Everything about Heap data-structure

What is Heap? How is Heap implemented? Why and where do we use Heap?

A heap is a specialized tree-based data structure which is essentially an almost complete tree that satisfies the heap property:

  • in a max heap, for any given node C, if P is a parent node of C, then the key (the value) of P is greater than or equal to the key of C.
  • in a min heap, the key of P is less than or equal to the key of C.

The node at the “top” of the heap (with no parents) is called the root node.

tree representation of max binary heap
tree representation of max binary heap

Heaps are usually implemented with an array, as follows:

  • Each element in the array represents a node of the heap, and
  • The parent / child relationship is defined implicitly by the elements’ indices in the array.

Binary Heap as array
Binary Heap as array

Given a node at index i,

  • its children are at indices 2i + 1 and 2i + 2, and
  • its parent is at index floor((i-1)/2)

Building heap

    heapsize := size(A); 
    for i := floor(heapsize/2) downto 1 
        do HEAPIFY(A, i); 
    end for 

Time Complexity:

build_heap takes O(n) time complexity but heap_sort takes O(nlog(n)) time complexity.

  • We call heapify, which takes log(n), for n elements, but the time complexity of building heap comes out to be O(n).
  • The main idea is that in the build_heap algorithm the actual heapify cost is not O(log(n))for all elements.


The common operations involving heaps are:


  • find-max (or find-min):
    find a maximum item of a max-heap, or a minimum item of a min-heap, respectively (a.k.a. peek)
  • insert:
    adding a new key to the heap (a.k.a., push)
  • extract-max (or extract-min):
    returns the node of maximum value from a max heap [or minimum value from a min heap] after removing it from the heap (a.k.a., pop)
  • delete-max (or delete-min):
    removing the root node of a max heap (or min heap), respectively
  • replace:
    pop root and push a new key. More efficient than pop followed by push, since only need to balance once, not twice, and appropriate for fixed-size heaps.


  • create-heap:
    create an empty heap
  • heapify:
    create a heap out of given array of elements
  • merge (union):
    joining two heaps to form a valid new heap containing all the elements of both, preserving the original heaps.
  • meld:
    joining two heaps to form a valid new heap containing all the elements of both, destroying the original heaps.


  • size:
    return the number of items in the heap.
  • is-empty:
    return true if the heap is empty, false otherwise.


  • increase-key or decrease-key:
    updating a key within a max- or min-heap, respectively
  • delete:
    delete an arbitrary node (followed by moving last node and sifting to maintain heap)
  • sift-up:
    move a node up in the tree, as long as needed; used to restore heap condition after insertion. Called “sift” because node moves up the tree until it reaches the correct level, as in a sieve.
  • sift-down:
    move a node down in the tree, similar to sift-up; used to restore heap condition after deletion or replacement.


BinaryΘ(1)Θ(log n)O(log n)O(log n)Θ(n)
BinomialΘ(1)Θ(log n)Θ(1)Θ(log n)O(log n)
FibonacciΘ(1)O(log n)Θ(1)Θ(1)Θ(1)


  • Heapsort
  • Priority queues can be efficiently implemented using Binary Heap.
  • Binomial Heap and Fibonacci Heap are variations of Binary Heap. These variations perform union also in O(logn) time which is a O(n) operation in Binary Heap.
  • Order Statistics: The Heap data structure can be used to efficiently find the kth smallest (or largest) element in an array. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/K-way_merge_algorithm

MinHeap Implementation in Python

# Python3 implementation of Min Heap

import sys

class MinHeap:
    def __init__(self, max_size):
        self.max_size = max_size
        self.size = 0
        self.heap = [0] * (self.max_size + 1)
        self.heap[0] = -1 * sys.maxsize
        self.FRONT = 1

    # Function to return the position of
    # parent for the node currently
    # at pos
    def parent(self, pos):
        return pos // 2

    # Function to return the position of
    # the left child for the node currently
    # at pos
    def left_child(self, pos):
        return 2 * pos

    # Function to return the position of
    # the right child for the node currently
    # at pos
    def right_child(self, pos):
        return (2 * pos) + 1

    # Function that returns true if the passed
    # node is a leaf node
    def is_leaf(self, pos):
        if pos >= (self.size // 2) and pos <= self.size:
            return True
        return False

    # Function to swap two nodes of the heap
    def swap(self, fpos, spos):
        self.heap[fpos], self.heap[spos] = self.heap[spos], self.heap[fpos]

    # Function to heapify the node at pos
    def min_heapify(self, pos):

        # If the node is a non-leaf node and greater
        # than any of its child
        if not self.is_leaf(pos):
            if (
                self.heap[pos] > self.heap[self.left_child(pos)]
                or self.heap[pos] > self.heap[self.right_child(pos)]

                # Swap with the left child and heapify
                # the left child
                if self.heap[self.left_child(pos)] < self.heap[self.right_child(pos)]:
                    self.swap(pos, self.left_child(pos))

                # Swap with the right child and heapify
                # the right child
                    self.swap(pos, self.right_child(pos))

    # Function to insert a node into the heap
    def insert(self, element):
        if self.size >= self.max_size:
        self.size += 1
        self.heap[self.size] = element

        current = self.size

        while self.heap[current] < self.heap[self.parent(current)]:
            self.swap(current, self.parent(current))
            current = self.parent(current)

    # Function to print the contents of the heap
    def print(self):
        for i in range(1, (self.size // 2) + 1):
                " PARENT : "
                + str(self.heap[i])
                + " LEFT CHILD : "
                + str(self.heap[2 * i])
                + " RIGHT CHILD : "
                + str(self.heap[2 * i + 1])

    # Function to build the min heap using
    # the min_heapify function
    def min_heap(self):

        for pos in range(self.size // 2, 0, -1):

    # Function to remove and return the minimum
    # element from the heap
    def remove(self):

        popped = self.heap[self.FRONT]
        self.heap[self.FRONT] = self.heap[self.size]
        self.size -= 1
        return popped

# Driver Code
if __name__ == "__main__":

    print("The minHeap is ")
    minHeap = MinHeap(15)

    print("The min value is " + str(minHeap.remove()))

Using Python’s heapq library

heapq implements min_heap, see code below:

import heapq
# initializing list
li = [5, 7, 9, 1, 3]
# using heapify to convert list into heap
# printing created heap
# using heappush() to push elements into heap
heapq.heappush(li, 4)
# using heappop() to pop smallest element

# using nlargest to print 3 largest numbers
print(heapq.nlargest(3, li1))
# using nsmallest to print 3 smallest numbers
print(heapq.nsmallest(3, li1))

Implement max_heap with heapq

This library supports min_heap implementation, to make max_heap multiply each element with -1

Push custom object with heapq

  • If the object implements comparison operators, you can push your custom objects into the heap.

  • In case you are not able to update/implement class definition, you can use tuple to push custom objects, wherein the first member of the tuple is the comparison key.
    eg: heapq.heappush(heap, (l.val, l)), here l is a class object (lets say linked-list)

    The problem with putting (l.val, l) on the heap is that when two tuples’s first member have the same value, then a comparison will happen between the second member values, i.e. between l class objects.
    Either make sure your first member will never have a conflict (this shall throw runtime error) or you can introduce a third member (unique value) in those tuples, between the two members you already have.
    eg: heapq.heappush(heap, (l.val, i, l))
    But remember if the second member will have conflict this too shall throw runtime error.