Depth First Search Time Complexity Question
Understanding Depth First Search Time Complexity
Depth First Search (DFS) is a fundamental algorithm in computer science used for traversing or searching tree or graph data structures. Despite its widespread use, many programmers and computer science enthusiasts often find themselves puzzled over the time complexity of DFS. In this post, we’ll explore the time complexity of the DFS algorithm and clarify a common misconception about its performance.
The DFS Algorithm
Before diving into the complexity analysis, let’s take a look at a simple implementation of DFS. Below is a Python code snippet that demonstrates the DFS algorithm using an adjacency list representation of a graph.
def add_edge(adj, s, t):
# Add edge from vertex s to t
adj[s].append(t)
# Due to undirected Graph
adj[t].append(s)
def dfs_rec(adj, visited, s, nv):
# Mark the current vertex as visited
visited[s] = True
nv += 1
# Print the current vertex
print(s)
# Recursively visit all adjacent vertices that are not visited yet
for i in adj[s]:
nv += 1
print('run for loop', i)
if not visited[i]:
dfs_rec(adj, visited, i, nv)
def dfs(adj, s, nv):
visited = [False] * len(adj)
dfs_rec(adj, visited, s, nv)
if __name__ == "__main__":
V = 5
# Create an adjacency list for the graph
adj = [[] for _ in range(V)]
# Define the edges of the graph
edges = [[1, 2], [1, 0], [2, 0], [2, 3], [2, 4], [1, 3], [1, 4], [3, 4], [0, 3], [0, 4]]
for e in edges:
add_edge(adj, e[0], e[1])
source = 1
print("DFS from source:", source)
dfs(adj, source, 0)
Analyzing the Time Complexity
When analyzing the time complexity of DFS, we need to consider how the algorithm traverses the graph. The key points to remember are:

Vertices and Edges: In a graph with
V
vertices andE
edges, DFS will visit each vertex once and explore each edge exactly once. 
Time Complexity Formula: Therefore, the overall time complexity of DFS can be expressed as: [ O(V + E) ] This means that the time taken to complete the DFS traversal is proportional to the sum of the number of vertices and the number of edges in the graph.
The Common Misconception
As illustrated in the original post, there is often confusion regarding the time complexity due to assumptions about the number of iterations in the recursive calls. The statement that DFS runs the “for loop” in dfs_rec
for a certain number of times (in this case, 20 times) might lead to the misconception that the time complexity should be (O(V + E^2)).
However, this is not the case. The key points to clarify are:
 The
for
loop indfs_rec
iterates over the adjacent vertices of the current vertex being visited. The total number of such iterations across the entire DFS traversal corresponds to the total number of edges, thus contributing to the (O(E)) part of the complexity.  Each edge is considered and traversed once, leading to a linear relationship with the number of edges.
Practical Implications
The practical implications of this understanding are significant. Knowing that DFS runs in (O(V + E)) allows developers to predict the performance of their algorithms more accurately, especially when dealing with large graphs.
Moreover, the structure of the graph can influence the actual execution time of DFS. For example, a sparse graph (where (E) is much less than (V^2)) will generally run faster than a dense graph due to fewer edges to traverse.
Conclusion
In summary, the time complexity of the Depth First Search algorithm is (O(V + E)). This reflects the linear relationship between the number of vertices, the number of edges, and the total time taken for traversal. It’s essential to clarify misconceptions around the complexity to ensure a proper understanding of DFS, especially in practical applications.
If you have any thoughts or questions about the DFS algorithm, feel free to share them in the comments below! Let’s discuss how different graph structures can affect the performance of DFS and other algorithms. Happy coding!