A trie is a multiway search tree based on the idea that a key value can often be written as a string of digits or characters.  It's also known as a radix tree or a digital search tree.

A trie can be used to implement a set.  Set is a java interface with the following fundamental operations (among others):
The trie is structured as follows:  Suppose we have a set of numbers expressed with a given radix (base) r.  Each node has r children, one for each possible value of the radix.  A number is stored in a node based on its radix r representation.  For example, in a base 10 tree, the number 274 would be stored in a node which is the 4th child of its parent, which is the 7th child of its parent, which is the second child of its parent, which is the root. Each node also has a boolean flag to indicate whether or not a value is stored at this node.
A trie can be used to hold a set of character strings, by considering the characters to be the digits of a number whose radix is the number of characters in the alphabet.  For example, we can consider strings of the letters "a" through "z" to be numbers written with radix 26.

Consider the following Trie.  It assumes an alphabet of the letters { a, b, c, d } and holds the strings "b", "abc" "abab", dad", "da", and dab.  All slots which do not contain a red link contain the value "null".

Searching the Trie

To search for a given string with characters  c0, c1, ..., cn-1:

Inserting a word in a Trie

To insert a word in a trie:


What does an empty Trie look like?  Can the null string ("") be inserted in a Trie?

What is the order of the running time of the search and insert operations?  How does this compare with a binary search tree?

Are there any disadvantages to the use of a trie as a Set?

How much space is used by a trie?  How does this compare with a binary search tree?

Could a trie be used to implement the Map interface?

How would you write a program to traverse a trie; that is, visit each word stored in the trie, in lexicographic order?

Lecture notes courtesy of John Donaldson