What Is Sparse Graph in Data Structure?


Larry Thompson

A sparse graph is a type of graph in data structure that has relatively fewer edges compared to the maximum number of edges possible. In a sparse graph, the number of edges is significantly smaller than the number of vertices.

Representation of Sparse Graph

In order to efficiently store a sparse graph, various data structures can be used. The most common representation methods for sparse graphs are:

  • Adjacency List: Each vertex of the graph maintains a list of its adjacent vertices.
  • Edge List: A list that contains all the edges in the graph.
  • Incidence Matrix: A matrix where rows represent vertices and columns represent edges. Each entry indicates whether a vertex is incident to an edge or not.

Advantages of Sparse Graphs

Sparse graphs have several advantages over dense graphs, including:

  • Economical Memory Usage: Since sparse graphs have fewer edges, they require less memory to store compared to dense graphs. This makes them more efficient in terms of memory usage.
  • Faster Algorithms: Many algorithms perform better on sparse graphs due to their reduced complexity. For example, traversing an adjacency list for a specific vertex’s neighbors is faster than traversing an entire adjacency matrix.

Applications of Sparse Graphs

Sparse graphs find applications in various fields, including:

  • Social Networks Analysis: Social networks often exhibit sparse characteristics as people typically have limited connections compared to the total population size.
  • Routing Algorithms: Sparse graphs are commonly used in routing algorithms to find the shortest path between two points.
  • Web Page Ranking: In web page ranking algorithms like PageRank, sparse graphs are used to model the link structure between web pages.


In summary, a sparse graph is a type of graph that has relatively fewer edges compared to the maximum number of edges possible. Sparse graphs provide advantages in terms of memory usage and algorithmic efficiency. They find applications in various domains such as social network analysis, routing algorithms, and web page ranking.

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