Which Data Structure Is Used for Backtracking?


Heather Bennett

Backtracking is a powerful algorithmic technique used in computer science to solve problems by incrementally building a solution and backtracking when the current solution is found to be invalid. This technique is commonly used in a variety of applications, such as solving Sudoku puzzles, generating permutations, and solving maze problems. To efficiently implement backtracking, it is important to choose an appropriate data structure that can efficiently support the required operations.


One commonly used data structure for implementing backtracking algorithms is the stack. A stack is a Last-In-First-Out (LIFO) data structure that supports two main operations: push and pop.

When using a stack for backtracking, each step in the algorithm corresponds to pushing an element onto the stack, and each backtrack corresponds to popping an element off the stack. The stack keeps track of the state of the current solution at any given point in time.

  • Push: Add an element to the top of the stack.
  • Pop: Remove and return the top element from the stack.

This approach works well for problems where we need to explore all possible solutions by trying different options at each step. It allows us to easily backtrack to previous steps by simply undoing the last operation performed.


Recursion, another powerful technique in computer science, can also be used for implementing backtracking algorithms. In fact, recursion and stacks are closely related concepts.

In recursive backtracking, we define a recursive function that represents each step of our algorithm. The function typically takes some parameters representing the current state of our solution and performs some operations based on those parameters.

The base case of our recursion represents the solution to the problem, and we use recursive calls to explore all possible choices or options at each step. If a certain choice leads to an invalid solution, we backtrack by returning from the current recursive call and trying a different option.

Example: N-Queens Problem

To illustrate the use of backtracking with recursion, let’s consider the classic N-Queens problem.

The N-Queens problem involves placing N queens on an NxN chessboard in such a way that no two queens threaten each other. This means that no two queens can be in the same row, column, or diagonal.

By using backtracking with recursion, we can efficiently explore all possible configurations of queen placements until a valid solution is found. If a certain configuration leads to an invalid solution, we backtrack and try a different placement.

Here is a simplified implementation of the N-Queens problem using recursion:

function solveNQueens(board, row) {
  if (row === board.length) {
    // Base case: all queens have been placed
    return true; // Found a valid solution
  for (let col = 0; col < board.length; col++) {
    if (isSafe(board, row, col)) {
      // Place queen at current position
      board[row][col] = 'Q';
      // Recursively solve for next row
      if (solveNQueens(board, row + 1)) {
        return true; // Found a valid solution
      // Backtrack by removing queen from current position
      board[row][col] = '.';
  return false; // No valid solutions found

This implementation uses a 2D array to represent the chessboard, where 'Q' represents a queen and '.' represents an empty cell. The solveNQueens function takes the current board state and the current row as parameters.

By recursively calling solveNQueens for each row, we can efficiently explore all possible queen placements until a valid solution is found. If a certain placement leads to an invalid solution, we simply backtrack by removing the queen from the current position and trying a different option.

In conclusion, choosing the right data structure is crucial for efficiently implementing backtracking algorithms. The stack data structure and recursion are commonly used for this purpose. By using appropriate data structures and techniques, we can effectively solve complex problems by incrementally building solutions and backtracking when necessary.

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