Greedy Algorithms: Understanding the Concept and Implementing in Java

Greedy algorithms are a class of algorithms used in computer science to solve optimization problems. These algorithms work by making the locally optimal choice at each step with the hope of finding a global optimum solution. In other words, at each step, they choose the option that looks best at the moment, without considering the future consequences. In this article, we’ll dive into the concept of greedy algorithms and implement some of them in Java.

The Concept of Greedy Algorithms

As mentioned earlier, greedy algorithms work by making the locally optimal choice at each step without considering the future consequences. This approach works well when the problem has an optimal substructure, which means that the optimal solution to the problem can be obtained by combining optimal solutions to its subproblems. Additionally, the problem should also have the greedy choice property, which means that the globally optimal solution can be obtained by making locally optimal choices.

To better understand the concept of greedy algorithms, let’s consider the classic problem of making change. Suppose you want to make a change for a given amount using the minimum number of coins. You have an infinite supply of coins of denominations 1, 5, 10, and 25 cents. How would you solve this problem?

A greedy algorithm for this problem would work as follows: at each step, choose the largest coin denomination smaller than the remaining amount until the remaining amount becomes zero. In other words, we start with the largest coin denomination and keep subtracting it from the remaining amount until we can’t subtract it anymore. Then, we move to the next largest coin denomination and repeat the process until we’ve exhausted all the denominations.

Let’s see how we can implement this algorithm in Java:

public static int[] makeChange(int amount, int[] denominations) {
    int[] result = new int[denominations.length];
    int index = 0;

    for (int i = denominations.length - 1; i >= 0; i--) {
        while (amount >= denominations[i]) {
            amount -= denominations[i];

    return result;

In this implementation, we start by initializing an array result with zeros, which will hold the number of coins for each denomination. We also initialize a variable index to keep track of the current denomination we’re considering.

We then loop over the denominations in reverse order, starting with the largest denomination. For each denomination, we repeatedly subtract it from the remaining amount and increment the corresponding element in result until we can’t subtract it anymore. We then move to the next denomination and repeat the process until we’ve exhausted all the denominations.

Let’s test our implementation with an example:

int amount = 67;
int[] denominations = {25, 10, 5, 1};
int[] result = makeChange(amount, denominations);

for (int i = 0; i < result.length; i++) {
    System.out.println(result[i] + " x " + denominations[i] + " cents");

This will output the following:

2 x 25 cents
1 x 10 cents
1 x 5 cents
2 x 1 cents

This means that we need two quarters, one dime, one nickel, and two pennies to make change for 67 cents, which is the minimum number of coins required.

Other Examples of Greedy Algorithms

There are many other problems that can be solved using greedy algorithms, such as:

  • Activity Selection Problem: Given a set of activities with start and end times, select the maximum number of non-overlapping

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