Suppose you're given $x,y$ integers s.t. $x \leq y$. I want to find all values $\in [x, y]$ (inclusive) that are a power of $2$.

There's a $O(\log y)$ approach, where you just start at $1$, and keeping multiplying by $2$ until you get to the first value that is $\geq x$. Then you can start storing these values until you get to a power of 2 that is $> y$.

There's another approach that I believe is $O( \log (\log b))$, but I am not certain. The idea I am thinking of is rather than multiplying by $2$ each time, you square the value. So you'd have to start at $2$, then check $4$, then $16$, then $256$ and so on until you find the first value that is $>= x$. Say this value is $k$ where $k \geq x$. I believe finding $k$ is $O(\log(\log b))$. Is that correct?

After finding $k$, you can keep dividing by $2$ until you get a value that is $< x$ and store all the values along the way (unless it's greater than $y$). Then you can do this in the upward direction and keep multiplying by $2$ until you get to a value that's greater than $y$. It's not clear to me what the complexity of this step is. I want to say it's $O(\log (\log b))$ as well, but it seems it may actually be $O(\log b)$.

  • $\begingroup$ Why not simply find formula and obtain $O(1)$ complexity? $\endgroup$
    – zkutch
    Commented Aug 16, 2021 at 2:28
  • $\begingroup$ @zkutch This is more of a complexity analysis question than "what's the best algorithm to solve this?" With that said, what's the formula? $\endgroup$
    – anonuser01
    Commented Aug 16, 2021 at 2:29
  • $\begingroup$ Calculating amount by formula is also algorithm, not only finding it by loop. Using loop in such cases, when exists formula for answer is worst what can be done. $\endgroup$
    – zkutch
    Commented Aug 16, 2021 at 2:31
  • $\begingroup$ @zkutch I don't really see what this has to do with my question. I'm asking about the time complexity for my specific algorithm, not how to solve it in a different way. $\endgroup$
    – anonuser01
    Commented Aug 16, 2021 at 2:33
  • $\begingroup$ I want only warn against a situation where using a loop is unreasonably expensive - you will not count the sum of numbers in a loop if/when you know the answer by the formula, right? the rest is, of course, your business and I wish you the best of luck. $\endgroup$
    – zkutch
    Commented Aug 16, 2021 at 2:39

2 Answers 2


Yes, that is correct, in a sense, but there is also a sense in which it is not correct.

You want to find $j$ such that $2^j \in [x,y]$. The naive algorithm uses linear search on $j$. Your proposed algorithm amounts to binary search on $j$ (starting with iterative doubling). So your analysis is correct, that it uses $O(\log \log y)$ iterations.

The shortcoming of your analysis is that you assume each iteration can be done in $O(1)$ time. This might be accurate, or it might not, depending on the specific theoretical model of computation you are using. In practice, it is probably not reasonable, if $x,y$ are very large, as the running time of each iteration is not $O(1)$. For instance, squaring a $n$-bit number takes $O(n)$ time (in many reasonable ways of measuring running time); here we have $n=\lg y$, so each iteration takes $O(\log y)$ time, for a total running time of $O((\log y)(\log \log y))$ time (at least under one way of measuring running time).

Another way to put it is that it takes $O(\lg y)$ time even just to read the input or produce the desired output, because the output will be $\Omega(\lg y)$ bits long, and the time it takes to print such an output is proportional to its length.

  • $\begingroup$ That makes sense. I was assuming each iteration is in $O(1)$ time. How about the latter half of the question (after finding $k$)? Also note that my $k$ is different from yours. I defined $k$ to be the first value $\geq x$ after starting from $2$ and continuously squaring the value. To avoid mixing up variables, I'll use the variable $c$ to represent this value. To find $c$, and assuming $O(1)$ per iteration, you confirmed that it's $O(\log (\log(y))$. But we need to find all the powers of $2$ within the given range. $\endgroup$
    – anonuser01
    Commented Aug 16, 2021 at 4:40
  • $\begingroup$ Even with $c$, it seems that have a to do a linear scan (over the exponents), and that linear scan would seem to be $O(\log y)$ (again assuming O(1) per iteration). $\endgroup$
    – anonuser01
    Commented Aug 16, 2021 at 4:40
  • $\begingroup$ @anonuser01, oops, sorry about re-using the same variable. I changed it to $j$. $\endgroup$
    – D.W.
    Commented Aug 16, 2021 at 4:49

A simple algorithms is, start from $x$, and check whether it's power of $2$ or not, then increment one by one until you get $y$, this algorithm need $\mathcal{O}(y-x)$ steps, that each steps needs to read $\mathcal{O}(\log i)$ bits. Hence the running time is $$\sum_{i=x}^{y}\mathcal{O}(1+\log i)=\mathcal{O}\left(y-x+\log \left(\frac{y!}{(x-1)!}\right)\right)\leq\mathcal{O}((y-x)\log y)$$.

So the lower bound for solving your problem is $\mathcal{\Omega}(\log y)$ .

Note that, by using Binary search idea, we can at each step increment the counter by a $2^{2^c}$ that reduce the running time to $\mathcal{O}(\log y\log\log(y-x))$.


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