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Implementation with Arrays

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This section provides an alternate way to implement trees in C. As described above, the purpose of showing this implementation is because it involves using arrays, which are linear, meaning all the data is in a line, to implement trees, where data is stored hierarchically.

Figure %: Numbered Perfect Tree

As you can see, we will be considering only a binary tree for this example, but the same technique could be used for a tree where all nodes had 3 children, 4 children, etc. There are a few inherent limitations to this method. The first is that because it uses a static array, the fixed size of the array means that there is a fixed maximum size for the tree. In general, this method requires deciding the maximum depth of the tree beforehand. The next step is to figure out how many nodes a complete tree of that size would require. Consider first the case of a binary tree. There is one node of depth 0. That one node has two children which are at depth 1. Each of those two have two children which are at depth 2. The following table shows the progression.

Depth Number of Nodes
0 1
1 2
2 4
3 8

etc. We can see that the number of nodes doubles with each deeper level. In general, at depth n, there will be 2n nodes. The total number of nodes in a tree of depth n is 2( n + 1) - 1 . This general sum makes sense because the number of nodes at depth n is one more than the total of all of the previous nodes.

Once you have determined the maximum number of nodes that there can be, you then need to make a type which holds an array that contains that many cells. Assume that each element in the tree is of the type data_t.

typedef data_t[MAX_NODES] tree_t;

In this example, we have stored the maximum number of nodes in a sharp defined constant. Note that this means that we need to know this number when we compile the program, as opposed to being able to calculate it at run time. If MAX_NODES can only be determined at run time, then you must allocate memory dynamically.

Now we need to figure out how we are actually going to use this array for our tree. To start with, the root of the tree is always in the zero cell.

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