C++ tips for algorithm problem-solving

Tools, tricks, and snippets are introduced for implementing algorithms. Some may be inappropriate in terms of good coding practice because these snippets are optimized for efficiency during competitive problem-solving.


Arrays are an important tool for storing sequential data. Also, a lot of problems are solved with dynamic programming, where arrays are a core tool.

Initializing an array with a single value

  1. For loop

     for (int i=0; i<n; ++i) {
         d[i] = 0;

    A standard \(O(n)\) algorithm that fills array d with 0.

  2. Using memset(void* ptr, int value, size_t num)

     memset(d, 0, sizeof(d)); // #include <cstring>

    Note that the value parameter should be either 0 or -1. This is because memset was originally designed for filling every byte of a string with the same value. Specifically, since value is interpreted as an unsigned charof size 1 byte, setting value to 1 fills every byte of the array with 0x01. Thus accessing a 4 byte integer gives 0x01010101 == 16843009. On the contrary, setting value to -1 fills every byte with 0xff, where in this case grouping these bytes into 4 byte integers retains the 2’s complement representation of -1, which is 0xffffffff.

  3. Declaring as a global variable

     #include <cstdio>
     int d[10];
     int main() {
         printf("%d", d[0]);
         return 0;

    Variables delcared as a global variable are intialized to zero automatically.

  4. Instead using std::vector

     vector<int> v(n, -1); // #include <vector>

    Using vectors is a preferable in many cases, especially when the size of the array varies. For instance, it is a good idea to initialize graphs with vector<vector<int>> graph(n); as an adjacency list. This done, you can easily traverse adjacent nodes with the following range-based for loop:

     for (int adj_node : graph[curr_node])

Array Indexing

  1. Single dimensional array

     int a[50];
     for (int i=0; i<50; ++i) {
         scanf("%d", a+i);

    The pointer of an array element can be written simpler.

     for (int i=0; i<n; ++i) {
         printf("%c%d%c", " ["[i==0], a[i], ",]"[i==n-1]);

    This snippet prints array a python-style: [0, 1, 2, 3, 4]

  2. Two dimensional array

     printf("%d\n", *max_element(d[0], d[0]+n));	// #include <algorithm>

    The element of a two dimensional array is a pointer to a single dimensional array. Thus the same trick can be applied.

Standard Input and Output

Avoid using cin and cout

For algorithm problems, small time can make a difference. Especially if you’re reading somthing like \(n^2\) integers from standard input, using cin can give you a TLE(Time Limit Exceeded). Use scanf for inputs and printf for outputs.

Use text files for standard input

Typing in the same sample inputs every time you run your code is apparently inefficient. When compiling and running your code, you can provide “input.txt” as a standard input using the above shell command. You can read data with your ordinary standard i/o functions.

g++ -O2 -std=c++14 main.cpp -o main && ./main < input.txt

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