Given an array $A$, sum the number of unique elements for each sub-array of $A$. If $A = \{1, 2, 1, 3\}$ the desired sum is $18$.


{1} - 1 unique element
{2} - 1
{1} - 1
{3} - 1
{1, 2} - 2
{2, 1} - 2
{1, 3} - 2
{1, 2, 1} - 2
{2, 1, 3} - 3
{1, 2, 1, 3} - 3

I have a working solution which sums the unique elements for all sub-arrays starting at index $0$, then repeats that process at index $1$, etc. I have noticed that for an array of size $n$ consisting of only unique elements, the sum I desire can be found by summing $i(i + 1) / 2$ from $i = 1$ to $n$, but I haven't been able to extend that to cases where there are non-unique elements. I thought I could use that fact on each sub-array, but my control logic becomes unwieldy. I've spent considerable time trying to devise a solution better than $O(n^2)$ to no avail. Is there one?

Secondary question: if there is no better solution, are there any general guidelines or hints to recognize that fact?

  • $\begingroup$ An incremental algorithm is supposedly easier to come up with in this case, I think so. $\endgroup$ – Thinh D. Nguyen Oct 18 '18 at 7:16
  • $\begingroup$ I don't understand the line {1, 2, 1} - 2. The multiset {1, 2, 1} only contains one unique element: 2. $\endgroup$ – Peter Taylor Oct 18 '18 at 10:28
  • $\begingroup$ Peter, yes number of distinct elements might be better phrasing. If all elements of each sub-array are added to a set, the set size is the desired metric. In either case, the behavior in my example is what I'm looking for. $\endgroup$ – User12345654321 Oct 18 '18 at 17:34

Hint: Use an extra $O(n)$-spaced array of pointer to the last (biggest) index of each distinct value. Then, this array is very helpful when you do your above algorithm.

Lastly, we should have an $O(n)$ algorithm.

  • $\begingroup$ This was a good hint. Assume zero-indexed arrays. Starting with sum = maxPossibleSum, iterate through the array adding elements to a set. If the added element is a duplicate, sum = sum - (indexPreviousOccurrence + 1) * (totalElements - currentIndex). This requires just one pass leading to O(n) like you said. Thanks for a quality nudge in the right direction. $\endgroup$ – User12345654321 Oct 18 '18 at 20:31

If the maximum number $k$ is not too high, a Counting Sort based solution can be used;

In the first step, we count the number of elements into the array $C$ by

for j = 1 to length(A)
    C[A[j]] = C[A[j]]+1

now the array contains all the information we need to sum;

sum = 0;
for j = 1 to k
    if C[i] > 1
         sum =  C[i] * i


$\mathcal{O}(n)$ additions (increment) for the counting step

$\mathcal{O}(n)$ additions for the summation step

$\mathcal{O}(n)$ multiplications for the summation step

result $\mathcal{O}(n)$.

Note: indeed the multiplications are not necessary since we will have at most $n-1$ addition.


Let $a_1,\ldots,a_m$ be the distinct values. Now consider the positions of $a_i$'s in $A$. Assume the number of $a_i$'s is $b_i$ and the positions are as follows:

(x_{i0} non-a_i's) a_i (x_{i1} non-a_i's) a_i ... a_i (x_{ib_i} non-a_i's)

In your example $A=\{1,2,1,3\}$, when considering the value $a_1=1$, we have $x_{10}=0,x_{11}=1,x_{12}=1$ because the positions of $1$s are like 1 * 1 *: there is $0$ element before the first $1$, $1$ element between the first $1$ and the second $1$, and $1$ element after the second $1$.

Then there are \begin{align} &\sum_{j=0}^{b_i} \frac{x_{ij}(x_{ij}+1)}{2}\\ =\ &\frac{1}{2}\sum_{j=0}^{b_i}x_{ij}^2+\frac{1}{2}\sum_{j=0}^{b_i}x_{ij}\\ =\ &\frac{1}{2}\sum_{j=0}^{b_i}x_{ij}^2+\frac{1}{2}(n-b_i) \end{align} subarrays that do not contain $a_i$. Note there are $n(n+1)/2$ subarrays in total, so the final result we want is \begin{align} &\sum_{i=1}^m\left(\frac{n(n+1)}{2}-\frac{1}{2}\sum_{j=0}^{b_i}x_{ij}^2-\frac{1}{2}(n-b_i)\right)\\ =\ &\frac{1}{2}\left(mn^2+n-\sum_{i=1}^m\sum_{j=0}^{b_i}x_{ij}^2\right). \end{align}

To calculate $\sum_{i=1}^m\sum_{j=0}^{b_i}x_{ij}^2$, you can scan the array and maintain a lookup table that, for each distinct value, keeps the position of the last element with this value. With this table, when the $(j+1)$-th $a_i$ is scanned, you can compute $x_{ij}$ easily. This leads us to an $O(n\log n)$ solution (or $O(n)$ in average if you use a good hash table to implement the lookup table).

  • $\begingroup$ could you clarify what X represents? It looks like a 2D array. This is the part I'm not understanding "(x_{i0} non-a_i's) a_i ..." $\endgroup$ – User12345654321 Oct 18 '18 at 17:17
  • $\begingroup$ @User12345654321 In your example $A=\{1,2,1,3\}$, when considering the value $a_1=1$, we have $x_{10}=0,x_{11}=1,x_{12}=1$ because the positions of 1s are like 1 * 1 *: there is 0 element before the first 1, 1 element between the first 1 and the second 1, and 1 element after the second 1. $\endgroup$ – xskxzr Oct 19 '18 at 3:18

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