While I was learning about time complexity of recursive functions, I came across this code to calculate $x^n$:

power (x, n) {  
    if n == 0
        return 1 
    if n is even
        return power(x, n/2) * power(x, n/2)  
    if n is odd    
        return power(x, n/2) * power(x, n/2) * x

According to the book, its complexity is $\Theta(n)$ which seems rather strange to me. In my eyes, this code should have complexity $\Theta( n^2)$.

What am I seeing wrong?

  • 4
    $\begingroup$ Why do you think that it's $\theta(n^2)$? Can you show your analysis? $\endgroup$ Jan 30, 2017 at 14:46
  • $\begingroup$ What is power macht(x,n/2) ? $\endgroup$
    – gnasher729
    Jan 30, 2017 at 20:14
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ @gnasher729. Presumably an artifact of translating the German original into English (since one translation of "macht" is "power"). $\endgroup$ Jan 31, 2017 at 17:08
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ It is crucial to fix the machine model; see also here. $\endgroup$
    – Raphael
    Jun 30, 2017 at 5:18

2 Answers 2


An Answer

I will take your code at face value under the Uniform Cost Model.

Let's now assume $n$ is of the form $n = 2^k$ where $k \in \mathbb{N} \wedge k \geq 0$ (e.g. $n$ is a power of $2$).

We then get a recurrence relation like so:

$$\begin{align} T(x, n) & = 2 \cdot T\left(x, \frac{n}{2} \right) + c \\[0.5em] & = 4 \cdot T\left(x, \frac{n}{4} \right) + 2c + c \\ & = \vdots \\[0.5em] & = \sum_{i = 1}^{\log_2 n} 2^{i - 1} \cdot c\\[0.5em] & = c(n - 1)\\ & = \Theta(n) \end{align}$$

Some Fun

Now let's take a step back and check out the Logarithmic Cost Model. Let's define the cost of multiplication as $g(n)$ where $n = \log_2 x$ (the size of $x$ in binary) and $x$ maximum of the two arguments.

Along with our prior assumption about $n$, let's also assume $x$ is of the form $x = 2^k$ where $k \in \mathbb{N} \wedge k \geq 0$ (e.g. $x$ is a power of $2$).

We get a recurrence of the form:

$$\begin{align} T(n) & = 2 \cdot T\left(\frac{n}{2} \right) + g\left(\frac{n}{2}\right) \\[0.5em] & = 4 \cdot T\left(\frac{n}{4} \right) + 2 \cdot g\left(\frac{n}{4}\right) + g\left(\frac{n}{2}\right) \\ & = \vdots \\[0.5em] & = \sum_{i = 1}^{\log_2 n} 2^{i - 1} \cdot g\left(\frac{n}{2^i}\right)\\[0.5em] \end{align}$$

Now we can analyze some interesting multiplication methods:

  1. Multiplication is linear in size, e.g. $g(n) = n$.

$$ \begin{align} T(n) & = \Theta(n \log n) \end{align}$$

  1. Multiplication is quadratic in size, e.g. $g(n) = n^2$.

$$\begin{align} T(n) & = \Theta(n^2) \end{align}$$

  1. Karatsuba Multiplication, the divide and conquer method, e.g. $g(n) = \Theta(n^{\log_2 3})$

$$\begin{align} T(n) & = \Theta(n^{\log_2 3}) \end{align}$$

  1. Just for fun, and to plug Yuval's answer to my own question, multiplication is super-linear-polylogarithmic and sub-polynomial-polylogarithmic, e.g. $g(n) = \Theta(n\log n \cdot 2^{\sqrt{2\log n}})$. We also assume size $n$ for $g$ instead of $\frac{n}{2}$.

    $$\begin{align} T(n) & = 2 \cdot T\left(\frac{n}{2} \right) + \Theta\left(n\log n \cdot 2^{\sqrt{2\log n}}\right) \\[0.5em] \end{align}$$

    We use case 3 of the Master Theorem to get:

    $$\begin{align} T(n) & = \Theta\left(n\log n \cdot 2^{\sqrt{2\log n}}\right) \\[0.5em] \end{align}$$

Essentially, but not exactly, as the time complexity becomes superlinear, the time it takes to multiply overtakes the recursive time. This can be seen as case 3 of the Master Theorem.

Even More Fun!

Now let's say this was implemented in a smart manner, not repeating the recursive calls or using DP.

We get a recurrence of the form:

$$\begin{align} T(n) & = T\left(\frac{n}{2} \right) + g\left(\frac{n}{2}\right) \\[0.5em] & = T\left(\frac{n}{4} \right) + g\left(\frac{n}{4}\right) + g\left(\frac{n}{2}\right) \\ & = \vdots \\[0.5em] & = \sum_{i = 1}^{\log_2 n} g\left(\frac{n}{2^i}\right)\\[0.5em] \end{align}$$

The major improvement now is when multiplication is linear in size, we now get linear exponentiation!

$$ \begin{align} T(n) & = \Theta(n) \end{align}$$


The code as written is awfully bad: If n > 0 then it makes two recursive calls calculating the exact same result, which would make it θ(n). That's awfully bad because it can easily be done in θ(log n) by making one call and multiplying the result by itself.

There is no reason to think this would be $θ(n^2)$. If it was $θ(n^2)$, that would be quite bad because even a simple dumb multiplication loop would run in θ(n).

  • $\begingroup$ Can you elaborate on the two vs one call issue? Wouldn't it be equivalent to say that this computation has a corresponding reccurence relation of $T(n)=2T(\dfrac{n}{2}) + \Theta (1)$ which boils down to $\Theta (n)$ by master theorem and/or checking the recursion tree? $\endgroup$
    – Sorrop
    Jan 30, 2017 at 20:30
  • $\begingroup$ @Sorrop The point is that it it's possible to modify this algorithm so that it uses only one recursive call to the half-size problem, which yields a timing function defined by $T(n) = T(n/2)+\Theta(1)$ under some assumptions, giving you $T(n)=\Theta(\log n)$. $\endgroup$ Jan 31, 2017 at 17:06

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge that you have read and understand our privacy policy and code of conduct.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.