Coding Chronicles: Unveiling the Power of Algorithm Analysis and Big O Notation

Pinterest LinkedIn Tumblr

Introduction to Algorithm Analysis and Big O Notation

write for us technology

This article provides a foundational understanding of algorithm analysis and Big O notation. Ever wondered how Python manages to perform certain operations on lists and dictionaries so incredibly fast? The answer lies in Big O notation, a powerful tool that helps us understand the efficiency of algorithms. This article delves into the world of Big O, analyzing how built-in Python data structures like lists and dictionaries achieve their remarkable efficiency.

What are algorithms?

An algorithm is simply a step-by-step procedure for solving a problem. There can be multiple algorithms to solve the same problem, and some might be more efficient than others.

Why analyze algorithms?

When faced with multiple algorithms for the same problem, we need a way to compare their efficiency. This is where algorithm analysis comes in. It helps you understand:

  • How much time (resources) an algorithm takes to run (time complexity).
  • How much memory an algorithm takes up (space complexity).

Example: Summing numbers from 0 to n

Let’s compare two functions that calculate the sum of numbers from 0 to n:

  • sum1(n): Iterates through each number and adds it to a running total.
  • sum2(n): Uses a formula to calculate the sum directly.
  • By running them in a Jupyter notebook, we can see that sum2(n) is significantly faster. However, relying on actual execution time isn’t ideal because it depends on the computer’s hardware.

Big O notation to the rescue!

Big O notation provides a way to describe the efficiency of an algorithm independent of hardware. It focuses on how the algorithm’s execution time grows with the input size (n).

Next steps

The next lecture will delve deeper into Big O notation and how to analyze algorithms using it. This will equip you to compare algorithms objectively and choose the most efficient one for your needs.

Big O Notation Examples Explained

This lecture dives into various examples of Big O Notation and how they relate to different algorithm functionalities.

Understanding Big O Notation

Big O Notation is a mathematical tool used to describe the efficiency of algorithms in terms of how their execution time grows with the input size (n). It focuses on the most significant terms, ignoring constants and lower-order terms.

Common Big O Examples

The article explores three main categories of Big O complexities:

  • Constant Time (O(1))

Example: A function that always prints the first item in a list, regardless of the list’s size. This operation takes one constant step, making it O(1).

  • Linear Time (O(n))

Example: A function that iterates through a list and prints each item. The number of operations (printing) grows linearly with the list size (n). This is O(n).

  • Quadratic Time (O(n^2))

Example: A function that finds pairs of items from a list. It involves nested loops iterating over the list elements, resulting in operations growing proportionally to n^2. This is O(n^2).

Dropping Insignificant Terms

The lecture explains that when analyzing Big O, we focus on the dominant term that grows the fastest as the input size increases. Constant terms and lower-order terms become insignificant and can be dropped.


  • A function that prints a list’s items once and then prints them again has a combined Big O of O(n), even though it performs two n operations. As n grows large, the second n becomes negligible.
  • A function with multiple operations of order 1, n/2, and 10 can be simplified to O(n) because the constant and n/2 terms become insignificant for sufficiently large n.

Worst-Case vs. Best-Case Scenarios

While Big O typically focuses on the worst-case scenario (the slowest execution time), it’s important to consider best-case scenarios as well.

  • Example: A function that searches for an item in a list might find it in the first element (best case – O(1)) or have to iterate through the entire list (worst case – O(n)).

Space Complexity

In addition to time complexity, the lecture introduces space complexity, which refers to the amount of memory an algorithm uses.

  • Example: A function that creates a new list by appending n strings has a space complexity of O(n) because the list size grows linearly with the input.
  • Example: A function that prints “Hello World” n times has a time complexity of O(n) but a space complexity of O(1) because it only stores the constant string “Hello World” in memory.

Big O of Built-in Python Data Structures

This lecture explores the Big O complexities of common operations on Python’s built-in data structures: lists and dictionaries.


  • Description: Dynamic arrays that support various methods like indexing and assigning to indices.
  • Indexing and Assigning: Both have a Big O complexity of O(1) (constant time), meaning they take the same amount of time regardless of the list size.

Example: Building a Large List

  • The lecture compares different methods for creating a list with 10,000 elements:
  • Appending to an existing list
  • Concatenating lists
  • List comprehension
  • Using the built-in range function

The most efficient method is using range(10000), highlighting the importance of built-in functions for optimized code.

Big O Table for List Operations

The lecture provides a table summarizing the Big O complexities of common list operations.


  • Description: Hash tables that store key-value pairs.
  • Getting and Setting Items: Both have a Big O complexity of O(1) (constant time), enabling efficient retrieval and modification of elements.

Big O Table for Dictionary Operations

The lecture presents a table listing the Big O complexities of common dictionary operations.

Learning Outcomes

By the end of this section, you should be able to:

  • Understand how Big O notation is used for algorithm analysis.
  • Analyze the Big O complexity of algorithms you develop.

Key Takeaways

  • Lists and dictionaries in Python offer efficient operations like indexing, assigning, getting, and setting items, all in constant time (O(1)).
  • Built-in functions are generally optimized for performance, making them the preferred choice over custom implementations.

Big O of Built-in Python Data Structures

Data StructureOperationBig O Complexity
ListAssigning to IndexO(1)
ListCreation using range functionO(n)
DictionaryGetting ItemO(1)
DictionarySetting ItemO(1)

By understanding the Big O complexities of common operations on lists and dictionaries, you gain valuable insights into Python’s inner workings. This knowledge empowers you to write more efficient code, choose the right data structures for your tasks, and ultimately, optimize your Python programs for peak performance.

Hi! I'm Sugashini Yogesh, an aspiring Technical Content Writer. *I'm passionate about making complex tech understandable.* Whether it's web apps, mobile development, or the world of DevOps, I love turning technical jargon into clear and concise instructions. *I'm a quick learner with a knack for picking up new technologies.* In my free time, I enjoy building small applications using the latest JavaScript libraries. My background in blogging has honed my writing and research skills. *Let's chat about the exciting world of tech!* I'm eager to learn and contribute to clear, user-friendly content.

Write A Comment