16.1. What are binary trees?#

A binary tree looks like an upside down tree as shown in Fig. 16.1. The root of the binary tree at the top, and the leaves are at the bottom. Each node stores some data, which will be an integer value in our examples. There are no two nodes with the same data. Each node has at most two children, and each node has only one parent, except for the root node, which has no parent.

A subtree is a smaller tree having a node and all its descendants in the original tree. In the following figure, the subtree rooted at node 4 is the left subtree of the binary tree shown in Fig. 16.1.

binary tree

Fig. 16.1 Binary tree with 7 nodes#

16.1.1. How do we represent a binary tree in a program?#

We can use a data structures to represent a node in a binary tree. Each node in the binary tree will be a node that store three member. Each node in the linked list will have a data field, a left field, and a right field. The left field will point to the left child of the node, and the right field will point to the right child of the node. If a node does not have a left child or a right child, then the left field or the right field will be NULL.

typedef struct node {
    int data;
    struct node *left;
    struct node *right;
} Node;

Hence, the binary tree in Fig. 16.1 can be represented as follows:

binary tree data structure

Just like linked lists, where we had a head pointer pointing towards the first node in the linked list, we must have a root pointer that always points at the top of the binary tree. LinkedList data structure held the value of the head pointer in linked lists. Similarly, we will use a BSTree data structure to hold the value of the root pointer in binary trees, as shown below:

typedef struct bstree {
    Node *root;
} BSTree;

16.1.2. What is a binary search tree?#

What is special about the above binary tree? It is ordered in such a way that the left child of every node is always smaller than the node, and the right child of a node is always larger than the node. This is the same property that for subtrees too. All nodes in a left subtree are smaller than the parent node, and all nodes in a right subtree are larger than the parent node. This is called a binary search tree.

16.1.3. Why do we need a binary search tree?#

We have seen that arrays and linked lists are not very efficient in searching for elements. We have seen how binary search is quick when an array or linked list is sorted. A binary search tree is ordered in a way that makes searching for elements quick. For example, to look for an item in a binary search tree, we can start at the root node. If the item is smaller than the root node, we can look at the left child of the root node. If the item is larger than the root node, we can look at the right child of the root node. We can continue this process until we find the item or we reach a leaf node and not find the item.

We will discuss details on how to search for elements in a binary search tree in the next sections.


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