1-0 Knapsack Problem – A Hands-on Guide (C++)

The 1-0 knapsack problem; an optimization puzzle famously solved with dynamic programming (dp). This post is merely my take on the problem, which I hope to provide a more hands-on approach.

To get started, try and attempt The Knapsack Problem (KNAPSACK) from SPOJ. Study the problem closely as I will referring to it throughout this guide. I will then explain how the general solution is derived and how dp is applied.

I assume you have known a bit of dp as a prerequisite, though if you haven’t you can check out my beginner friendly hands-on intro: 445A – Boredom – CodeForces Tutorial.

The General Solution

A dp solution is usually derived from a recursive solution. So let’s start with that.

We define 2 containers: v and c, that contains the all the values of each item and the capacity they consume respectively, starting from index 1. So for example, v[2] and c[2] returns the value and size of the 2nd item.

What are we trying to optimize here? We are trying to maximize the value; the combination of items that yields the highest value. So let us define a function B(i, w) that returns the maximum value given a scope of items (i) and the capacity of the knapsack (w). The solution to KNAPSACK will therefore be B(N, S).

In solving it recursively, imagine we have all N items with us and our knapsack completely empty (current capacity is S), and we consider the items one by one from the last one (the N-th item).

What are the base cases of this problem? When there are no items to put in (i = 0), or when the knapsack cannot contain any items (w = 0).

Before we consider some i-th item, we first need to make sure that it can fit into the knapsack given its capacity, in other words, an i-th item should not be considered if c[i] > w. If this is so, you will consider the maximum value of the the scope of items excluding the i-th item, or B(i-1, w).

So what happens when you can put the item in the knapsack? You have 2 choices: To put it in (take), or not put it in (keep).

  1. Keep: you exclude it from the scope of items in which you consider the maximum value, which is again B(i-1, w).
  2. Take: you will get the value of the i-th item you select (v[i]), BUT, we should also consider the remaining space after adding the i-th item inside (w-c[i]). When considering items to add here, we need to exclude the item we already added, so the scope of items we consider is i-1. With this remaining space and this scope of items, we also want to get the maximum value. We can do this recursively via B(i-1, w-c[i]).

Choosing between keep and take is as simple as taking the maximum of the 2.

If you piece all this together, you will get the general solution:

B(i,j) = \begin{cases} 0 \text{ if } i = 0\text{ or }w = 0\\ B(i-1, w) \text{ if } c[i] > w\\ max\Big( B(i-1, w), v[i] + B(i-1, w-c[i]) \Big) \end{cases}

Recursive Solution

Short and simple:

Plug it in the judge and you will get a TLE (Time Limit Exceeded).

Dynamic Programming Solution

We use a 2D array, DP, containing N+1 rows and S+1 columns. The rows map to the scope of i items we consider (the top considers 0 items and the bottom considers all N items). The columns map to capacity (an individual column is denoted as the w-th column) of knapsack left to right from 0 to S. A cell DP[i][w] means “this is the maximum value given i items and capacity of w“. The maximum value for N items and capacity of S is therefore DP[N][S].

We first fill DP with base cases: where i = 0 and where w = 0. This means that the first row and first column are all 0. The order in which we solve this is simple: starting where i = 1 and w = 1, for each row from top to bottom, we fill the cells from left to right.

I will continue on with an example using inputs from Tushar Roy’s YouTube video (you should check it out), but I jumbled the order to prove that ordering of items is not important. Here is the DP array:


Cells shaded in pale blue is when item does not fit in capacity w, or where c[i] > w. In pale green cells we have a choice: keep or take. Notice that with every row, we are adding one more item to consideration, and with every column we increase the capacity by 1.

Here is the code:

Getting the Selected Items

Some people use an auxiliary Boolean array (often called Keep) that keeps track of whether an item is selected or not. This seems to be an unnecessary occupation of space to me, since you can deduce the selected items from DP itself.

You start from DP[N][S], and from there:

  • An item is selected, if the value of the cell directly above it is not equal to the current cell. When this happens, the capacity of the knapsack reduces by the weight of the selected item. With that new capacity you select the next item.
  • An item is not selected, if the value of the cell directly above it is equal to the current cell. So we consider the next item by moving up one row; capacity remains unchanged.

This process continues until either there are no more items remaining, or the knapsack is full.

The table below shows the trail of the algorithm as it selects items (item 1 and 4) from the DP array we constructed before:


Below is the recursive function:

void pick(int i, int w)
    if (i <= 0 || w <= 0) return;

    int k = DP[i][w];
    if (k != DP[i - 1][w]) {
        cout << i << " "; // select!
        pick(i - 1, w - c[i]); // capacity decreases
    } else {
        // move on to next item; capacity no change
        pick(i - 1, w);

See the full implementation of this function in this gist.


Enough spoon feeding! It is time for you to try out some puzzles on your own. Conveniently UVa grouped a series of 3 questions that are slight variations of the 1-0 knapsack problem. I sort them here in order of difficulty:

  1. 10130 – SuperSale (my solution)
  2. 990 – Diving for Gold (my solution)
    You will need to list down the items you select in this one.
    – Beware of the tricky formatting! There shouldn’t be a blank line at the end of your output.
  3. 562 – Dividing coins (my solution)
    In my solution, there is a tip (short comment block before the main function) you can check out if you just want some pointers to get started.



Matrix Chain Multiplication with C++ Code – PART 1: Analysis and Design

Ah. The matrix chain multiplication problem. A classic dynamic programming example in the undergraduate computer science world. I will be doing a series consisting of 3 parts:

  1. Analysis and Design – analyze the problem and deduce a solution.
  2. Implementation – implement the algorithm to find the minimum number of operations.
  3. Extracting the Sequence – extract the sequence in which the chain is multiplied.

There’s practically a ton of articles out there that already writes about this problem. I intend to distinguish myself by expressing it in the simplest terms possible with examples, and season it with working C++11 source code. In other words, if you had problem understanding everywhere else, my hopes is that your search ends with this series.

In this first part, there will be no code. At all. Not even pseudocode. I promise some C++11 code in the coming 2 parts, but understanding this section will be important for implementation later.


I will assume you should have a bit of background in matrix math. It helps that you do a bit of refreshing if you have forgotten.

I will also assume you have known a bit of what dynamic programming is, as matrix chain multiplication is a slightly more complex example; you keep track of a 2D array instead of 1D array. I’ve written a beginner level hands on introduction to dynamic programming in a form of solving a problem which you can check out: 445A – Boredom – CodeForces Tutorial.

Understanding the Problem

Given a chain of matrices, we want to multiply them. We cannot change the order of the matrices as that would change the result or make it incompatible, therefore we say matrix multiplication is not commutative. In addition, regardless of how you parenthesize (e.g. whether the sequence as multiplied as A\cdot \left ( B\cdot C \right ) or \left ( A\cdot B \right )\cdot C ) the chain it will give you the same answer, thus we say it is associative.

How we parenthesize the matrices also determine how many operations will be performed. For a multiplication chain of integers, parenthesizing them does not affect the number of operations performed, but for matrices the change is significant. For example, given the matrices with the following dimensions:


If we define a row of a matrix as r_A and the column as c_A, then the total number of multiplications required to multiply A and B is r_A \cdot c_A \cdot c_{B}.

  • A\cdot \left ( B\cdot C \right ) -> 2*20*1 + 2*1*10 = 60 multiplications
  • \left ( A\cdot B \right )\cdot C -> 20*1*10 + 2*20*10 = 600 multiplications

The 1st case is 10 times faster!

NOTE: There is a neat coding exercise you can try out on this total multiplications thing on UVa.

Therefore, we want to figure out how to parenthesize the matrix chain such that we minimize the required number of operations.

However, to keep things simple, we will focus on the minimum number of operations. We will eventually find the sequence itself by building on top on this.


To put in formal terms, given a sequence of n matrices A_1, A_2, A_3 \ldots A_n we wish to parenthesize the product of this sequence so as to minimize the number of operations required.

Finding the Minimum Number of Operations

Suppose we have a function B(i, j) that computes the minimum number of required operations for multiplying a chain of matrices from matrix i to matrix j. The solution to the main problem would be B(1, n).

A standard technique to in solving a dynamic programming problem is usually to ask, “What is the last operation?”. Here, we ask what is the minimum total cost of the last operation? Regardless how the chain is parenthesized, there will always be 2 matrices remaining. The cost, is the minimum cost of some prefix + minimum cost of some suffix + the number of operations to multiply them. The cost of prefix and suffix in turn, is derived from the minimum number of operations that deduces them.

Because each matrix can only multiply with its adjacent matrix, a prefix can only start from A_1 to some matrix A_k, and a suffix can only start from A_{k+1} to A_n, split at some index k. The cost in the last operation for the prefix is then B(1, k) and the cost of the suffix is B(k+1, n)k therefore ranges from 1 until n-1 in the last operation, and within a range i to j, k ranges from i to j-1. We choose k by selecting the minimum cost of all the possible costs within a range i to j.

The resultant dimensions from multiplying 2 matrices are important to finding the cost. In a sequence of matrices A_i \ldots A_j If we split at a point k, the resultant dimensions of the prefix is r_i \times c_k and the suffix is r_{k+1} \times c_j. The cost of multiplying these 2 matrices are therefore r_i \cdot c_k \cdot c_j.


Running Through Possibilities

Let us consider the base case: When there is only 1 matrix. The prefix = suffix, and there are no operations performed, so the cost = 0.

Now what if there are only 2 matrices? There are no other possible combinations to compare with, so the minimum number of operations is the number of operations to multiply them. There is no cost to the prefix or suffix, because the cost for 1 matrix alone is 0.

3 matrices onwards is gets a little more challenging. When the chain has only 3 matrices, you have to choose between \left ( A_1\cdot A_2 \right )\cdot A_3 and A_1\cdot \left ( A_2\cdot A_3\right ). How we choose between the 2 is determined by cost of either multiplying A_1 and A_2 first, then take the resulting matrix (prefix) and multiply by A_3 (suffix), OR, multiplying A_2 and A_3 first, then multiplying that (suffix) by A_1 (prefix). Where we decide to make that split, either at A_1 or A_2, we determined by their cost. The matrix in which we choose we call it A_k, at a point k.

The minimum cost with 3 matrices, B(1, 3) is therefore B(1, k) + B(k+1, 3) + r_1 \cdot c_k \cdot c_3, and we choose between B(1, 1) + B(2, 3) + r_1 \cdot c_1 \cdot c_3 and B(1, 2) + B(3, 3) + r_1 \cdot c_2 \cdot c_3. You can continue doing this for 4 or 5 or 6 matrices until you start to see a pattern. Notice you can apply the same procedure to find B(1, 3) to find B(1, 2) – there is only 1 possible value for k for B(1, 2).

The General Solution

So in a range i to j, we select from j – i possibilities, from i until j – 1. Those possibilities in turn call B recursively until it hits the base case where i = j. The general solution is therefore:

B(i,j) = \begin{cases} 0 \text{ if } i = j \\ \displaystyle\min_{k=i}^{j-1} \begin{cases} B(i, k) + B(k+1, j) + r_i \cdot c_k \cdot c_j \end{cases} \end{cases}

And the solution to the main problem would be B(1, n).


This is all for the first part. Next post I will cover implementation: Matrix Chain Multiplication with C++ code – PART 2: Implementation.


103 – Stacking Boxes (Dynamic Programming Method) – UVa Tutorial

In my previous post I wrote about solving the Stacking Boxes problem using graphs. In this post I will write about a simpler method that utilizes dynamic programming that solves the same problem with half the amount of code.

I will assume you have read my previous post on using graphs, though you haven’t you can check it out here: 103 – Stacking Boxes (Graph Method) – UVa Tutorial. I will refer longest increasing subsequence as LIS and dynamic programming as dp.

On the O(n^2) LIS Dynamic Programming Solution

In using dynamic programming there are 2 variants of the algorithm: one solves in O(n^2) and another in O(n*log n), the later of which replaces the inner loop in the former algorithm with a binary search using an algorithm called Patience Sorting. I will be using the simpler, quadratic time variant. I won’t attempt to explain the algorithm in detail, but there are plenty of resources out there to help you wrap your head round it:

  1. Tushar Roy’s step by step of the algorithm (youtube video)
  2. Geeksforgeeks article
  3. Bo Qian’s youtube video (with C++ code)
  4. Article on Algorithmist (succinct, though can be tough to understand).

The first 2 resource will only find the length of the LIS, though that process is the heart of the algorithm. Once you can find that, getting the sequence itself is not that hard.

A Generic LIS Implementation

The code here is based off a stackoverflow answer.

template<typename T>
deque<T> find_lis(const vector<T> &a,
	function<bool(const T &, const T &)> comp = [&](const T &a, const T &b)->bool { return a < b; })
	int maxLength = 1, bestEnd = 0;

	vector<int> DP(a.size(), 1);
	vector<int> prev(a.size(), -1);

	for (int i = 1; i < a.size(); i++) { for (int j = i - 1; j >= 0; j--) {
			if (DP[j] + 1 > DP[i] && comp(a[j], a[i])) {
				DP[i] = DP[j] + 1;
				prev[i] = j;

		if (DP[i] > maxLength) {
			bestEnd = i;
			maxLength = DP[i];

	deque<T> lis;
	for (int i = bestEnd; i != -1; i = prev[i]) {

	return lis;

Using the function itself is pretty straightforward. You pass a vector that contains your sequence and it spits out the LIS as a deque. Here’s a github gist that test drives this function. You also have an option to modify the comparator, which in the gist is used to change the LIS algorithm to find the longest decreasing subsequence.

Solution Explanation

Once you understood what the LIS algorithm is doing, the rest is pretty much a no brainer. Once you sort the boxes and its dimensions, you can find the LIS is about 5 lines of code:

auto comp = [&](const Box *a, const Box *b)->bool { return canFit(a, b); };
auto lis = find_lis<Box*>(boxes, comp);

cout << lis.size() << endl;
for (auto b : lis) cout << b->id << " ";
cout << endl;

The only thing you need to customize here is the comparator; you will get the LIS based on whether the boxes will fit into each other. I handle this will a simple lambda function comp which I input inside find_lis. The canFit function is the exact same function in the graph method solution.

103 – Stacking Boxes (Graph Method) – UVa Tutorial

I am excited. Stacking Boxes has had me mystified over almost a year (my last failed submission was 5 Dec 2014). I have Googled and Googled but could not solve it… until now.

Perhaps you noticed that I placed in the title “Graph Method”. That is because there are 2 ways to solve this problem: either by using dynamic programming (or dp for short) or graphs. I will be writing about the graph method, which is, according to algorithmist, the more complex solution. I have not studied dp in depth, so I decided I will try graphs first. Perhaps in a future post I will look into dp and decide if it really is the simpler solution.

UPDATE: The dynamic programming variant is the solution is up, and it solves in half the amount of code!

NOTE: If you have no knowledge about graph theory, check out Algorithms by Robert Sedgewick and Kevin Wayne. In addition to the book, they have a website and a Coursera online course (Graphs are in part II). The algorithms I will talk about references from this book. I refer it here as the Princeton Algorithms book.

Let’s begin.

Explaining the Problem

Given a bunch of boxes of n dimensions, find a longest sequence such that you are able to fit a box inside a box for all boxes in that sequence. The boxes can be flipped, turned, contorted in order to fit inside another box, so you don’t have to follow the order of the dimensions they provide.

Gotcha’s and Observations

Perhaps a possible step you have considered is sorting the boxes and find the longest increasing subsequence (or LIS for short) from there by comparing from left to right; the most left being the smallest and the most right being the largest. Indeed sorting the boxes and its corresponding dimensions is the first step, but the start of the sequence is not necessarily the first box sorted in ascending order. Here is an example input:

5 2
3 70
8 10
4 9
9 31
10 10

5 boxes of 2 dimensions. And now the sorted order (the first number that is followed by a colon is the original ordering):

1: 3 70
3: 4 9
2: 8 10
4: 9 31
5: 10 10

In such a case the sequence cannot start from 1. The same applies that the last element of the sorted boxes isn’t necessarily the last element of the LIS (refer to the 5th box in the input above).

Notice that 5 can never preceded 4, and 4 can never precede 2 and so on. This is true for all sequences of sorted boxes: no box can precede a box before it. This way we only add the edges of the graph from top to bottom.

So imagine trying to solve this problem without graphs or dp. I actually tried listing every possible permutation and selecting the longest sequence a year ago (It was pretty bad).

Explanation of Solution

So to put it succinctly, if you make connections in a digraph based on whether a box fits in another box, you will get yourself a directed acyclic graph (DAG for short). The longest path of this graph is the LIS of boxes that can be stacked. You find the longest path by finding the shortest path of a graph with negative edge weights.

There are no variable weights to any of the edges here, so we just set all edges connecting from one box to another as -1.

To further explain the solution I will use an example input:

7 2
3 70
8 10
5 9
5 7
4 5
9 31
10 10

If you sort the boxes the input would like this:

1: 3 70
5: 4 5
4: 5 7
3: 5 9
2: 8 10
6: 9 31
7: 10 10

Now when building the digraph, note of the property that the start and end of the sequence is not necessarily the start and end of the sorted order of boxes. Therefore in addition to the vertices representing the boxes we have 2 more vertices, source and end (this is why the graph is sized k+2 in the solution). Source connects to all boxes, and all boxes connect to end. All connections to and from these 2 vertices are of 0 weight:

// add edges to source (start) and sink (end) vertex
for (int i = 1; i < k+1; i++) {
    g.addEdge(new Edge(0, i, 0));
    g.addEdge(new Edge(i, k+1, 0));

The line:

g.print(); cout << endl;

Prints the digraph by listing all the vertices and its respective edges and edge weights as such:

0 : 1(0) 2(0) 3(0) 4(0) 5(0) 6(0) 7(0)
1 : 8(0)
2 : 6(-1) 8(0)
3 : 2(-1) 6(-1) 7(-1) 8(0)
4 : 2(-1) 6(-1) 7(-1) 8(0)
5 : 4(-1) 3(-1) 2(-1) 6(-1) 7(-1) 8(0)
6 : 8(0)
7 : 8(0)
8 :

I’ve went ahead to illustrate the digraph for the above input. Note that I didn’t illustrate connections from and to source and end vertices, because it would look really messy.


I then find the longest path by using the topological sort algorithm, which relaxes (you can read about edge relaxation here) all edges in topological order (reverse post order of dfs) to find the shortest path tree.

Here is the gist of the algorithm in code:

distTo [ source ] = 0;

Topological topo(g);

for (const auto &v : topo.order) {
    for (const auto ed : g.adj(v)) relax(ed);

Here is a possible tree:


Note that there are 2 possible sequences for this example (5 4 2 6 and 5 3 2 6); the algorithm will only find one, but either one is a valid answer.

Topological Sort vs Bellman-Ford

I have looked up a solution by saicheems that solves Stacking Boxes by also using graphs, and he uses the Bellman-Ford algorithm. This is a sensible choice granted that there are negative edges, but this is a DAG; you can get away with the topological sort algorithm, which works also for digraphs with negative edges, as long as it is acyclic (Bellman-Ford takes care of cycles).

Why topological sort algorithm? Well, it is faster (and IMHO is also simpler than Bellman-Ford). Bellman-Ford solves the problem in O(E*V) whereas topological sort uses O(E+V).

Well, at least that is what is said on paper. Saicheems solution also ran in time 0.000 (I suspected something is wrong with the judge), which is no different my solution.