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Prim's Algorithm

In this tutorial, you will learn how Prim's Algorithm works. Also, you will find working examples of Prim's Algorithm in C, C++, Java and Python.

Prim's algorithm is a minimum spanning tree algorithm that takes a graph as input and finds the subset of the edges of that graph which

  • form a tree that includes every vertex
  • has the minimum sum of weights among all the trees that can be formed from the graph

How Prim's algorithm works

It falls under a class of algorithms called greedy algorithms that find the local optimum in the hopes of finding a global optimum.

We start from one vertex and keep adding edges with the lowest weight until we reach our goal.

The steps for implementing Prim's algorithm are as follows:

  1. Initialize the minimum spanning tree with a vertex chosen at random.
  2. Find all the edges that connect the tree to new vertices, find the minimum and add it to the tree
  3. Keep repeating step 2 until we get a minimum spanning tree

Example of Prim's algorithm

Start with a weighted graph
Start with a weighted graph
Choose a vertex
Choose a vertex
Choose the shortest edge from this vertex and add it
Choose the shortest edge from this vertex and add it
Choose the nearest vertex not yet in the solution
Choose the nearest vertex not yet in the solution
Choose the nearest edge not yet in the solution, if there are multiple choices, choose one at random
Choose the nearest edge not yet in the solution, if there are multiple choices, choose one at random
Repeat until you have a spanning tree
Repeat until you have a spanning tree

Prim's Algorithm pseudocode

The pseudocode for prim's algorithm shows how we create two sets of vertices U and V-U. U contains the list of vertices that have been visited and V-U the list of vertices that haven't. One by one, we move vertices from set V-U to set U by connecting the least weight edge.

T = ∅;
U = { 1 };
while (U ≠ V)
    let (u, v) be the lowest cost edge such that u ∈ U and v ∈ V - U;
    T = T ∪ {(u, v)}
    U = U ∪ {v}

Python, Java and C/C++ Examples

Although adjacency matrix representation of graphs is used, this algorithm can also be implemented using Adjacency List to improve its efficiency.

# Prim's Algorithm in Python


INF = 9999999
# number of vertices in graph
V = 5
# create a 2d array of size 5x5
# for adjacency matrix to represent graph
G = [[0, 9, 75, 0, 0],
     [9, 0, 95, 19, 42],
     [75, 95, 0, 51, 66],
     [0, 19, 51, 0, 31],
     [0, 42, 66, 31, 0]]
# create a array to track selected vertex
# selected will become true otherwise false
selected = [0, 0, 0, 0, 0]
# set number of edge to 0
no_edge = 0
# the number of egde in minimum spanning tree will be
# always less than(V - 1), where V is number of vertices in
# graph
# choose 0th vertex and make it true
selected[0] = True
# print for edge and weight
print("Edge : Weight\n")
while (no_edge < V - 1):
    # For every vertex in the set S, find the all adjacent vertices
    #, calculate the distance from the vertex selected at step 1.
    # if the vertex is already in the set S, discard it otherwise
    # choose another vertex nearest to selected vertex  at step 1.
    minimum = INF
    x = 0
    y = 0
    for i in range(V):
        if selected[i]:
            for j in range(V):
                if ((not selected[j]) and G[i][j]):  
                    # not in selected and there is an edge
                    if minimum > G[i][j]:
                        minimum = G[i][j]
                        x = i
                        y = j
    print(str(x) + "-" + str(y) + ":" + str(G[x][y]))
    selected[y] = True
    no_edge += 1
// Prim's Algorithm in Java

import java.util.Arrays;

class PGraph {

  public void Prim(int G[][], int V) {

    int INF = 9999999;

    int no_edge; // number of edge

    // create a array to track selected vertex
    // selected will become true otherwise false
    boolean[] selected = new boolean[V];

    // set selected false initially
    Arrays.fill(selected, false);

    // set number of edge to 0
    no_edge = 0;

    // the number of egde in minimum spanning tree will be
    // always less than (V -1), where V is number of vertices in
    // graph

    // choose 0th vertex and make it true
    selected[0] = true;

    // print for edge and weight
    System.out.println("Edge : Weight");

    while (no_edge < V - 1) {
      // For every vertex in the set S, find the all adjacent vertices
      // , calculate the distance from the vertex selected at step 1.
      // if the vertex is already in the set S, discard it otherwise
      // choose another vertex nearest to selected vertex at step 1.

      int min = INF;
      int x = 0; // row number
      int y = 0; // col number

      for (int i = 0; i < V; i++) {
        if (selected[i] == true) {
          for (int j = 0; j < V; j++) {
            // not in selected and there is an edge
            if (!selected[j] && G[i][j] != 0) {
              if (min > G[i][j]) {
                min = G[i][j];
                x = i;
                y = j;
              }
            }
          }
        }
      }
      System.out.println(x + " - " + y + " :  " + G[x][y]);
      selected[y] = true;
      no_edge++;
    }
  }

  public static void main(String[] args) {
    PGraph g = new PGraph();

    // number of vertices in grapj
    int V = 5;

    // create a 2d array of size 5x5
    // for adjacency matrix to represent graph
    int[][] G = { { 0, 9, 75, 0, 0 }, { 9, 0, 95, 19, 42 }, { 75, 95, 0, 51, 66 }, { 0, 19, 51, 0, 31 },
        { 0, 42, 66, 31, 0 } };

    g.Prim(G, V);
  }
}
// Prim's Algorithm in C

#include<stdio.h>
#include<stdbool.h> 

#define INF 9999999

// number of vertices in graph
#define V 5

// create a 2d array of size 5x5
//for adjacency matrix to represent graph
int G[V][V] = {
  {0, 9, 75, 0, 0},
  {9, 0, 95, 19, 42},
  {75, 95, 0, 51, 66},
  {0, 19, 51, 0, 31},
  {0, 42, 66, 31, 0}};

int main() {
  int no_edge;  // number of edge

  // create a array to track selected vertex
  // selected will become true otherwise false
  int selected[V];

  // set selected false initially
  memset(selected, false, sizeof(selected));
  
  // set number of edge to 0
  no_edge = 0;

  // the number of egde in minimum spanning tree will be
  // always less than (V -1), where V is number of vertices in
  //graph

  // choose 0th vertex and make it true
  selected[0] = true;

  int x;  //  row number
  int y;  //  col number

  // print for edge and weight
  printf("Edge : Weight\n");

  while (no_edge < V - 1) {
    //For every vertex in the set S, find the all adjacent vertices
    // , calculate the distance from the vertex selected at step 1.
    // if the vertex is already in the set S, discard it otherwise
    //choose another vertex nearest to selected vertex  at step 1.

    int min = INF;
    x = 0;
    y = 0;

    for (int i = 0; i < V; i++) {
      if (selected[i]) {
        for (int j = 0; j < V; j++) {
          if (!selected[j] && G[i][j]) {  // not in selected and there is an edge
            if (min > G[i][j]) {
              min = G[i][j];
              x = i;
              y = j;
            }
          }
        }
      }
    }
    printf("%d - %d : %d\n", x, y, G[x][y]);
    selected[y] = true;
    no_edge++;
  }

  return 0;
}
// Prim's Algorithm in C++

#include <cstring>
#include <iostream>
using namespace std;

#define INF 9999999

// number of vertices in grapj
#define V 5

// create a 2d array of size 5x5
//for adjacency matrix to represent graph

int G[V][V] = {
  {0, 9, 75, 0, 0},
  {9, 0, 95, 19, 42},
  {75, 95, 0, 51, 66},
  {0, 19, 51, 0, 31},
  {0, 42, 66, 31, 0}};

int main() {
  int no_edge;  // number of edge

  // create a array to track selected vertex
  // selected will become true otherwise false
  int selected[V];

  // set selected false initially
  memset(selected, false, sizeof(selected));

  // set number of edge to 0
  no_edge = 0;

  // the number of egde in minimum spanning tree will be
  // always less than (V -1), where V is number of vertices in
  //graph

  // choose 0th vertex and make it true
  selected[0] = true;

  int x;  //  row number
  int y;  //  col number

  // print for edge and weight
  cout << "Edge"
     << " : "
     << "Weight";
  cout << endl;
  while (no_edge < V - 1) {
    //For every vertex in the set S, find the all adjacent vertices
    // , calculate the distance from the vertex selected at step 1.
    // if the vertex is already in the set S, discard it otherwise
    //choose another vertex nearest to selected vertex  at step 1.

    int min = INF;
    x = 0;
    y = 0;

    for (int i = 0; i < V; i++) {
      if (selected[i]) {
        for (int j = 0; j < V; j++) {
          if (!selected[j] && G[i][j]) {  // not in selected and there is an edge
            if (min > G[i][j]) {
              min = G[i][j];
              x = i;
              y = j;
            }
          }
        }
      }
    }
    cout << x << " - " << y << " :  " << G[x][y];
    cout << endl;
    selected[y] = true;
    no_edge++;
  }

  return 0;
}

Prim's vs Kruskal's Algorithm

Kruskal's algorithm is another popular minimum spanning tree algorithm that uses a different logic to find the MST of a graph. Instead of starting from a vertex, Kruskal's algorithm sorts all the edges from low weight to high and keeps adding the lowest edges, ignoring those edges that create a cycle.


Prim's Algorithm Complexity

The time complexity of Prim's algorithm is O(E log V).


Prim's Algorithm Application

  • Laying cables of electrical wiring
  • In network designed
  • To make protocols in network cycles