How to check if a binary tree is balanced

Question 4.1 of Cracking the Coding Interview:

Implement a function to check if a binary tree is balanced. For the purposes of this question, a balanced tree is defined to be a tree such that the heights of the two subtrees of any node never differ by more than one.

To implement this, we can just translate the English definition into a given programming language. Here it is in Haskell:

module BalancedTree where
  
import qualified Data.Maybe

data Tree = Leaf | Branch Tree Tree

isBalanced :: Tree -> Bool
isBalanced Leaf = True
isBalanced (Branch l r) = 
  isBalanced l && isBalanced r && diff (height l) (height r) <= 1

height :: Tree -> Int
height Leaf = 0
height (Branch l r) = max (height l) (height r) + 1

diff n m = abs (n-m)

This naive translation gives an O(n*log(n)) algorithm, which is not too bad. But it does a linear-time amount of work at each node to calculate the heights of each subtree. But we can reduce the work at each node to constant time, by passing up a height from the recursive calls. This gives us an O(n) algorithm:

module BalancedTree where

import qualified Data.Maybe

data Tree = Leaf | Branch Tree Tree

isBalanced :: Tree -> Bool
isBalanced = Data.Maybe.isJust . isBalancedWithHeight

isBalancedWithHeight :: Tree -> Maybe Int
isBalancedWithHeight Leaf = Just 0
isBalancedWithHeight (Branch l r) = do
  lh <- isBalancedWithHeight l
  rh <- isBalancedWithHeight r
  if diff lh rh <= 1
    then Just $ max lh rh + 1
    else Nothing

diff n m = abs (n-m)

main :: IO ()
main = print $ all id [
    isBalanced Leaf,
    isBalanced (Branch Leaf Leaf),
    isBalanced (Branch (Branch Leaf Leaf) Leaf),
    not $ isBalanced (Branch Leaf (Branch Leaf (Branch Leaf Leaf)))
  ]

How did I work out that the naive algorithm is O(n*log(n))? I actually did it by noticing “this looks like a sorting algorithm”, in that it makes recursive sub-calls then does a linear amount of work, then remembering that “these sorting algorithms are O(n*log(n)). A more principled way is to write out the recurrence relation, T(n) = 2*T(n/2) + n, then use magic master theorem. I’m sure I’ll have to learn the master theorem properly in a future question from this book.

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