What Is Shortest Path Algorithm in Data Structure?


Angela Bailey

The shortest path algorithm is a fundamental concept in data structures and algorithms. It is widely used in various applications, such as routing algorithms in computer networks, navigation systems, and graph analysis.

What is a Shortest Path Algorithm?

A shortest path algorithm finds the most optimal path between two vertices or nodes in a graph. The goal is to determine the path with the minimum cost or distance. The cost can be defined based on various parameters, such as time, distance, weight, or any other metric related to the problem at hand.

Types of Shortest Path Algorithms

There are several different algorithms that can be used to find the shortest path in a graph. Some of the most commonly used ones include:

  • Dijkstra’s Algorithm: This algorithm finds the shortest path from a single source vertex to all other vertices in a weighted graph with non-negative edge weights.
  • Bellman-Ford Algorithm: Unlike Dijkstra’s algorithm, Bellman-Ford can handle graphs with negative edge weights but is slower.
  • A* Algorithm: This algorithm combines elements of both Dijkstra’s algorithm and heuristic search to find the shortest path efficiently.
  • Floyd-Warshall Algorithm: This algorithm finds the shortest paths between all pairs of vertices in a weighted graph.

How Does a Shortest Path Algorithm Work?

The basic idea behind most shortest path algorithms is to iteratively explore neighboring nodes from the source node and update their costs. Each node maintains its current cost and predecessor information.

In Dijkstra’s algorithm, for example:

  1. Create a set of unvisited nodes and initialize their costs to infinity.
  2. Set the cost of the source node to 0.
  3. While there are unvisited nodes:
    • Select the node with the minimum cost as the current node.
    • For each neighboring node, calculate its tentative cost and update if it is smaller than the current cost.

This process continues until all nodes have been visited or until the Target node is reached. Once complete, the shortest path can be reconstructed by following the predecessor information from the Target node back to the source node.


The shortest path algorithm is a crucial concept in data structures and algorithms. It allows us to find optimal paths between vertices in a graph efficiently. By understanding different types of shortest path algorithms and their underlying principles, we can design efficient solutions for various real-world problems.

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