C Program For Selecting A Random Node From A Singly Linked List
Given a singly linked list, select a random node from the linked list (the probability of picking a node should be 1/N if there are N nodes in the list). You are given a random number generator.
Below is a Simple Solution:
- Count the number of nodes by traversing the list.
- Traverse the list again and select every node with probability 1/N. The selection can be done by generating a random number from 0 to N-i for i’th node, and selecting the i’th node only if the generated number is equal to 0 (or any other fixed number from 0 to N-i).
We get uniform probabilities with the above schemes.
i = 1, probability of selecting first node = 1/N i = 2, probability of selecting second node = [probability that first node is not selected] * [probability that second node is selected] = ((N-1)/N)* 1/(N-1) = 1/N
Similarly, probabilities of other selecting other nodes is 1/N
The above solution requires two traversals of linked list.
How to select a random node with only one traversal allowed?
The idea is to use Reservoir Sampling. Following are the steps. This is a simpler version of Reservoir Sampling as we need to select only one key instead of k keys.
(1) Initialize result as first node result = head->key (2) Initialize n = 2 (3) Now one by one consider all nodes from 2nd node onward. (a) Generate a random number from 0 to n-1. Let the generated random number is j. (b) If j is equal to 0 (we could choose other fixed numbers between 0 to n-1), then replace result with the current node. (c) n = n+1 (d) current = current->next
Below is the implementation of above algorithm.
Note that the above program is based on the outcome of a random function and may produce different output.
How does this work?
Let there be total N nodes in list. It is easier to understand from the last node.
The probability that the last node is resulting simply 1/N [For last or N’th node, we generate a random number between 0 to N-1 and make the last node as a result if the generated number is 0 (or any other fixed number]
The probability that second last node is result should also be 1/N.
The probability that the second last node is the result = [Probability that the second last node replaces result] X [Probability that the last node doesn't replace the result] = [1 / (N-1)] * [(N-1)/N] = 1/N
Similarly, we can show probability for 3rd last node and other nodes.
Please refer complete article on Select a Random Node from a Singly Linked List for more details!