We build software to solve problems. But programmers are often too focused on solving a problem to determine whether a solution to the problem already exists. Even if the programmer knows the problem has been solved in similar cases, it’s not clear that the existing code will actually fit the specific problem facing the programmer. Ultimately, it isn’t easy to find code in a given programming language that can be readily modified to solve the problem.

We can think of algorithms in different ways. Many practitioners are content to look up an algorithm in a book or on some website, copy some code, run it, maybe even test it, and then move on to the next task. In our opinion, this process does not improve one’s understanding of algorithms. In fact, this approach can lead you down the wrong path where you select a specific implementation of an algorithm.

The question is how to locate the right algorithm for the job quickly and understand it well enough to ensure you’ve made a good choice. And once you’ve chosen the algorithm, how do you implement it efficiently? Each book chapter groups together a set of algorithms solving a standard problem (such as Sorting or Searching) or related problems (such as Path Finding). In this chapter, we present the format we use to describe the algorithms in this book. We also summarize the common algorithmic approaches used to solve problems.

The real power of using a template to describe ...

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