# How to find kth last node of a linked list

Question 2.2 of *Cracking the Coding Interview*:

Implement an algorithm to find the kth to last element of a singly linked list.

There are some boring ways to answer this question, but at least one exciting way.

Boring answer 1:
if we know the length *l* of the list in advance,
we can just skip over *l* - 1 - *k* nodes.

Boring answer 2:
if we don’t know the length of the list in advance,
we can count all the nodes first to find its length,
then skip over *l* - 1 - *k* nodes.

The more exciting answer uses a trick called the “runner”.
We set up *two* pointers into the list,
*k* nodes apart from each other,
starting at the start of the list.
Then we iterate until the leading pointer hits the end.
Then the trailing pointer is *k* nodes from the end!

Here’s an implementation in C:

```
#include <stdlib.h>
#include <assert.h>
typedef struct Node {
int val;
struct Node * next;
} Node;
Node* kth_last_element(int k, Node* list) {
Node* trailing = list;
Node* leading = list;
for (int i = 0; i <= k; i++) {
if (leading == NULL) return NULL;
leading = leading->next;
}
while (leading != NULL) {
leading = leading->next;
trailing = trailing->next;
}
return trailing;
}
Node* mk_node(int val, Node* next) {
Node* node = malloc(sizeof(Node));
node->val = val;
node->next = next;
return node;
}
Node* mk_test_list(int length) {
if (length <= 0) return NULL;
return mk_node(length-1, mk_test_list(length-1));
}
int main(int argc, char** argv) {
// Indexing empty list should always return NULL
assert(kth_last_element(0, NULL) == NULL);
assert(kth_last_element(3, NULL) == NULL);
// List nodes contain their indexes: 9,8,7,6,5,4,3,2,1,0
Node* test_list = mk_test_list(10);
// 0th element from right contains 0, etc
assert(kth_last_element(0, test_list)->val == 0);
assert(kth_last_element(5, test_list)->val == 5);
// Out-of-bounds should return NULL
assert(kth_last_element(15, test_list) == NULL);
return 0;
}
```

### More by Jim

- The inception bar: a new phishing method
- The hacker hype cycle
- Project C-43: the lost origins of asymmetric crypto
- How Hacker News stays interesting
- My parents are Flat-Earthers
- The dots do matter: how to scam a Gmail user
- The sorry state of OpenSSL usability
- I hate telephones
- The Three Ts of Time, Thought and Typing: measuring cost on the web
- Granddad died today
- Your syntax highlighter is wrong

Tagged #ctci, #programming, #c. All content copyright James Fisher 2020. This post is not associated with my employer. Found an error? Edit this page.