Maximum Subarray Problem

21st Friday Fun Session – 9th Jun 2017

Maximum subarray finds the contiguous subarray within a one-dimensional array having the largest sum.

Visualizing the divide and conquer solution

For the time being, let us forget about maximum subarray problem and focus on the divide and conquer solution that we discussed in the previous session.

If we visualize the tree, we see that from the left subtree the smallest value is propagated upwards.  On the way up, it is treated as the buy value and the right side values are treated as sell values. This way profits are calculated and maximum among them is retained. So we see two themes of processing as we go from left to right of the array:

  1. Retain the minimum value and treat it as the buy value.
  2. Calculate profit by treating each value seen as we go right and retain the maximum profit.


The above table shows day number in first row and the corresponding stock prices in second row. Third row shows the minimum value seen so far. The fourth row shows the profit had we sold on this day, buy price being the minimum value seen so far (shown in green).

The intuition

The intuition being, when we see a new lower value than the one already seen, we treat that as the new buy value. For example, when we see the new lower value 1 on day 5, onward we treat that as the new buy value and calculate profits considering each of the following days as sell days. This is because the new lower value (lowest till now) would give a better profit when the following days are treated as potential sell days. By treating the previous lower value 2 that was found on day 1, we already considered all possible profits prior to 5th day and retained the best among them. On 5th day, the utility of the previous lower value, which is 2, stops.

From divide and conquer to dynamic programming

Now let us now consider the dynamic programming (DP) point of view. In dynamic programming we make use of the result of an already solved overlapping subproblem.

On the first day, we can buy but cannot sell. After all, no profit would be made selling on the first day with the same price as the buy price. Also note that we have to buy and only then we can sell. So on day 1, profit is 0. Now if we want to find the best profit on day 2, can we use the solution of the previously solved overlapping subproblem? What is that already solved overlapping subproblem at day 2? Well, it is the best profit found for day 1, which is 0. How can we make use of the previous solution to find the best profit at day 2? Well, we have to consider two things:

  1. If we have to make the most profit by selling today, then we have to buy using the lowest price seen so far.
  2. If the profit calculated above is better than the best seen on previous day, then this is the new best. Else previous day’s best is still the best for today.

For example, on day 2 we realize that we can make a profit of (8-0) = 8 and it is better than the profit at day 1, which is 0. Hence, the best profit for day 2 is updated to 8. On day 3, we find we can make a profit of 3 but the best profit till day 2 is better than this. So, we retain day 2’s best profit as day 3 best profit.

So we realize, what we found by visualizing and transforming the divide and conquer solution is nothing but this dynamic programming. In fact, this is possibly one of the simplest forms of dynamic programming.

The below code would find the solution. For brevity buy day and sell day is not tracked that is easy to accommodate.

void StockDpN(double price[], int n, double &maxProfit)
  double minPriceSoFar = price[0]; 
  maxProfit = 0;
  for(int i=1; i<n; i++)  
    if(price[i] - minPriceSoFar > maxProfit) 
      maxProfit = price[i] - minPriceSoFar;

    if(price[i] < minPriceSoFar) 
     minPriceSoFar = price[i]; 

The reverse can also be used. If we start from right and move leftwards, we have to keep track of the maximum value seen so far and that is the sell value. As we go left, we see new values and they are buy values. The associated code is not shown here.

Moving to maximum subarray problem

Suppose we buy a stock at one day and then sell it on the following day. For example, buy at day 1 and then sell on day 2. Buy at day 2 and then sell on day 3 and so on. Each day we make a profit, incur a loss and sometimes it is neutral, meaning no profit or loss (buy value and sell value being the same). The third row of the below table shows the same (loss shown in red).


The optimal solution to our stock profit problem with our example set is to buy on day 1 at price 2 and sell it on day 4 at price 12, thus making a profit of 10. It is the same as saying:

  1. We buy at day 1 and sell at day 2 making profit 8 and then
  2. Buy at day 2 and sell at day 3 making loss 5 and then
  3. Buy at 3 and sell at day 4 making profit 7 and then
  4. Add all profits/losses made in our buy/sell operations that started by buying on day 1 and ended by selling on day 4. The final and best profit is: 8 + (-5) + 7 = 10.

Thus we have transformed the previous stock profit problem to a maximum subarray problem. As explained earlier, we are interested to find contiguous portion of array that gives the maximum sum. In the above 8 values that we have, we got two such subarrays each giving a sum of 10. They are showed in colored boxes.

Kadane’s algorithm

Kadane’s algorithm also deploys DP to solve this. Once again in DP, we have to make use of already solved overlapping subproblems. Here it is done by this way:

  1. Maximum subarray ending in position i+1 includes already solved maximum subarray ending at i, if doing so increases the sum for subarray ending at i+1
  2. Else maximum subarray ending in position i+1 will only have itself.


Maximum subarray at day 1: day 1 value which is 0.

Maximum subarray at day 2: since adding the subarray sum for day 1, which is 0, is not increasing the sum for day 2, maximum subarray at day 2 will have only day 2 value itself, meaning 8.

Maximum subarray at day 3: subarray sum at day 2 is positive, which is 8, and helping day 3, so subarray at day 3 includes day 2. Subarray sum at day 3 = 8 + (-5) = 3.

It boils down to a simple thing. If the previous sum is positive then take it forward else not. The red color in the Maximum subarray sum row (4th row) shows the cases where it does not include the (immediately) prior subarray. In two cases it happens (8 at day 2 and 2 at day 6) because the prior sums (0 and -1 respectively) are not more than zero.

The code shown below implements this. Note that the input array profit contains the profit and loss unlike the earlier DP function where we passed the stock prices. It is also noteworthy that if all values are positive then the whole array is the maximum subarray. After all, adding all of them would give the highest sum.

void StockKadaneDpN(double profit[], int n, double &maxProfit)
  double curProfit = 0; maxProfit = 0;
  for(int i=1; i<n; i++) 
    curProfit = curProfit > 0 ? curProfit + profit[i] : profit[i]; 
    if(curProfit > maxProfit) 
      maxProfit = curProfit; 

If we observe closely, we see that this DP is essentially the same as the one we discussed earlier in this post.


At the end, when we find the maximum subarray sum 10 at day 4, we will do what is called backtrace, typical of DP to find the path, in this case, the maximum subarray. We know that at day 4, we included the subarray ending at day 3. At day 3, we included the subarray ending at day 2. At day 2, we did not include prior subarray. So the maximum subarray starts at day 2 and ends at day 4. It could be easily tracked/stored as we went ahead in the computation using appropriate data structure and would not require a come back.

Map maximum subarray solution to stock profit

If we want to map this solution back to our stock profit problem, then we know the profit at start day of the maximum subarray, that is day 2, is essentially found by buying stock at the previous day that is day 1. So the solution is: buy at day 1 and sell at the last day of the maximum subarray that is day 4. And the profit would be the maximum subarray sum that is 10.

The transformations

This is an interesting problem to observe as we started with a O(n^2) brute force accumulator pattern, moved to O(n log n) divide and conquer that we optimized later to O(n). Finally, we transformed that to a O(n) DP solution only to find that it is interchangeable to O(n) maximum subarray problem that is also a DP solution.

Can we do better than O(n)? Well, that is not possible. After all, we cannot decide the best solution unless we read all the data at least once. Reading the data once is already O(n).

Where is pattern recognition here?

Maximum subarray essentially gives the brightest spot in a one-dimensional array. Finding this brightest spot is one kind of pattern recognition. Note that we just solved a problem that reads like this: given the profit/ loss made by a company over the period find the longest duration(s) when the company performed the best. The answer here is: from day 2 to day 4 or from day 6 to day 7.

Even though we focused on finding the single brightest spot, it is also possible to find, k brightest spots.

Again, maximum subarray considers only one dimension. In real life, data sets typically contain more than one dimension. For example, a problem involving two dimensions might read like: can you find the largest segment of the customers buying product x based on age and income? A potential answer might be: customer from age 30 to 40 years with income range $3000 – $6000. There are other algorithms to deal with multi-dimensional data.

GitHub: Stock Profit Kadane Code


Solution – Making Money at Stock Market

20th Friday Fun Session – 2nd Jun 2017

Given the stock prices for a number of days, in order, we have to buy one stock at one day and then sell it on a later day to maximize the profit.

This is the solution to JLTi Code Jam – May 2017  problem.

Let us walk through an example

Suppose, we have 8 days’ stock prices, starting at day 1, in order and they are 2, 10, 5, 12, 1, 3, 11, and 9 respectively. We can clearly see, if we buy a stock at day 1, at a price of 2 and then sell it on day 4, at a price of 12; we can make a profit of 10. We could make the same profit had we bought it on day 5, at a price of 1 and then sold it on day 7, at a price of 11. Since we want to make the most profit only once, we would choose say, the first one.

Accumulator pattern

We could simply run two loops, consider all possible buys and sells, calculate all possible profits (like buy on day 1 and sell it on day 2 with profit 8, buy on day 1 and sell it on day 3 with profit 3, and so on) and find the maximum profit. The below code using accumulator pattern  – traverse a sequence and accumulate a value (here it is maximum), as it goes, can be used to do so.

void StockN2(double price[], int n, double &maxProfit, int &buyDay, int &sellDay)
  for(int i=0; i<n; i++)
    for(int j=i+1; j<n-1; j++)     {       if(price[j] - price[i] > maxProfit)
        maxProfit = price[j] - price[i];
        buyDay = i;
        sellDay = j;

For the outer loop that runs (n-1) times the inner loop runs (n-1) times resulting in O(n2), also known as quadratic complexity. Can we do better?

Divide and conquer solution

When we have an algorithm with O(n2) complexity, and we think about optimizing it, we ask ourselves – what could be better than this. And then O(n log n) comes to our mind. Even though there are many other complexities in between these two, usually O(n log n) is next best after O(n2). And when we see log n, divide and concur comes to our mind.

If we use divide and conquer, we have to divide the input into two sets, find some kind of solutions from both sides and then combine them. What decision can be found from two sides? We can get the maximum profit from each of the two sides. For example, suppose, we have only 4 days’ stock prices: 2, 10, 5 and 12. If we divide them into two, we would get left side: 2 and 10. Right side: 5 and 12. Left side profit would be 8 and the same for right side would be 7. The best between the two would be 8.

However, we can clearly see that the maximum profit is not 8, but 10 when the buy happens in left and sell happens in the right side. It is understandable that local solutions from left and right sides alone would not result in a global optimal solution. Somehow we have to compute a third profit combining the two sides. It is also obvious that buy happens in the left side and sell happens in the right side (after all, we cannot sell before we buy). So we see that the merge phase of the divide and conquer should consider the below 3 profits and find the best among them.

  • Maximum profit from left side
  • Maximum profit from right side
  • Profit by buying at the lowest from left and then selling at the highest in right

The below code is doing this. By the way, we are not tracking the buy day and sell day to keep the focus on the main points. Buy day and sell day can be easily accommodated.

void StockDivideAndConquerNlogN(double price[], int start, int end, double &maxProfit)
  if(start == end)
    // just one value, return
    maxProfit = 0;

  int mid = start + (end-start)/2;

  double leftMaxProfit;
  StockDivideAndConquerNlogN(price, start, mid, leftMaxProfit);

  double rightMaxProfit;
  StockDivideAndConquerNlogN(price, mid+1, end, rightMaxProfit);

  double minLeft = GetMin(price, start, end);
  double maxRight = GetMax(price, start, end);

  double minValue = GetMin(price, start, mid);
  double maxValue = GetMax(price, mid+1, end);
  maxProfit = maxOutOfThree(leftMaxProfit, rightMaxProfit, maxValue - minValue);

For our working example, with 8 days’ stock prices, it looks like below:

Divide and Conquer

The value inside the circle indicates the profit. It is coming from the best of the three as detailed earlier.

Computing complexity

How much is the cost? To compute it, we have to find two things – how many levels and how much work is done at each level.

How many levels? We have 8 items. At each level, it is halved. 8 -> 4 -> 2 -> 1. Suppose, in general, we are halving it k times. That means, n is divided by 2, k times. That means, n is divided by 2k and then it becomes 1. 1 = n/2k => n = 2k => log n = k log 2. Since, log 2 = 1, base being 2, k = log n. For n = 8, k = 3.

Level starts at 0 (the root) and ends at k. Hence, the actual number of levels is k+1. For simplicity, the rest of the post would consider the total number of levels to be log n, ignoring the small constant issue of 1.

Next thing to find: how much work is done at each level. We see, at each level, minimum is found from left, costing n/2 and maximum is found from right, also costing n/2. At each level, merging them (computing the third profit and then finding the best among the three) costs iterating n items and a few constant comparisons. Note that, at each level, all n items are present. It is the number of total processed items from all the sub-problems present in that level, not necessarily just from two sub-problems. So for log n levels the total cost is (n * log n) = n log n.

This calculation is explained/performed using master theorem.

Optimized divide and conquer solution

At each level, we are running loops and iterating n items to get the minimum from left and maximum from right. This loop is not necessary. The minimum and maximum can be computed bottom up doing a constant number of comparisons, at each level.

The below code shows this optimized version:

void StockDivideAndConquerOptimizedN(double price[], int start, int end, double &maxProfit, double &minValue, double &maxValue)
  if(start == end)
    // just one value, return
    maxProfit = 0;
    minValue = maxValue = price[end];

  int mid = start + (end-start)/2;

  double leftMaxProfit, leftMinValue, leftMaxValue;
  StockDivideAndConquerOptimizedN(price, start, mid, leftMaxProfit, leftMinValue, leftMaxValue);

  double rightMaxProfit, rightMinValue, rightMaxValue;
  StockDivideAndConquerOptimizedN(price, mid + 1, end, rightMaxProfit, rightMinValue, rightMaxValue);

  maxProfit = maxOutOfThree(leftMaxProfit, rightMaxProfit, rightMaxValue - leftMinValue);

  minValue = leftMinValue > rightMinValue ? rightMinValue : leftMinValue;
  maxValue = leftMaxValue > rightMaxValue ? leftMaxValue : rightMaxValue;

Computing complexity for this optimized version

In this optimized version, for each of the log n levels, we are still doing some processing. It is no longer n items. Rather, the number of items is decreasing by half at each level, upwards. At the bottom-most level there are n items. One level up, it is reduced by half (due to the merging), shrinking to n/2 items. As it goes up, it gets reduced and at the topmost level it becomes only one item. Let us add the items from each level that we we processing.

n + n/2 + n/22 + n/2+ n/24 + .  .  .  . + n/2k)

=> n (1 + 1/2 + 1/4 + 1/8 + . . .)

=> n * 2 (the convergent series gives 2)

=> 2 n

By discarding the constant terms, we get a complexity of O(n), meaning we can get the maximum profit in linear time.

GitHub: Stock Profit