Prove that the number of comparisons between elements in binary heap build is at most $2n-2$.

$n$ is the total number of the nodes.


1 heap-size [A] < - length[A]
2 for i <- Length[A]/2| downto 1
3 do MAX-HEAPIFY (A, i)
1 l <- LEFT (i)
2 r <- RIGHT (i)
3 if l <= heap-size [A] and A[l] > Ali]
4    then largest <- l
5    else largest <- i
6 if r <= heap-size [A] and A[r] > A[largest]
7    then largest <- r
8 if largest ‡ i
9    then exchange A[i] with A[largest]
10   MAX-HEAPIFY (A, largest)

What I tried

I know that the number of comparisons between elements in binary heap build is at most:

$$ \sum_{i=0}^{\lfloor \log_{2}{n} \rfloor} \bigg \lceil \frac{n}{2^{i+1}} \bigg \rceil \cdot 2i $$

where $n \in \mathbb{N}$.

Because the number of nodes of height $i$ is at most$ \bigg \lceil \frac{n}{2^{i+1}} \bigg \rceil $, for each node there are at most $2i$ comparisons. Since the height of the tree is $\lfloor \log_{2}{n} \rfloor$ we can claim what I claimed above.

I want to claim that: $$ \sum_{i=0}^{\lfloor \log_{2}{n} \rfloor} \bigg \lceil \frac{n}{2^{i+1}} \bigg \rceil \cdot 2i \le 2n-2 $$

However, there exists a counterexample $n = 9$.

I have 2 questions:

  • Is this claim is true?
  • How can I deduce that? (I tried)

A similar question has been asked in here. I didn’t understand the solution which also assumed tree is full.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Please don't use "EDIT:" Especially don't use "EDIT: the following is wrong, never mind". Instead, revise the question so it reads well for someone who encounters it for the first time. If you discover something is wrong, remove it, rather than keeping it and adding "EDIT: this is wrong". See cs.meta.stackexchange.com/q/657/755 $\endgroup$
    – D.W.
    Jan 4 at 21:53

1 Answer 1


The first two proofs only work for a fully populated heap of height h, which contains n=2h-1 items. The third proof also works for partial heaps. Throughout this answer, i will use two functions called BuildCost and MergeCost. The build cost is the cost for constructing a heap of height h from scratch. The merge cost is for merging two heaps of height h and one unsorted item into a single heap of height h+1.

Your approach, revisited

I used h-1 and n+1 instead of floor/ceiling, so my proof is only valid for a fully populated heap as described in the intro. All divisions and logarithms are exact in my solution. $$ \begin{align*} \text{BuildCost}(h) &= \sum_{i=0}^{h-1}\frac{2^{h-1}}{2^{i+1}}\cdot\text{MergeCost}(i) \\ &= \sum_{i=0}^{h-1}\frac{2^{h-1}}{2^{i+1}}\cdot2i \\ &= 2^h\sum_{i=0}^{h-1}\frac{i}{2^i} \\ &= (n+1)\sum_{i=0}^{h-1}\frac{i}{2^i} \end{align*} $$ At this point, we can use the identity: $$\sum_{m=0}^M\frac{m}{2^m} = 2-\frac{M+2}{2^M}$$ to solve the build cost as: $$ \begin{align*} \text{BuildCost}(h) &= 2^h\sum_{i=0}^{h-1}\frac{i}{2^i} \\ &= 2^h\left(2 - \frac{h-1+2}{2^{h-1}} \right)\\ &= 2\cdot2^h - 2h -2 \\ &= 2(n+1) - 2h - 2 \\ &= 2n - 2h \\ \end{align*} $$

Alternative: proof by induction

Here is a proof by induction, which confirms the results above. I like it better because it doesn't rely on a non-obvious identity like the other proof.

Induction hypothesis: $$ \begin{align*} \text{BuildCost}(h) &= 2n - 2h\\ \text{MergeCost}(h) &= 2h \\ n &= 2^h-1 \end{align*} $$ The base case is a heap of height one, which requires zero comparisons to build: $$ \text{BuildCost}(1) = 2(2^1-1) - 2\cdot1 = 0 $$ The induction step is: $$ \begin{align*} \text{BuildCost}(h+1) &= 2(2^{h+1}-1) - 2(h+1)\\ &= 4\cdot2^h -2h -4 \\ &= 4\cdot2^h -4h -4 &+& 2h \\ &= 2(2\cdot2^h -2h -2) &+& 2h \\ &= 2\cdot(2(2^h-1)-2h) &+& 2h \\ &= 2\cdot\text{BuildCost}(h) &+& \text{MergeCost}(h) \end{align*} $$

Extension to partial heaps

The build cost for a full heap is 2n-2h. We can think of the -2h term as a "merge budget" so that when we merge the heap, we're still below the 2n limit. If we merge two heaps of the same height, both sides bring a budget of 2h and the unsorted item brings a budget of 2, so we end up with 4h+2 of which the merge itself consumes 2h. What remains is 2(h+1) and this is exactly the merge budget that we want to pass up the tree. So far, this paragraph is a repeat of the induction step.

Now let's do the induction step again, but this time the left child has height h and the right child has height h-1. The left child has nl items (fully populated or not) and build cost of 2nl-2h. The right child has nr items (fully populated or not) and build cost of 2nr-2(h-1). My working hypothesis is that all heaps of height h have a build cost of 2n-2h regardless if fully populated or not. This is false, but for now let's pretend it's true. $$ \begin{align*} \text{BuildCost} &= \text{BuildCost}(h) + \text{BuildCost}(h-1) + \text{MergeCost}(h)\\ &= 2n_l - 2h + 2n_r - 2(h-1) + 2h \\ &= 2n_l + 2n_r + 2 - 2h \\ &= 2(n_l + n_r + 1) - 2h \\ &\neq 2(n_l + n_r + 1) - 2(h+1) \end{align*} $$ The merged heap has nl+nr+1 items and height h+1. According to my working hypothesis, it should have a build cost of 2(nl+nr+1)-2(h+1). This is wrong, the actual build cost requires two extra comparisons. Using the terminology of "merge budget" again, we can clearly see what went wrong: The shorter child's merge budget was only 2(h-1), yet the merge required 2h comparisons in the worst case (recursion into the taller child) and we're now two comparisons short of a balanced budget. In conclusion, a heap of n items has a build cost of: $$\text{BuildCost} = 2n-2h+2k $$ where h is the height and k is the number of asymmetric mergers (left child one taller than right child) that occurred during construction of the heap. Now we have to prove that k<h or, in other words, that there is at most one asymmetric merger per (non-leaf) layer. This is indeed true. Here is a small example of a heap with n=10, h=4. The letter x denotes a missing leaf (compared to a fully populated heap).

    2         3
 4     5    6   7
8 9  10 x  x x x x

Since we populate the heap breadth first and from left to right, there can be only one partially populated node per layer. In this example, only nodes 1 and 5 have children of unequal height, so k=2. Here's another example where nodes 1, 2, and 4 have children of unequal height, so k=3. That's the maximum asymmetry we can achieve in a heap of height 4.

    2         3
 4     5    6   7
8 x   x x  x x x x

But wait, there's more. We can find the asymmetric mergers from the binary representation of the number of missing leafs. In the n=10 example, we had 5 missing leafs. 5 is 101 in binary, which tells us there's an asymmetric merger in the top and bottom layer but not in the middle layer (we ignore the leaf layer here, so top/middle/bottom refers to the non-leaf layers). The n=8 example had 7 missing leafs, which is 111 in binary. I think you can see a pattern. Finally, the build cost of an arbitrary heap is: $$\text{BuildCost} = 2n-2h+2\cdot\text{PopCount}(2^h-1-n) \le 2n-2 $$

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Unfortunately, this does not work since the question is in the form $\Sigma_{m = 0}^M \lceil \frac{m}{2^m} \rceil$, not $\Sigma_{m = 0}^M \frac{m}{2^m}$. In addition, there is an existing counter example $n = 9$ for the formula, so a different approach is needed. I suspect the culprit is "for each node there are at most 2i comparisons." $\endgroup$ Jan 4 at 22:33
  • $\begingroup$ @KennethKho - Yes, I'm not sure how to modify my proof if we have to use floor/ceiling operators because the heap is not full. It works for a full heap though, and your counterexample just proofs that op's ceil-inside-sum is not tight enough. 2i comparisons per node is okay, that's not the problem. Do you have any idea how to proceed? $\endgroup$
    – Rainer P.
    Jan 4 at 22:41
  • $\begingroup$ @KennethKho - I found another proof using induction, still only for a full heap, but it gives the exact number of comparisons instead of an upper bound. I think this one should be easier to extend to a partial heap. $\endgroup$
    – Rainer P.
    Jan 5 at 0:03
  • $\begingroup$ I think both proofs work for a full heap, but I don't see a way to extend it to partial heap. Could you take a look at this answer to see if there's some insight? I can neither understand nor confirm its validity though. cs.stackexchange.com/questions/133246/… $\endgroup$ Jan 5 at 11:26
  • $\begingroup$ (+1) I can confirm the proof is valid for a partial heap, it is complete and beautifully done. Indeed, the problem is in "for each node there are at most 2i comparisons," since it does not take into account the asymetric mergers. The counterexample $n = 9$ would be solved when adjusted to this. $\endgroup$ Jan 5 at 23:15

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