In practical terms, resizable arrays (implemented by std::vector in C++)1 are a very good data structure and in most respects compare favorably to linked lists. They fit better into memory caches, have less overhead, and support indexing in constant time. Their actual downsides are that inserting and deleting in arbitrary locations takes linear time. This is because we need to move up to the entire array when we change the first element in it. In addition, we will also need to move the entire array when it changes size too much. The reallocation amortizes away to be a constant time, but it’s still an occasional2 O(n) for insertions/deletions within a constant of the end.

I’ll introduce a variant of the resizable array which allows us to have constant O(n) complexity for insertions and deletions at the end and see if it can solve the issue of arbitrary changes taking O(n) time. I call these “esovectors” as they are an esoteric version of a vector.3

The way current resizable arrays work is that when you reach a certain point, you allocate an entirely new block of memory, copy everything over to it, and then free the block of memory you were previously used. This works well, but still means that you’re obliged to copy blocks of unbounded size. An alternative approach is to when we reach a limit, allocate a second array, copy a constant amount over, and then copy another constant of us over. By adjusting the point at which we reallocate and the amount that we copy over, we can make sure that our old array is empty at the same time our new array becomes full. For indexing operations, we just need to check which buffer the nth element would be in and then index into that one as normal. Like in normal vectors, indexing continues to take O(1) time.

The additional space needed by this is O(n), which matches the O(n) used by normal vectors, but it’s a worse O(n) since we need to maintain a new array almost twice as big as our old away, whereas vectors are at worst half full.4

However, a critical issue to consider is the cost of memory allocation, which greatly exceeds the cost of writing a single element of an array, though is also trivially fast. The running time of malloc is entirely dependent on the implementation chosen by the system, but in most cases is unrelated to the number of bytes we are requesting. We shall assume that our malloc uses two level segregate fit5 which is O(1) time. Therefore, malloc does not affect our worst case appending performance.

I’ve shown how to modify dynamic arrays to support appending and removing from the end in constant time, not just amortized constant time. Another data type that is frequently implemented using dynamic arrays is the double ended queue, which in addition to supporting the same operations as dynamic arrays in the same time, they support popping and inserting at the beginning in amortized constant time. I will leave it as an exercise to the reader how to extend esovectors to support this behavior in non-amortized constant time.6


  1. They have many names: array lists, growable arrays, etc. Wikipedia calls them dynamic arrays.

  2. How often this occasional reallocation happens depends on the growth factor ‘g’ which determines how much bigger the array becomes each time it’s reallocated. There is some interesting reading on this topic here.

  3. I have an implementation and test cases here.

  4. The worst case for both is when we have ‘n’ elements in an array of size ‘n’ and try to insert an additional element. Traditional vectors allocate a new array of size ‘2n’ and then use it to store ‘n + 1’ elements. For esovectors we allocate a new array of size ‘2n’, put 2 elements in it, and leave ‘n - 1’ elements in our old array. This assumes a growth factor of 2, which is common but inefficient. See the link in footnote 2.

  5. Introduced in this paper.

  6. Read this as “I want someone else to do my work for me.”

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