Introduction to Disjoint Sets

Two sets are named disjoint sets if they have no elements in common. A Disjoint-Sets (or Union-Find) data structure keeps track of a fixed number of elements partitioned into a number of disjoint sets. The data structure has two operations:

  1. connect(x, y): connect x and y. Also known as union
  2. isConnected(x, y): returns true if x and y are connected (i.e. part of the same set).

A Disjoint Sets data structure has a fixed number of elements that each start out in their own subset. By calling connect(x, y) for some elements x and y, we merge subsets together.

For example, say we have four elements which we'll call A, B, C, D. To start off, each element is in its own set:

After calling connect(A, B):

Note that the subsets A and B were merged. Let's check the output some isConnected calls:

isConnected(A, B) -> true

isConnected(A, C) -> false

After calling connect(A, D):

We find the set A is part of and merge it with the set D is part of, creating one big A, B, D set. C is left alone.
isConnected(A, D) -> true
isConnected(A, C) -> false

With this intuition in mind, let's formally define what our DisjointSets interface looks like. As a reminder, an interface determines what behaviors a data structure should have (but not how to accomplish it). For now, we'll only deal with sets of non-negative integers. This is not a limitation because in production we can assign integer values to anything we would like to represent.

public interface DisjointSets {
    /** connects two items P and Q */
    void connect(int p, int q);

    /** checks to see if two items are connected */
    boolean isConnected(int p, int q); 

In addition to learning about how to implement a fascinating data structure, this chapter will be a chance to see how an implementation of a data structure evolves. We will discuss four iterations of a Disjoint Sets design before being satisfied: Quick Find → Quick Union → Weighted Quick Union (WQU) → WQU with Path Compression. We will see how design decisions greatly affect asymptotic runtime and code complexity.

results matching ""

    No results matching ""