In graph theory and computer science, an adjacency list is a collection of unordered lists used to represent a finite graph. Each list describes the set of neighbors of a vertex in the graph. This is one of several commonly used representations of graphs for use in computer programs.
|The graph pictured above has this adjacency list representation:|
An adjacency list representation for a graph associates each vertex in the graph with the collection of its neighboring vertices or edges. There are many variations of this basic idea, differing in the details of how they implement the association between vertices and collections, in how they implement the collections, in whether they include both vertices and edges or only vertices as first class objects, and in what kinds of objects are used to represent the vertices and edges.
The main operation performed by the adjacency list data structure is to report a list of the neighbors of a given vertex. Using any of the implementations detailed above, this can be performed in constant time per neighbor. In other words, the total time to report all of the neighbors of a vertex v is proportional to the degree of v.
It is also possible, but not as efficient, to use adjacency lists to test whether an edge exists or does not exist between two specified vertices. In an adjacency list in which the neighbors of each vertex are unsorted, testing for the existence of an edge may be performed in time proportional to the minimum degree of the two given vertices, by using a sequential search through the neighbors of this vertex. If the neighbors are represented as a sorted array, binary search may be used instead, taking time proportional to the logarithm of the degree.
The main alternative to the adjacency list is the adjacency matrix, a matrix whose rows and columns are indexed by vertices and whose cells contain a Boolean value that indicates whether an edge is present between the vertices corresponding to the row and column of the cell. For a sparse graph (one in which most pairs of vertices are not connected by edges) an adjacency list is significantly more space-efficient than an adjacency matrix (stored as a two-dimensional array): the space usage of the adjacency list is proportional to the number of edges and vertices in the graph, while for an adjacency matrix stored in this way the space is proportional to the square of the number of vertices. However, it is possible to store adjacency matrices more space-efficiently, matching the linear space usage of an adjacency list, by using a hash table indexed by pairs of vertices rather than an array.
The other significant difference between adjacency lists and adjacency matrices is in the efficiency of the operations they perform. In an adjacency list, the neighbors of each vertex may be listed efficiently, in time proportional to the degree of the vertex. In an adjacency matrix, this operation takes time proportional to the number of vertices in the graph, which may be significantly higher than the degree. On the other hand, the adjacency matrix allows testing whether two vertices are adjacent to each other in constant time; the adjacency list is slower to support this operation.
For use as a data structure, the main alternative to the adjacency list is the adjacency matrix. Because each entry in the adjacency matrix requires only one bit, it can be represented in a very compact way, occupying only ||2/8 bytes of contiguous space, where || is the number of vertices of the graph. Besides avoiding wasted space, this compactness encourages locality of reference.
However, for a sparse graph, adjacency lists require less space, because they do not waste any space to represent edges that are not present. Using a naïve array implementation on a 32-bit computer, an adjacency list for an undirected graph requires about 2·(32/8)|| = 8|| bytes of space, where || is the number of edges of the graph.
Noting that an undirected simple graph can have at most (||2-||)/2 ? V 2 edges, allowing loops, we can let d = ||/||2 denote the density of the graph. Then, 8|| > ||2/8 when ||/||2 > 1/64, that is the adjacency list representation occupies more space than the adjacency matrix representation when d > 1/64. Thus a graph must be sparse enough to justify an adjacency list representation.
Besides the space trade-off, the different data structures also facilitate different operations. Finding all vertices adjacent to a given vertex in an adjacency list is as simple as reading the list. With an adjacency matrix, an entire row must instead be scanned, which takes O(||) time. Whether there is an edge between two given vertices can be determined at once with an adjacency matrix, while requiring time proportional to the minimum degree of the two vertices with the adjacency list.