ADTs and Binary Trees

This guide covers the basics of ADTs and binary trees and points out some common misconceptions and mistakes.

Abstract Data Types (ADTs)

Abstract data types are general descriptions of data structures that specify the behavior of the data structure. I covered ADTs in last week’s guide so I would encourage you to look at that guide if you still feel uncomfortable with ADTs. The most important thing to know about ADTs is that you can treat them as black boxes.

Key Takeaway: With ADT problems, the high-level strategy is:

Binary Trees

A binary tree is a tree in which every node can have at most 2 children. Although the specific implementation of a binary tree can vary, a basic implementation looks like:

public class BinaryTree<T> { 
	protected Node root; 
	protected class Node { 
		public T value; 
		public Node left; 
		public Node right; 

Key Takeaway: Since you aren’t given an isLeaf method anymore, you have to define what a leaf is. In general, 61B is going to push you to think deeper about the data structures you use. In the case of a leaf, we figured out that a leaf is just a node without a left or right child.

There are some key words associated with binary trees:

Common Mistake: Students often forget the condition that a balanced binary tree must have balanced left and right subtrees. In other words, it’s not enough for the left and right subtrees to have heights that differ at most by 1. To see why, consider this binary tree:


The left and right subtrees have equal height, but there are way more nodes in the right subtree than the left. Thus, this tree is not balanced.

Common Mistake: Just because a function operates on a binary tree does not make its runtime log(N)log(N). You have to actually see what the function is doing to determine the runtime.

Binary Search Trees

Binary Search Trees (BSTs) are binary trees in which the left child’s value is less than the parent’s value and the right child’s value is greater than the parent’s value.

Common Mistake: Many students believe that a BST always has log(N)log(N) levels because of the above property. That isn’t true! Just like binary trees, BSTs can also have NN levels in the worst case.

Balanced Search Trees

There is a subclass of trees called balanced search trees which are guaranteed to be balanced. Only these trees are guaranteed to have log(N)log(N) levels.