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Detect and Remove Loop in a Linked List


The linked list is a fundamental data structure used in computer science and programming for many purposes. While they provide for greater dynamic memory allocation flexibility, they can also present difficulties if loops, commonly referred to as cyclic dependencies, are mistakenly included. A linked list's loops must be identified and eliminated in order to protect data integrity and avoid infinite loops that can cause program crashes or memory leaks. This article will investigate the techniques and algorithms for loop detection and elimination in linked lists.

Fundamentals of Linked Lists:

In a linked list, a linear data structure, an element known as a node is linked to other nodes. Data and a link to the node beyond it in the chain make up each node's two components. The final node often points to NULL to signify the end of the list. Linked lists can take on a wide range of forms, such as singly linked lists, doubly linked lists, and circular linked lists. A loop in a linked list arises when a node, or collection of nodes, links to a node that has already been toured once in the list.

Detect and Remove Loop in a Linked List

Detecting Loops:

Before attempting to remove them, it is essential to identify loops in a linked list. Floyd's Tortoise and Hare Algorithm and hashing are the most popular algorithms for accomplishing this.

1. Floyd's Tortoise and Hare Algorithm:

  • Two pointers-one slow (tortoise) and one quick (hare)-are used in this procedure.
  • The hare takes two steps forward for every step the tortoise takes.
  • The hare will reach the list's end if there is no loop, thus we can draw that conclusion.
  • The hare will eventually overtake the turtle if there is a loop.
  • We can deduce that a loop exists and calculate its size and position after they come together.

2. Hashing:

  • This method keeps references to visited nodes in a hash table.
  • We examine the hash table to see if the reference to the current node is already there while traversing the linked list.
  • If so, we have discovered a loop; if not, we add the reference to the hash table and carry on.
  • Although this method needs more RAM for the hash table, it effectively detects loops.

Removing Loops:

The next action is to eliminate the loop while maintaining the integrity of the linked list. There are numerous methods to accomplish this:

1. Using Floyd's Algorithm:

  • Using Floyd's technique, we can identify the loop and calculate its length.
  • Next, we initialize two pointers at the list's top, one at the head itself and the other 'loop length' nodes in the future.
  • One step at a time, we bring the two pointers together. The beginning of the loop will serve as the meeting place.
  • We cut the link from the node directly before the loop starts node in order to break the loop.

2. Hashing:

  • We can simultaneously maintain track of the node where the loop begins when using hashing to find loops.
  • Once the loop has been identified, we update the node's 'next' pointer to delete the reference that caused the loop.

Python Implementation:

The Python code for Floyd's Tortoise and Hare Algorithm with Hashing to find and eliminate loops in a single linked list is provided below.


Loop detected.
Loop removed.
1 -> 2 -> 3 -> 4 -> 5 -> None


To safeguard data integrity alongside avoiding programming issues, programmers must be familiar with detecting and removing loops in linked lists. Loops can be efficiently detected using algorithms like Floyd's Tortoise and Hare Algorithm and hashing, and they can be safely removed using a variety of techniques.

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