What Is a Digraph in Data Structure?


Heather Bennett

A digraph, short for directed graph, is a fundamental data structure used in computer science to represent relationships between objects. It consists of a set of vertices or nodes and a set of directed edges. Each edge connects two vertices and has a specific direction, indicating the relationship between them.

Basic Terminology

Before diving into the details of digraphs, let’s familiarize ourselves with some basic terminology:

  • Vertex: Also known as a node, it represents an object or entity within the graph.
  • Edge: A directed edge connects two vertices and represents a relationship or connection between them.
  • In-degree: The number of edges that are directed towards a vertex.
  • Out-degree: The number of edges that originate from a vertex.

Digraphs are widely used in various applications such as social networks, transportation networks, and computer algorithms. They provide an efficient way to model complex relationships and solve problems related to connectivity, path finding, and network analysis.

Representing Digraphs

In order to represent digraphs in programming languages, we can use different data structures. One common approach is to use an adjacency list or matrix.

Adjacency List

An adjacency list represents each vertex as an element in an array or list. Each element contains a linked list or array that stores the neighbors or adjacent vertices of the corresponding vertex. This representation is memory-efficient for sparse graphs where the number of edges is relatively small compared to the number of vertices.

The following example demonstrates an adjacency list representation:

A -> [B, C, D]
B -> [C]
C -> [D]
D -> []

In this example, vertex A has edges directed towards vertices B, C, and D. Vertex B has an edge directed towards vertex C, and so on.

Adjacency Matrix

An adjacency matrix is a two-dimensional array that represents the connections between vertices. The rows and columns of the matrix correspond to the vertices, and each element indicates whether there is an edge between the corresponding vertices. This representation is memory-consuming for large graphs but allows for efficient edge lookup.

The following example demonstrates an adjacency matrix representation:

   A  B  C  D
A [0, 1, 1, 1]
B [0, 0, 1, 0]
C [0, 0, 0, 1]
D [0, 0, 0, 0]

In this example, a value of 1 in the matrix indicates an edge between the corresponding vertices.

Operations on Digraphs

Various operations can be performed on digraphs to analyze their properties or solve specific problems:

  • Traversal: Traversing a digraph allows us to visit each vertex or edge exactly once. Common traversal algorithms include depth-first search (DFS) and breadth-first search (BFS).
  • Path Finding: Given two vertices in a digraph, finding a path between them involves searching for a sequence of edges that connect them.

    Algorithms like Dijkstra’s algorithm and Bellman-Ford algorithm are commonly used for this purpose.

  • Topological Sorting: A topological sort of a digraph is an ordering of its vertices such that for every directed edge (u, v), vertex u comes before vertex v in the ordering. This is useful in scheduling tasks or dependencies.
  • Connectivity: Determining whether a digraph is strongly connected (there exists a path between any two vertices) or weakly connected (ignoring the direction of edges) can be important in network analysis.


Digraphs are versatile data structures that enable us to represent and analyze complex relationships between objects. By understanding their basic terminology, representation methods, and operations, we can apply them to various real-world problems efficiently. Whether you are building social networks, designing transportation systems, or implementing algorithms, digraphs will undoubtedly be a valuable tool in your programming arsenal.

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