLists to store the nodes in the graph and the successors of each node:

class Graphnode<T> {
    // *** fields ***
    private T data;
    private List<Graphnode<T>> successors = new ArrayList<Graphnode<T>>();
    // *** methods ***
public class Graph {
    // *** fields ***
    private List<Graphnode<T>> nodes = new ArrayList<Graphnode<T>>;
    // *** methods ***


Suppose we have a weighted graph (one in which each edge has an associated value). How could the class definitions given above be extended to store the edge weights?


Graph Operations

As discussed above, graphs are often a good representation for problems involving objects and their relationships because there are standard graph operations that can be used to answer useful questions about those relationships. Here we discuss two such operations: depth-first search and breadth-first search and some of their applications.

Both depth-first and breadth-first search are "orderly" ways to traverse the nodes and edges of a graph that are reachable from some starting node. The main difference between depth-first and breadth-first search is the order in which nodes are visited. Of course, since in general not all nodes are reachable from all other nodes, the choice of the starting node determines which nodes and edges will be traversed (either by depth-first or breadth-first search).

Depth-first Search

Depth-first search can be used to answer many questions about a graph:

The basic idea of a depth-first search is to start at some node n, and then to follow an edge out of n, then another edge out, etc., getting as far away from n as possible before visiting any more of n's successors. To prevent infinite loops in graphs with cycles, we must keep track of which nodes have been visited. Here is the basic algorithm for a depth-first search from node n, starting with all nodes marked "unvisited":

  1. mark n "visited"
  2. recursively do a depth-first search from each of n's unvisited successors

Information about which nodes have been visited can be kept in the nodes themselves (e.g., using a boolean field) or, if the nodes are numbered from 1 to N, the "visited" information can be stored in an auxiliary array of booleans of size N. Below is code for depth-first search, assuming that visited information is in a node field named visited, that each node's successors are in a List named successors, and that the Graphnode class provides the usual get/set methods to access its fields. Note that this basic depth-first search doesn't actually do anything except mark nodes as having been visited. We'll see in the next section how to use variations on this code to do useful things.

public static void dfs (Graphnode<T> n) {
    for (Graphnode<T> m : n.getSuccessors()) {
        if (! m.getVisited()) {

Here's a picture that illustrates the dfs method. In this example, node numbers are used to denote the nodes themselves (i.e., the call dfs(0) really means that the dfs method is called with a pointer to the node labeled 0). Two different colors are used to indicate the node currently being visited and the previously visited node.

Note that in the example illustrated above, the order in which the nodes are visited is: 0, 2, 3, 1, 4. Another possible order (if node 4 were the first successor of node 0) is: 0, 4, 2, 3, 1.

To analyze the time required for depth-first search, note that one call is made to dfs for each node that is reachable from the start node. Each call looks at all successors of the current node, so the time is O(# reachable nodes + total # of outgoing edges from those nodes). In the worst case, this is all nodes and all edges, so the worst-case time is O(N + E), where N is the number of nodes in the graph and E is the number of edges in the graph.


Assume that you start with all nodes "unvisited" and you do a depth-first search. Write a (Graph) method that sets all nodes back to "unvisited".


Uses for Depth-First Search

Recall that at the beginning of this section we said that depth-first search can be used to answers questions about a graph such as:

  1. Is it connected?
  2. Is there a path from node j to node k?
  3. Does it contain a cycle?
  4. What nodes are reachable from node j?
  5. Can the nodes be ordered so that for every node j, j comes before all of its successors in the ordering?

Questions 2, 3 and 5 are discussed; the others are left as exercises.

Path Detection

The first question we will consider is: is there a path from node j to node k? This question might be useful, for example:

To answer the question, do the following:

Cycle Detection

There are two variations that might be interesting:

  1. Does a graph contain a cycle?
  2. Is there a cyclic path starting from node j?

Consider the example given above to illustrate depth-first search. There is a cycle in that graph starting from node 0. Is there something that happens during the depth-first search that indicates the presence of that cycle? Note that during dfs(1), 0 is a successor of 1 but is already visited. But that isn't quite enough to say that there's a cycle, because during dfs(3), node 4 is a successor of 3 that has already been visited, but there is no cycle starting from node 4.

What's the difference? The answer is that when node 0 is considered as a successor of node 1, the call dfs(0) is still "active" (i.e., its activation record is still on the call stack); however, when node 4 is considered as a successor of node 3, the call dfs(4) has already finished. How can we tell the difference? The answer is to keep track of when a node is "in progress" (as well as whether it has been visited or not). We can do this by using a mark field with three possible values:

  3. DONE

instead of the boolean visited field we've been using. Initially, all nodes are marked UNVISITED. When the dfs method is first called for node n, it is marked IN_PROGRESS. Once all of its successors have been processed, it is marked DONE. There is a cyclic path reachable from node n iff some node's successor is found to be marked IN_PROGRESS during dfs(n).

Here's the code for cycle detection:

public boolean hasCycle(Graphnode<T> n) {
    for (Graphnode<T> m : n.getSuccessors()) {
        if (m.getMark() == IN_PROGRESS) {
            return true;
        if (m.getMark() != DONE) {
            if (hasCycle(m)) {
                return true;
    return false;

Note that if we want to know whether a graph contains a cycle anywhere (not just one that is reachable from node n) we might have to call hasCycle at the "top-level" more than once. Here's a pseudo-code version of a method of the Graph class that returns true iff there is a cycle somewhere in the graph:

public boolean graphHasCycle() {
    mark all nodes unvisited
    for each node k in the graph {
        if (node k is marked unvisited) {
            if (hasCycle(k)) {
                return true;
    return false;

Topological Numbering

Think again about the graph that represents course prerequisites. As long as there are no cycles in the graph there is at least one order in which to take courses, such that all prereqs are satisfied, i.e., so that for every course, all prerequisites are taken before the course itself is taken. (Note that is is reasonable to assume that there are no cycles in a graph that represents course prerequisites because a cycle would mean that a course was a prerequisite for itself!)

Topological numbering can be used to find the order in which to take the classes (so that all prereqs are satisfied first). The goal is to assign numbers to nodes so that for every edge jk, the number assigned to j is less than the number assigned to k. A topological numbering of the prerequisites graph would tell you one legal order in which to take the CS courses. For example:

To find a topological numbering, we use a variation of depth-first search. The intuition is as follows: as long as there are no cycles in the graph, there must be at least one node with no outgoing edges:

These 2 situations correspond to the point in method hasCycle where node n is marked DONE (when it has no more unvisited successors). We just need to keep track of the current number. Below is a method that, given a node n and a number num, assigns topological numbers to all unvisited nodes reachable from n, starting with num and working down. Note that before calling this method for the first time, all nodes should be marked UNVISITED and that the initial call should pass N (the number of nodes in the graph) as the 2nd parameter.

public int topNum(Graphnode<T> n, int num) throws CycleException {
    for (Graphnode<T> m : n.getSuccessors()) {

        if (m.getMark() == IN_PROGRESS) {
            // no topological ordering for a cyclic graph!
            throw new CycleException();
        if (m.getMark() != DONE) {
            num = topNum(m, num);
    // here when n has no more successors
    return num - 1;

As was the case for cycle detection, we might need several "top-level" calls to number all nodes in a graph.


Question 1: Give two different topological numberings for the following graph.

Question 2: The topNum method given above only assigns numbers to the nodes reachable from node n. Write pseudo code for method numberGraph, similar to the code given for method graphHasCycle above, that assigns topological numbers to all nodes in a graph.

Question 3: Write a Graph method isConnected that returns true if and only if the graph is connected. Assume that every node has a list of its predecessors as well as a list of its successors.


Breadth-first Search

Breadth-first search provides another "orderly" way to visit (part of) a graph. The basic idea is to visit all nodes at the same distance from the start node before visiting farther-away nodes. Like depth-first search, breadth-first search can be used to find all nodes reachable from the start node. It can also be used to find the shortest path between two nodes in an unweighted graph.

Breadth-first search uses a queue rather than recursion (which actually uses a stack); the queue holds "nodes to be visited". If the graph is a tree, breadth-first search gives you a level-order traversal. Here's the pseudo code:

public void bfs(Graphnode<T> n) {
    Queue<Graphnode> queue = new Queue<Graphnode>();
    queue.enqueue( n );
    while (!queue.isEmpty())) {
        Graphnode<T> current = queue.dequeue();
        for (Graphnode<T> k : current.getSuccessors()) {

            if (! k.getVisited()){
            } // end if k not visited
        } // end for every successor k
    } // end while queue not empty

Here's the same example graph we used for depth-first search and an illustration of breadth-first search starting with node 0:

The order in which nodes are "visited" as a result of bfs(0) is:

As with depth-first search, all nodes marked VISITED are reachable from the start node, but nodes are visited in a different order than they would be using depth-first search.

We can use a variation of bfs to find the shortest distance (the length of the shortest path) to each reachable node:

This technique only works in unweighted graphs (i.e., in graphs in which all edges are assumed to have length 1). An interesting problem is how to find shortest paths in a weighted graph; i.e., given a "start" node n, to find, for each other node m, the path from n to m for which the sum of the weights on the edges is minimal (assuming that no edge has a negative weight). For example, in the following graph, nodes represent cities, edges represent highways, and the weights on the edges represent distances (the length of the highway between the two cities). Breadth-first search can only tell you which route from Madison to Green Bay goes through the fewest other cities; it cannot tell you which route is the shortest.

Dijkstra's algorithm

A clever algorithm that can be used to solve this problem (to find shortest paths in a weighted graph with non-negative edge weights) has been defined by Edsgar Dijkstra (and so is called "Dijkstra's algorithm"). The worst-case running time of the algorithm is O(E log N), where E is the number of edges and N is the number of nodes. The details of the algorithm are covered in lecture (and may be expanded upon here in this reading - check back later for more details).


Next: Continue with Hashing