Sign In

Communications of the ACM

Review articles

Beyond Worst-Case Analysis

View as: Print Mobile App ACM Digital Library In the Digital Edition Share: Send by email Share on reddit Share on StumbleUpon Share on Hacker News Share on Tweeter Share on Facebook
female facing oversized blackboard

Credit: Andrij Borys Associates / Shutterstock

Comparing different algorithms is hard. For almost any pair of algorithms and measure of algorithm performance like running time or solution quality, each algorithm will perform better than the other on some inputs.a For example, the insertion sort algorithm is faster than merge sort on already-sorted arrays but slower on many other inputs. When two algorithms have incomparable performance, how can we deem one of them "better than" the other?

Back to Top

Key Insights


Worst-case analysis is a specific modeling choice in the analysis of algorithms, where the overall performance of an algorithm is summarized by its worst performance on any input of a given size. The "better" algorithm is then the one with superior worst-case performance. Merge sort, with its worst-case asymptotic running time of Θ(n log n) for arrays of length n, is better in this sense than insertion sort, which has a worst-case running time of Θ(n2).


No entries found

Log in to Read the Full Article

Sign In

Sign in using your ACM Web Account username and password to access premium content if you are an ACM member, Communications subscriber or Digital Library subscriber.

Need Access?

Please select one of the options below for access to premium content and features.

Create a Web Account

If you are already an ACM member, Communications subscriber, or Digital Library subscriber, please set up a web account to access premium content on this site.

Join the ACM

Become a member to take full advantage of ACM's outstanding computing information resources, networking opportunities, and other benefits.

Subscribe to Communications of the ACM Magazine

Get full access to 50+ years of CACM content and receive the print version of the magazine monthly.

Purchase the Article

Non-members can purchase this article or a copy of the magazine in which it appears.
Sign In for Full Access
» Forgot Password? » Create an ACM Web Account