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Priority Queues with Decreasing Keys

Author Gerth Stølting Brodal

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Gerth Stølting Brodal
  • Department of Computer Science, Aarhus University, Denmark


The author wants to thank Rolf Fagerberg for insightful discussions.

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Gerth Stølting Brodal. Priority Queues with Decreasing Keys. In 11th International Conference on Fun with Algorithms (FUN 2022). Leibniz International Proceedings in Informatics (LIPIcs), Volume 226, pp. 8:1-8:19, Schloss Dagstuhl - Leibniz-Zentrum für Informatik (2022)


A priority queue stores a set of items with associated keys and supports the insertion of a new item and extraction of an item with minimum key. In applications like Dijkstra’s single source shortest path algorithm and Prim-Jarník’s minimum spanning tree algorithm, the key of an item can decrease over time. Usually this is handled by either using a priority queue supporting the deletion of an arbitrary item or a dedicated DecreaseKey operation, or by inserting the same item multiple times but with decreasing keys. In this paper we study what happens if the keys associated with items in a priority queue can decrease over time without informing the priority queue, and how such a priority queue can be used in Dijkstra’s algorithm. We show that binary heaps with bottom-up insertions fail to report items with unchanged keys in correct order, while binary heaps with top-down insertions report items with unchanged keys in correct order. Furthermore, we show that skew heaps, leftist heaps, and priority queues based on linking roots of heap-ordered trees, like pairing heaps, binomial queues and Fibonacci heaps, work correctly with decreasing keys without any modifications. Finally, we show that the post-order heap by Harvey and Zatloukal, a variant of a binary heap with amortized constant time insertions and amortized logarithmic time deletions, works correctly with decreasing keys and is a strong contender for an implicit priority queue supporting decreasing keys in practice.

Subject Classification

ACM Subject Classification
  • Theory of computation → Data structures design and analysis
  • priority queue
  • decreasing keys
  • post-order heap
  • Dijkstra’s algorithm


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