Execution Time as a Function of Problem Size

COMPLEXITY is a set of MATLAB programs which investigate the time complexity of a few simple calculations.

Time complexity can refer to the relationship between problem size n and execution time t. Algorithms may exhibit logarithmic, linear, quadratic, or exponential time complexity. A quadratic time complexity suggests that a formula such as t = a + b * n + c * n^2. However, there is no point in trying to be so precise, and the important feature here is the occurrence of n^2, whose growth rate will eventually characterize the function. Thus, we tend to simplify such a relationship by writing t=O(n^2), saying "t is of the order of the square of n". A more subtle complexity might have the form t = O(n * log(n) ), which is a form that actually occurs fairly often.

For short, simple algorithms, it is possible to work out the time complexity as a formula. However, practical algorithms often have complications that make it tedious to seek such a formula. Moreover, the computer implementation and the memory access patterns may also have a pronounced effect on the behavior of a program, particularly when the problem size is large. Thus, whether we can predict or estimate the time complexity of an algorithm, we can experimentally measure it on a range of problem sizes and draw our own conclusions.

In this directory, we consider a few simple algorithms, using them to solve problems of increasing size, measuring the elapsed time, and making plots.


The computer code and data files described and made available on this web page are distributed under the GNU LGPL license.


COMPLEXITY is available in a MATLAB version.

Related Data and Programs:

LINPACK_BENCH, a MATLAB program which measures the time taken by LINPACK to solve a particular linear system.

MXM, a MATLAB program which sets up a matrix multiplication problem A=B*C of arbitrary size, and compares the time required for IJK, IKJ, JIK, JKI, KIJ and KJI orderings of the loops.

NAS, a MATLAB program which runs the NASA kernel benchmark.

TIC_TOC, MATLAB programs which demonstrate some features of MATLAB's tic and toc functions for wallclock timing.

Source Code:

BUBBLESORT_COMPLEXITY considers the time complexity of the bubblesort algorithm.

ELIMINATION_COMPLEXITY considers the time complexity of Gauss elimination.

HEAPSORT_COMPLEXITY considers the time complexity of the heapsort algorithm.

You can go up one level to the MATLAB source codes.

Last revised on 23 December 2012.