Introduction to Binary Search
Have you ever tried searching for a specific page in a book without any page numbers? It can be a timeconsuming and frustrating task, especially if you have to flip through hundreds of pages before finding the one you need.
Similarly, when searching for a specific item in a large collection, it can be overwhelming to go through every single item. To solve this problem, computer scientists have developed an efficient algorithm called Binary Search.
In this article, we’ll provide a definition of Binary Search and explain how it works. We’ll also provide an analogy of searching for a page in a book and an example of finding a strawberry in a collection of fruits.
Lastly, we’ll highlight the benefits of using Binary Search.
Definition of Binary Search
Binary search is an algorithm used to find a specific element in a sorted collection by dividing the collection into two halves and eliminating one half each time the element is not found. It is a fast and efficient method that reduces the size of the collection by half with each iteration.
Binary search works by comparing the target element with the middle element of the collection. If the target element is greater than the middle element, the lower half of the collection is eliminated, and the search continues in the upper half.
On the other hand, if the target element is smaller than the middle element, the upper half of the collection is eliminated, and the search continues in the lower half. This process is repeated until the target element is found or the entire collection has been searched.
Analogy with finding a page in a book
To better understand the concept of Binary Search, let’s imagine you’re searching for a specific page in a book. The first thing you do is check the page number of the first page, which is the lower bound.
You also check the last page number, which is the upper bound. By doing so, you can narrow down your search area.
For instance, if the book has 500 pages, you know that the first page is page 1 and the last page is page 500. Therefore, you know that the page you’re looking for is likely to be between page 1 and page 500.
Now, assume that you’re searching for page 250. In this case, you would open the book to page 250, which is the middle point.
If the page you’re looking for is greater than page 250, you would know that it is in the upper half of the book. Therefore, you would eliminate the lower half of the book (pages 1250) and continue your search in the upper half (pages 250500).
If, on the other hand, the page you’re looking for is smaller than page 250, you would eliminate the upper half of the book (pages 250500) and continue your search in the lower half (pages 1250). This process is repeated until you find the page you’re looking for or have searched the entire book.
Binary Search Algorithm
Updating lower and upper bounds
To implement Binary Search, you must first sort the collection in ascending order. Once the collection is sorted, you define the lower and upper bounds as the first and last index of the collection, respectively.
Then, you calculate the middle index by adding the lower bound to the upper bound and dividing the sum by 2. The middle index is rounded down to the nearest integer in case the sum is an odd number.
If the middle element is equal to the target element, the search is successful, and the index of the middle element is returned. Otherwise, if the target element is greater than the middle element, the lower bound is updated to the middle index plus one, and the process is repeated.
On the other hand, if the target element is smaller than the middle element, the upper bound is updated to the middle index minus one, and the process is repeated. This process is repeated until the target element is found or the entire collection has been searched.
Example of finding a strawberry in a collection of fruits
Suppose you have a collection of fruits in alphabetical order, and you’re searching for a strawberry. The first step is to check the first and last element of the collection to narrow down your search area.
In this case, the first fruit is an apple, and the last fruit is a watermelon. Therefore, you know that the strawberry is likely to be between apple and watermelon.
Next, you calculate the middle index of the collection, which is the index of the fruit in the middle of the collection. In this case, the middle index is 12, which is the index of kiwi.
The middle element, kiwi, is then compared with the target element, strawberry. Since kiwi comes after strawberry in the alphabet, you know that the strawberry is in the lower half of the collection.
Therefore, you eliminate the upper half of the collection, which contains all fruits after kiwi. The updated collection now contains only the fruits from apple to kiwi, and the middle index is recalculated as the index of the fruit in the middle of this smaller collection.
The new middle index is 5, which is the index of grapefruit. The middle element, grapefruit, is then compared with the target element, strawberry.
Since grapefruit comes before strawberry in the alphabet, you know that the strawberry is in the upper half of the remaining collection.
Therefore, you eliminate the lower half of the collection, which contains all fruits before grapefruit.
The updated collection now contains only the fruits from grapefruit to kiwi, and the middle index is recalculated as the index of the fruit in the middle of this smaller collection. The new middle index is 8, which is the index of lemon.
The middle element, lemon, is then compared with the target element, strawberry. Since lemon comes before strawberry in the alphabet, you know that the strawberry is in the upper half of the remaining collection.
This process is repeated until the target element is found or the entire collection has been searched. Since the target element, strawberry, is found in the collection, the index of the strawberry is returned.
Benefits of Binary Search
One of the main benefits of Binary Search is that it reduces the number of comparisons required to find the target element. In each iteration, the size of the collection is reduced by half, which means that the number of elements to compare is halved.
This logarithmic reduction in the number of elements to compare leads to faster search times. Binary Search is also ideal for large collections that are sorted because it eliminates the need to search through the entire collection.
Instead, the search area is narrowed down with each iteration, which saves time and computational resources.
Conclusion
In conclusion, Binary Search is a fast and efficient algorithm used to find a specific element in a sorted collection. By dividing the collection into two halves and eliminating one half with each iteration, Binary Search reduces the number of comparisons required to find the target element.
It is a powerful tool that saves time and computational resources, especially for large collections. By understanding the principles and benefits of Binary Search, you can implement it in your own projects and make your search algorithms more effective.
Implementation of Binary Search in Python
Now that we have a basic understanding of Binary Search, let’s dive into an implementation of the algorithm in Python. We’ll use the IMDb dataset as an example and demonstrate how Binary Search can be used to search for a specific term in a sorted dataset.
IMDb Dataset Example
The IMDb dataset contains data for movies and TV shows, including the title, year of release, genre, and more. Suppose we want to search for a specific movie in the dataset using the title as the search term.
First, we must sort the dataset by title, so Binary Search can be used to search for the movie efficiently. To implement Binary Search in Python, we must define a function that accepts a sorted collection as an input and the search term as a parameter.
The function should return the index of the search term if it is found in the collection or 1 if it is not. Here’s an example implementation of Binary Search in Python:
def binary_search(collection, search_term):
lower_bound = 0
upper_bound = len(collection)  1
while lower_bound <= upper_bound:
middle_index = (lower_bound + upper_bound) // 2
middle_term = collection[middle_index]
if middle_term == search_term:
return middle_index
elif middle_term < search_term:
lower_bound = middle_index + 1
else:
upper_bound = middle_index  1
return 1
In this implementation, we define the lower bound and upper bound as the first and last index of the collection, respectively.
We then calculate the middle index as the average of the lower and upper bounds, rounded down to the nearest integer. We compare the middle term with the search term and update the lower or upper bound accordingly.
If the middle term is equal to the search term, the index of the middle term is returned. If the search term is not found, 1 is returned.
To use this function with the IMDb dataset, we first sort the dataset by title using the sort() function in Python. We can then call the binary_search() function with the sorted dataset and the search term as parameters.
Formula for number of comparisons in binary search
The number of comparisons required to find a specific element in a collection using Binary Search can be calculated using the formula:
log2(n) + 1
Where n is the size of the collection. This formula calculates the number of times the collection must be divided in half before the element is found.
The +1 takes into account the fact that the final comparison is between the target element and the middle element, which is not counted in the previous iterations. For example, if we have a collection of 1000 elements, the number of comparisons required to find a specific element using Binary Search would be:
log2(1000) + 1 = 10 + 1 = 11
This means that Binary Search can find the target element in 11 comparisons or less, regardless of the size of the collection.
This is a significant advantage over other search algorithms that require a linear search through the entire collection.
Other uses of Binary Search beyond searching
Binary Search can be used for more than just searching a collection for a specific element. Here are some other use cases for Binary Search:

Set Membership Testing: Binary Search can be used to test if a specific value is a member of a set (a collection of unique elements). If the set is sorted, Binary Search can be used to determine whether or not the value is a member in O(log n) time.

Largest or Smallest Value: Binary Search can be used to find the largest or smallest element in a sorted collection in O(log n) time.
This is done by modifying the algorithm to return the first or last element of the collection, respectively.

Range Queries: Binary Search can be used to find the range of elements that satisfy a certain condition in a sorted collection. This is done by performing two Binary Searches, one to find the first element that satisfies the condition and one to find the last.
The range of elements is then the elements between these two indices.
Advantages and Limitations of Binary Search
Binary Search has several advantages over other search algorithms, including speed and efficiency. Binary Search can find a specific element in a sorted collection in O(log n) time, which is significantly faster than a linear search through the entire collection.
Binary Search also works well with large datasets since the search area is narrowed down with each iteration. However, there are limitations
to Binary Search.
First, the collection must be sorted in ascending order for Binary Search to work. Sorting can take time and memory, especially for large datasets.
Additionally, Binary Search is not ideal for datasets that frequently change since the entire collection must be sorted after each change. Hashbased data structures such as hash tables or maps may be more efficient for these types of datasets.
In conclusion, Binary Search is an efficient algorithm that can significantly reduce the number of comparisons required to find a specific element in a sorted collection. With its wide range of applications and the ability to find the largest or smallest elements in a collection, Binary Search is a useful tool for any developer's toolkit.
However, it's important to consider the limitations of Binary Search and choose the most appropriate algorithm for the specific dataset and use case. Binary Search is a highly efficient algorithm that reduces the number of comparisons required to find a specific element in a sorted collection.
By dividing the collection into two halves and eliminating one half each time, Binary Search narrows down the search area and significantly reduces the search time. With its wide range of applications, such as set membership testing and finding the largest or smallest element in a collection, Binary Search is a useful tool for developers.
While Binary Search has advantages such as speed and efficiency, it's important to consider the limitations and choose the most appropriate algorithm for the specific use case. The main takeaway is that understanding and implementing Binary Search can lead to more effective search algorithms and faster processing times for large datasets.