Multisource BFS for your FAANG coding interviews
This is a neat little trick to optimize your code and reach peak performance
Graph problems are annoying enough as is.
But sometimes, the standard stuff isn’t enough. Sure it can help you get to a solution, but it’s not close to the optimal solution. Sometimes you need a lil extra something. This post will cover one such variant.
Let’s say your prep is amazing. You’ve gone through my articles on Graphs, and are an expert at the Graph Spotting framework (check out the post below). You can look at the problem and find the best traversal algorithm. Your skills are certified. But there’s a problem…
Spot Graphs in your coding interviews
Too many people struggle with this. This is the system I recommend
What do you do when you have to run a BFS from a bunch of locations to find the answer? You can visit the starting nodes one by one, but that is slow. Is there a better solution? Enter the Multi-Source BFS.
- BFS Refresher- Traditional BFS starts with a single source i.e, a single node at level 1 (distance 0). Let’s look at the logic for BFS for distance mapping
Initialize queue Q
Initialize array d[N] = [INF]*len(Nodes) #for distances from source
distance = 0
d[a] = 0
while Q is not empty:
n = Q.dequeue
distance = distance + 1
for each neighbor n_i of n:
if d[n_i] is infinity:
d[n_i] = distance
Traditional BFS can handle distance finding from one node. What can do to adapt to more nodes?
- Multi-Source BFS- As the name suggests, we change the sources. The source node is the original node we start from (a in the pseudo code). If we have multiple starting locations for our BFS, there is nothing stopping us from appending all those locations into our starting queue. Everything else is usual.
- If you’re confused- If this is confusing you, feel to take a breather. Consider your vanilla BFS. Once you have populated your queue with the neighbors of your source, you can basically treat the queue as a list of sources starting on the subgraph. This is because graphs and BFS are inherently recursive. The only difference between the vanilla and a multi-source BFS is that the latter has a populated queue at time/distance 0. This is one of the coolest properties of recursive structures. Even more complex variants of a simple recursive structure can be reduced to your simple structure easily. This is why recursive code is often called elegant. There’s a cool topic to bring up at parties where you’re surrounded by nerds.
- Code for you- If you’re having trouble with this concept, it might be helpful to see how it is implemented. Here you can see the Python code for the Microsoft favorite question, Rotting Oranges, which we covered here. Try to break the code into different chunks to differentiate it into steps. This will help you build up your familiarity with this idea.
from collections import deque
def orangesRotting(self, grid: List[List[int]]) -> int:
rotten_orange = deque()
minutes = 0
fresh_orange = 0
rows, cols = len(grid), len(grid)
for r in range(rows):
for c in range(cols):
orange = grid[r][c]
if orange == 2:
elif orange == 1:
fresh_orange += 1
directions = [(1,0), (-1,0), (0, 1), (0,-1)]
while rotten_orange and fresh_orange > 0:
minutes += 1
for _ in range(len(rotten_orange)):
r, c = rotten_orange.popleft()
for dr, dc in directions:
row = r + dr
col = c + dc
if row >= 0 and row < rows and col >= 0 and col < cols and grid[row][col] == 1:
fresh_orange -= 1
grid[row][col] = 2
return minutes if fresh_orange == 0 else -1
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