How Do You Search a Tree in Data Structure?


Heather Bennett

Searching a tree is a fundamental operation in data structure and algorithm design. A tree is a hierarchical data structure that consists of nodes connected by edges.

Each node can have zero or more child nodes, except for the root node which has no parent. Searching a tree involves finding a specific node or value within the tree structure.

Types of Tree Searching Algorithms

There are several algorithms that can be used to search a tree, depending on the type of tree and the specific requirements of the search. Some commonly used algorithms include:

  • Breadth-First Search (BFS): This algorithm explores all the nodes at the same level before moving on to the next level. It uses a queue data structure to keep track of nodes to be visited.
  • Depth-First Search (DFS): This algorithm explores as far as possible along each branch before backtracking. It uses a stack data structure to keep track of nodes to be visited.
  • Binary Search Tree (BST) Search: This algorithm is specifically designed for searching in binary search trees, which are binary trees with the following property: for any given node, all values in its left subtree are less than its value, and all values in its right subtree are greater than its value.

The Process of Searching a Tree

The process of searching a tree involves traversing through the nodes until the desired node or value is found. Here is an outline of how this process typically works:

  1. Start at the root: Begin the search at the root node.
  2. Evaluate current node: Check if the current node matches the Target node or value being searched.
  3. Explore child nodes: If the current node does not match the Target, explore its child nodes according to the search algorithm being used (e.g., BFS or DFS).
  4. Repeat until found: Continue evaluating and exploring nodes until either the Target node or value is found, or all nodes have been visited.

Example: Searching a Binary Search Tree

To illustrate the process of searching a tree, let’s consider an example using a binary search tree (BST). Suppose we have the following BST:

    /   \
   3     10
  / \      \
 1   6     14
    / \    /
   4   7 13

If we want to search for the value ‘6’ in this BST, we would start at the root node (with a value of ‘8’). Since ‘6’ is less than ‘8’, we move to the left child node (with a value of ‘3’).

Again, ‘6’ is greater than ‘3’, so we move to the right child node of this sub-tree (with a value of ‘6’). Finally, we find our Target value ‘6’ at this node.

In this example, we used the property of a binary search tree to efficiently search for a specific value. By comparing values and traversing in either the left or right direction based on their relationship, we can eliminate half of the remaining nodes at each step, resulting in an average time complexity of O(log n) for searching in balanced binary search trees.


In data structure and algorithm design, searching a tree involves finding a specific node or value within a tree structure. Various algorithms can be used for this purpose, such as Breadth-First Search (BFS), Depth-First Search (DFS), and Binary Search Tree (BST) Search.

The process of searching a tree typically involves starting at the root node, evaluating the current node, exploring child nodes, and repeating until the Target node or value is found. Searching in binary search trees can be particularly efficient due to their ordered structure.

By understanding the different types of tree searching algorithms and their applications, you can effectively search for nodes or values within tree data structures, enabling efficient retrieval and manipulation of data.

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